When the Tears Come (Part II), and How to Thrive Anyway

In my last post, I shared how grief isn’t just due to death. We can grieve over a lost job, a missed opportunity, a new address and all the work it takes to adjust.

For those facing intense challenges with their health, relationships, or as parents of special needs kids, life’s a constant ebb and flow of grief. With each new loss we are, as Victoria Secunda described, “living grief.” When I first read her book, I wept, yelled at it, felt sorry for myself, tried to make it all stop. But ultimately, I had to step back and ask myself: “If I’m living grief all the time, what kind of life is that?”

It’s not life at all.

And so, being a stubborn determined person, I set out to find a way to thrive. Because punching holes in my walls wasn’t cutting it. To thrive, we need to have some healthy coping tools.

It starts with understanding the grieving process.

Grief has stages, and they don’t flow linearly. We bounce all over the place, staying in one for a time, then moving through others… then back again. The process may even look different for us from loss to loss, but it includes these basic stages:

“This is NOT happening!” (aka Denial):It’s okay to ignore it for a little while. It’s just too heavy to deal with grief every day. Sometimes I freak out about finances and I earn bank fees for neglecting to pay bills on time. Or binge on Grey’s Anatomy for 3 hours after intense mood or behavior days with my older girls. But I give trusted people veto power over my head-in-the-sand moments, so it doesn’t add more stress.

“What did I do to deserve this?!” “This sucks!” (aka Anger):
Loss creates raw rage at times. The patched holes in my bedroom walls attest to that. I did, eventually, get tired of patching holes so I joined a gym. Now I punch a big bag, run like crazy on the treadmill, and lift weights until I can barely move. I also write through my anger – with big, dark, ugly words – so my feelings can air out, and my relationships can survive. (And I bought giant Incredible Hulk padded fists to punch the walls, in case I still need that some days…)

 “Maybe if I volunteer at my kids’ school 20 hours a week, my life will _______.” (aka Bargaining):
We need to feel some sense of control and normalcy in the midst of our grief. So we try to make deals with the universe and God. Some bargains are helpful (“If I sign up to take one meal to a family in crisis, I will feel like a capable person again.”) Some aren’t (“If I tirelessly, perfectly implement all therapies doc recommended, my child will become normal.”) When I choose the meal, I have dignity again. When I choose perfectionism, I head straight back to anger…

“Yes, I’m still in my pajamas… from yesterday.” “Please pass the death-by-chocolate ice cream.” (aka Depression):
I’ve been struggling with this one for the past month, thus the intense posts. Depression is the part we imagine when we think of grief. The sadness, hopelessness, or helplessness that feels like it will overtake us. In those moments, I am extra kind to myself. I cut out multi-tasking (because it’s going to self-destruct anyway!) I drink more water. Go for walks. Take a nap when I can. Pet my dog. Take a day off from life to watch movies and snuggle, which the kids know as PJ day. When we let our bodies have down time, and there isn’t any underlying medical condition, we become quieter. Which moves us toward…

“You’re a spaz, but you’re my spaz, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” (aka Acceptance): Here’s where the healing feels real. Is life still frustrating? Yes. Damn near impossible half the time? Yes. But I’m still smiling now. And I can love my kids through their 3 hour meltdowns, ignore my dirty dishes, forgive the check-out lady for her naive comment on my parenting, and basically feel good about myself through it all. It’s where I write a letter to the kid I dreamed of, complaining about the one I actually got… and end up crumpling it up and tossing it. Because I realize I’m in love with my real-life wierdo.

What things do you find helpful in seasons of grief? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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