Sneaky Grief

First things first: I have to apologize for my very long radio silence. Between getting two new jobs, having a family member die unexpectedly, and preparing for my trip to Rwanda in July, this feels like one of those months that bit a piece off of my soul. I intentionally stepped away from writing for a bit in order to fight for my heart, body, mind, soul...sanity. That brings me to the topic of my post today.

Grief is one tricky mother. I respect the work and insight of  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, but sometimes I just can't (or don't want to) see a pattern of grief. For the last four days I have had what I assumed was a stomach bug, but my doctor seems to think it's grief – at least mostly. (I did consent to a travel doctor injecting 5 foreign diseases into my body last week, so I have to assume that's also a contributing factor.) I have a bad habit of distracting myself when I feel deep pain, then I assume it's my busy-ness that's causing my holistic distress.

This week it required a doctor of medicine to remind me that my heart is in a different place than my body & mind right now, that I need to let them reconnect somehow. Even though my surface self feels "okay" about the death of the very complicated man who was my grandfather, apparently I'm not actually OKAY.

"But I don't have time for that!" I say. "I am basically a single mother for the week as my husband works weird hours in a recording studio, I have more than one job, and I'm preparing for a trip to the other side of the world! I don't have time for grief... Come again another day, please."

At first glance, grief passing quickly seems like it would be a luxury, a gift; but I know in my wiser self that this pain of grief is one of the leading factors that have made me the person I am today. So it feels like it would make more sense for me to say, "Okay, Life. Bring it. Hit me with what you've got for me today." But I'm not brave enough (or physically functional enough) to invite that.

So today I just keep breathing – one breath in, then out. Then repeat. Hour-by-hour, which then turns into day-by-day, which turns into the passing of time. And if "they" are right, time apparently heals all wounds. I'm just going to be very gracious with myself about how I define "time" for a while.

Please Put on Your Oxygen Mask

This past week my 6-year-old daughter was suspended for one day for hitting another child's arm when she wouldn't get off the computer. I'm not going to go into details about that situation, but I can say it was extremely difficult. As emotional regulation becomes more developmentally appropriate, it gets slightly easier to explain, but there's a steep learning curve. (It's even really hard for developmentally-appropriate people to grasp it – let's be honest.) The more deep and powerful the emotions feel, the more grueling this process is. One thing we've found helpful with our daughter is teaching her how to check in with her body to see what they're telling her about the intensity of her feelings (i.e., "Is my stomach hurting? Are my muscles tight? Is my heart beating?").

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After getting suspended on Friday when her emotions got "too red," we made this weekend a "Stop and Think" weekend. We talked, we cried, we took walks, we read books, we drew pictures, we wrote letters, we wrote in our journals, we received comfort and advice from others. It was a very healing time. It was a very eye-opening time.

One of the small revelations I had when I stopped to think was that my husband and I have let ourselves get worn way too thin in the last few months. Because we haven't been practicing the self-check-ins that we've been preaching to her, we haven't been able to offer an emotional respite to her at home so she can go to school with a "full tank." Blame it on the weather, increased work (mostly due to snow days), seasonal affective problems . . . who knows what all the factors are. But I do know this: we haven't been practicing self-care, and when one part of a system is weak, the whole system is weakened.

A great analogy for this is how when you travel on airplanes with children, they tell the caretaker, "Make sure you put on your oxygen mask first, then help your child." It makes sense; you can't give a child an oxygen mask if you're passed out on the floor. Sometimes it's really confusing and hard to know how to take care of yourself. It's exhausting to be needed and need at the same time. But I can't help others if I haven't helped myself. (Maybe I should hire a flight attendant to follow me around and remind me of that occasionally.)

What are some of the things you've been neglecting in your own life / depriving yourself of, thinking it will give you more time to care for others? Because that's the myth, isn't it? "If I take the time to care for myself, I won't have enough time to take care of the things on my list!" But the opposite is actually true. Self-care makes us much more efficient and able. Everyone is created to need, and needs left unattended can too easily become time and energy black holes.

So, again, I ask: what are some things that you can do this week to give yourself rest, life, wholeness? They can be as "small" as having fresh cut flowers around you, taking a break to listen to a song when you're feeling overwhelmed, or taking a walk.

What is your oxygen mask and how can you make yourself put yours on this week?