Once again, at least for my moda operandi in life and work, I have written half a dozen stories in my head and I sit here with a whole new thought to share!
Having just returned from time with my ailing 89 year-old stepfather at the side of his hospital bed in the apartment I last saw my mother alive… Well, you can imagine ghosts of grief rattling around my thoughts. The time was more palatable than painful. I felt the aching reminiscent of caring for Dave, unanswered questions for my mother, wonder and awe for what lies ahead for my stepdad, and also delightful memories all rolled into one long weekend. Yet, I want to focus on what is ahead. The HOPE – Hang On Possibilities Exist – is the future view I prefer to reside.
Usually in February, I am on a classic discussion of love month with Valentine’s Day. Personally for me, it is the month of death anniversaries – my husband, my mother, and now my step son-in-law. Is my step father next? I have come through so much I don’t feel the need to go into those depths. This is beyond my control of timing.
Living in today, I feel so much more of self than “the widow.” A recent journal note shifted my language of Anniversary of Death, or Deathaversary (never liked that one) or Angelversary, to saying my personal Day of Remembrance. This is much more appropriate across time for me as I want to honor and experience those particular day as I see fit without expectations on others. I define the day.
Now what? It seems you just begin to move through the most painful moments and find some sense of relief, perhaps even beginning to feel “happyish” (a favorite word offered by my widow group member) when one those ongoing reminding dates found in holidays, birthdays, special days such as Valentine’s Day, draws you back into a grief response. Is it true you will never “get over” the loss? Yes and no, I offer. Yes, the loss and change is forever. No, you don’t have to be in active and ongoing grieving or mourning forever.
Grief is the response journey of through; through means to the other side of loss that can certainly include happiness, joy, appreciation, and all the language of renewed love for life. With pockets of occasion(al) grief. New passion, more energy, is the symptom of having moved into making meaning and purpose of loss.
How do you find more happiness than pain after loss? Then how do you sustain it? Or sustain any sense of stability in preferred emotions and health for the long haul? Once across the initial grief bridge (or two or three depending on your state of travels) into making a new beginning from what has changed, what is the best way forth, so as to not run back into the old familiar habits and feelings? No guilt. No blame. This is from transition work of grief into actual transformation for a healthier you.
With the calendar change into February and my look at what began in January (yep, so-called resolutions or intentions for the year), I wonder how to sustain what I ask of myself to be my higher road for action.
Health, attitude, actions… It begins with a Word of the Year I wrote about last month. It is not too late to chose one – there are eleven more months to the year! This month I ask, how do I apply it consistently to what serves me and my community? How much energy, call it passion, do I have for this endeavor my word leads me, with an outcome for my implied happiness? Which do I sustain so I am not drained but actually overflowing? The fuel gauge begins at self and extends outward. Self. Family. Community. Planet. I note that the circle of service widens or narrows based on the energy one can emit and sustain forth, and even willing to accept as part of the exchange.
I have learned to keep a lens for everything in terms of “how much energy do I have?” Here’s my current simplified life hacks to see how I use my energy:
- Accept my reality. Grief is an emptiness and loneliness unlike any other for all types of loss. For me, as a widow, I live alone. My child is out of the house. Cats rely on me. No one else to do unless I am able, ask or hire. So this is what I must do. Period. I am dependent upon me. No shared workload, and no real responsibility to others to get in my way of myself. This means no excuses either. What about your circumstances? What do you need to acknowledge as “just the way” life is now? this is an area of huge impact. I try to remember that I have the option to change my reality as well, which might mean finding a person to share with my current life in varying capacity. The grief work is not to replace anyone, but to return to relationships with others in healthy and new ways. The Serenity Prayer of discernment works well here: Change what you can, accept what you cannot change, and seek wisdom to know the difference.
- Create habits for the outcome. My favorite example: The nightly dishes. As much as I want Dave to return back to his duty of after meal clean up (still whining after 6 years), this just won’t be. It is up to me, as the cats don’t do dishes ever. I was/am very capable of procrastination: Too tired. It’ll take time (as if I don’t have any in emptiness?). I don’t like to wash dishes (I’m not even sure this is true!). One day I found myself motivated by the visualization of waking up to the clean kitchen for a cup of coffee. In the morning I would reinforce and thank myself by saying aloud, oh, how nice to have the kitchen clean as I brew my coffee! I also timed how long it took to clean up; average about ten minutes! One, it was always less time than my projection. Two, I could spend way longer and more energy fussing than it requires to get it done. Now, when I find my procrastinator show up I wonder what is the real outcome I desire? More importantly, how do I want to feel, such as calm, happy and more energized. Project yourself into the near future. Note when those yummy outcome moments arise and do more of them consciously.
- Get rid of what I don’t want. In other words, simplify. This is not necessarily the stuff of your loved one, or it might be. All in its own time to be examined. The question becomes what is in my way? Is it emotional or tangible? Either can zap your energy. A continual drain on your energy is unsustainable. It requires constant refueling. (Too often we unwittingly seek fuel in food, and not so healthy food like sugars.) How do you begin to create a state of reserves? In grief, this occurs in layers. You may need permissions for change and happiness, therapies for mind and/or body, opening your heart to the unexpected, and a commitment to self and personal growth. To name we don’t want something is as useful as to name what we do want. Ask, what do I want more of and less of… then go to the steps listed above.
Navigating Grief is so often about how to engage joyfully in life again. They come in baby steps into giant steps. Building upon those moments that peek through the loss and pain requires some conscious choice. This change has already occurred. The pain is very real. You do not have to sustain pain and grief to honor your loved one. The message of being more present to what is important – people, love, appreciation – can be an inspiration, a breath in, that affirms your life and all you have been taught in the name of grief and loss. Then the breath out is one of sharing the love you have come to know.
Keep track over time and action. The coaching mantra is “what you focus on grows.” If your focus is grief, it grows. If your focus is living in the message of love grief teaches, it grows. Then you will see that your new year intention for working through grief is sustainable.
Best wishes for your continued journey.
Navigating Grief Newsletter. February 3, 2018