February 11, 2014 // Uncategorized

Distractions: helpful or harmful?

I met a woman who traveled for three years following her husband’s untimely death following a heart attack. She worked as a traveling nurse in areas from the East Coast to the West, living in studios or one-bedroom apartments while her house sat empty back home. She found a new slice of life that actually had a bit of joy in it as she met new people and experienced new landscapes all across the country. Her grief was not part of this nomadic life.

Then her oldest daughter gave birth to her first grandchild and her strongest desire was to settle back home to be near this new life. It was then that her grief over her husband’s death rose up in a fierce way, having been suppressed for three years.

“When I moved home, I was so excited. Then it hit me. Joe was no longer here in our house. I relived his death over and over,” she said. “It was so painful and I was so lonely. It was almost crippling. I finally realized this was the grief I had been avoiding for the past three years.”

There are times along the grief journey particularly in the beginning when the pain is raw, when being busy is a healthy thing to do. Those are times when we take purposeful breaks from the heaviness of grief, or must set about accomplishing life’s ever-present tasks.

However, being excessively busy with no time to mourn in personally appropriate ways can hinder the healing process and must be monitored closely. It’s important for us to understand the need to face our feelings and respond to them in healthy ways.

I found in my own experience following the death of my husband Trent and the subsequent deaths of my mom and my young nephew, Adam, that though it feels like trial and error when one first acknowledges the hard work to be done to reconcile a loss into life as it is now, it is really just a matter of following your heart.

As I struggled to reconcile to my new role as single mother after Trent was killed, I found myself overwhelmingly busy with the comings and goings of my two young daughters’ lives. And of course that was my desire. However, it wasn’t long before I found myself crashing in the evening after the girls were in bed. Fortunately, a very wise woman counseled me to find time to get out at least once a week, “even if you just get a babysitter and sit in your backyard,” she joked.

I eventually saw wisdom in her encouragement and slowly over time I found a balance between the continuous onslaught of life events and my own need to mourn my loss.

With my own experience in mind, I encouraged my friend those years ago to examine her reason for traveling. As she became educated about the universality of grief, through her support group meetings and seminars and books, she came to understand that grief work is heart work. She looked back on her busy-ness and realized that though at first it was necessary for her to travel just to survive, later it became a consorted effort not to feel the pain of her loss.

My friend eventually came to terms with her grief and started at the beginning with the healing process, albeit three years after the loss. She, too has now struck a balance between being busy or distracted and slowing down to acknowledge the myriad feelings that come with mourning the loss of a loved one.

Distractions are commonplace in our fast-paced American culture and we are bombarded with the encouragement to “get over it quickly” and “move on” from our grief. But those of us who have lost dear ones know that there is no quick fix to mourning a loss. It is a process that we must take time to work through as our hearts lead us.

Perhaps as our journeys proceed and we learn what we must do to heal, we will choose our commitments, activities and behavior a little more wisely. We will take the time we need to acknowledge our loss, sit with our grief and feel all that comes to us, and seek the support we need to respond to those feelings, even in the busy-ness of life. And as we do the work of grief, over time, our broken hearts will begin to heal and we will be present to all that life has to offer — distractions and all. I suspect that is what our loved ones would want for us.

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