Taking control of our (new) life: Further Discussions on Reconstruction…
For many of us, the beginning of our grief journey happens in a fog. The early days, weeks and months especially, are times when our grief is in control of our lives and we are just being pushed from moment to moment and thing to thing with little or no thought or control of our own. As time passes, and our grief begins to become less demanding, we are faced with the task of taking control of our lives back into our hands, learning to make (good) decisions and charting new directions and build a new life.
Grief has changed our lives. So many of our sure of’s have been lost with the passing of our spouses.
I personally found myself clinging and holding tightly to every part of our life that remained and wasn’t willing or able to change anything I could keep from changing. I wanted it to all remain static and unchanging forever because it kept me in contact with Andi and all the parts of our lives together.
However, I know people who chose to make all kinds of changes quite early on, from not only moving or storing clothing and possessions but to giving away most of not only the clothing but lots of the decorations and even some who totally redecorated their homes. Other people chose to move to a new home to facilitate the “moving forward” in their lives.
Those people all seem to have found their own sense of peace by moving or removing many of the sadness-causing memory items from their lives in one way or another.
When and if you make big changes in your life, you should try to let them be your own decisions when and if you decide it’s time to do them.
Unfortunately, sometimes, financial or family matters force some decisions on us long before we are ready or wanting to make them.
I have talked with people who were forced to go through some of those changes unwanted and it has always seemed from my perspective, that they had been very sad and often confused and angry by being forced into these positions. But I also saw that once it had been done, once they had been in their new situation for a time, they seemed to rise out of the shock and distress it had caused them and they too began to find a new equilibrium that became almost a base line for them to begin building on as they went forward.
It’s another “no right answer” situation. What I have seen says when possible, it’s everyones decision to make in their own way and it’s only the right time when it’s the right time for you.
Again, if possible, no one else should make these choices and decisions for you because it’s your grief and your heart that needs to be comfortable with the choices you are making and in the end you have to listen to your heart and let it guide you to your own personal solutions.
What to leave in, what to leave out:
At some point though, regardless of how we choose to do things early in our grieving, we will all need to make decisions about what we want to remain and what we want to let go of from our old lives as we build our new ones.
One tendency seems to be, as it was for me, to hoard every little thing that reminds us of our loved ones and keep them pretty much exactly as they had always been. This goes for both material items and the way our living spaces are arranged to how we navigate through our lives and the things we do, the way we do them and sometimes even the order we do them in.
The opposite tendency seems to be to quickly change things, hoping or finding that changes we make in the material world will mitigate some of the feelings those objects and activities we change cause during our grieving.
Either way, there usually will be, at some point, a need to “clean house”, to change some things to lighten the load, to emotionally and physically “down size” so the actual daily burden of things is reduced so it becomes more accessible to us and we can find ways to do the things we are responsible for alone now that there is only one person available to take on all the tasks.
Again, when possible, it is usually best if it is your decision of what to do and when to do it. No one else knows your emotional needs and so these should be your choices to make.
Picking up the pieces, taking on the tasks:
For the rest of the discussion, I’ve broken down these issues into material tasks, finding energy and making (good) decisions.
Doing material tasks:
Finding continuity within our grief fogged brains sometimes seems almost impossible. The same is true for beginning to do the normal tasks that define our lives. At some point, which is different for each of us, we will have to start putting a life together that includes all or most of the everyday things that make up a life.
At its most simple level, we need to find food and bathe, keep ourselves healthy and keep our personal space at least relatively clean. We may also need to do more complex things like take care of a child or a pet or a job or a business. Picking up these kinds of pieces of our lives takes concentration at a time when we may have so little of it to devote to these things and when even their importance seems very questionable. But it is something we all have to eventually learn how to do.
What was shared is now yours to find a way to do without the help and support of your spouse:
Not only do we have to eventually return to doing the tasks we usually did during our marriage, we now have the task of doing all the things our spouse or parter did as well. What was once a two person life still contains most of the same things, the same needs and responsibilities but now, it’s all on us to not just do it all but in many cases to have to start from scratch and learn how to do a task in the first place.
One thing I have learned is to try to find good help when you are up against things you don’t know or know how to do. If it’s possible, try to get recommendations or help from family, friends and neighbors. If your neighborhood maintains a list of qualified and vetted service people, it is always good to check those resources.
At least for the first time a task needs to be done, you may need to get some help, find a friend or maybe hire someone and then watch and pay attention and ask questions so you can duplicate the task in the future, especially if it’s a normal routine task like starting the lawnmower or turning on the sprinklers or cooking a turkey, sewing on a button or doing the taxes… And there’s always You-Tube!
Finding the energy to do our normal stuff and then to take on the stuff we relied on our spouses to do and then learning how to do it requires energy and focus we may find difficult to access.
As I’m sure everyone knows, in most marriages, things that need to be done are almost always shared out between the two spouses and partners.
There is always a list of things to do in our lives but now, while that list continues, we often may have little or no energy to get up and do them. Now, all the material tasks and jobs and repairs and that endless-seeming list of things life gives us to do must be done by us, on our own. Now, we have the responsibility to keep the material world needs of our lives moving forward and not allow them to stop or atrophy or deteriorate and fail because we can’t find the energy to do them.
I think there’s a trap here to be aware of too. If we don’t begin to overcome the inertia associated with our grief and start doing the tasks, the longer we wait, the more habitual the inertia becomes and the more excuses we find to put things off. The more we put things off, the easier it becomes to find ever-new excuses to not do things and to excuse ourselves from doing them because we are grieving, even long after our grief begins to taper off in its intensity.
I believe, from my own experience, that the sooner we begin to fight the inertia and learn to overcome it, the sooner we begin to find energy again to pursue all aspects of our lives. It’s not an easy task but its actually easier to not work on it and let it keep us bound. However, I believe it’s a critical task we should try to take on as soon as we can. We need to escape the hidden trap of I can’t… turning into I won’t and then I don’t.
Making decisions without our loved ones:
This can be one of the hardest emotional and mental things we have to learn to do. In most marriages, there are not only shared tasks, there are also shared decisions. We discuss things and we decide together what we want to do or how we want to proceed or do things. There are also the individual decisions we made based on our individual roles within our marriages.
As hard as it can sometimes be to do our individual decision making during our bereavement, the need to learn to do all the decision making we used to share, just like we need to learn to do all the material things we used to share, is a major step we eventually have to take going forward.
Especially if the person who is no longer there was making most of the decisions about a particular part of our lives, we now have to pick up the ball and without the support or help from that person, we get to do it ourselves. We need to learn to take on the every day decision making processes and learn to find the energy to continue making them and perhaps learn to do them as well as our spouse did when they were the ones making those choices.
For me there was also a massive loss of self confidence during my early bereavement that made it especially difficult for me to make decisions. As most of us did, I had relied on our shared decision making to make so many of the choices in our lives and now not only was I alone having those decisions to make but I found myself in a place where I doubted my ability to even or ever make good decisions about anything!
I believe it’s ok to ask for help and allow and sometimes delegate trusted friends and family to help us make some of these decisions and also to help us learn how to make them (again) on our own. As before, I think we need to make sure, if we can, that they are our decisions in the end because we have to live with them and the consequences of them.
It’s usually OK to allow people to help and take some of the burden off of us, especially early on but we also need to try to make sure that as many decisions as possible come back to us for final approval before they are implemented so we have the final say and control over what is done or said or promised in our name.
Our hope and healing journeys are going to be full of changes and decisions and learning to do things we have not usually had to do before. We will have to find ways to do the material things necessary to living a full life, we need to learn to find the energy to do those things and we will have to learn again to make good choices and decisions without the help of our loved ones.
Hope and Healing:
I want to end by saying that what I found in attending support group meetings and especially being part of the social group functions they evolved into has been a place and a way to find resolution to many of the things we’ve talked about tonight that I needed to learn and become. The sharing, the building of friendships, the help we all continue to give each other gave me and others in the groups a commonality to build on, a group of like minded people to help and become friends with, and I know I will continue to walk with through this journey with them from grief to hope and healing and eventually, to wellness.
Where are you at in your physical or mental “house cleaning” process?
Which are you more comfortable with, holding on tightly or making changes early or maybe some of both?
What have you had to learn to do that you never did before?
How did you figure out or get help to do it?
How did it make you feel when you actually did it?
How are you dealing with the inertia of your grief and finding ways to do the things that you don’t feel like doing that still need to be done?
How are you doing in learning to make decisions on your own?
Did you find you had (have) issues with your self confidence?
How does it make you feel to have to make those decisions?
How does it make you feel when you actually do make a (good) decision?