I find myself living in a strange warp in the “space-time continuum” as Dr. Everett Brown referred to in the movie, “Back to the Future.” In spite of the fact that what I am experiencing is nothing quite so disastrous or exciting, I am reminded again of the experience of so many who have lost someone they love. As the title to this post suggests, there is a sense of feeling lost. That doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my directions, and am not sure how to find my way home, but in many respects that is how the feeling of lostness is experienced. In more ways than one can count, the person who we love and lost is part of “home” for us. When they leave our lives, we, quite naturally, feel as if we have lost our direction. The overriding thought and even the feelings that accompany those thoughts is: What do I do now? There is a sense of confusion, disorientation, and even at times, urgency to restore “order.” We often take for granted how “ordered” our lives are, and the building blocks of that order are the people we love and count on to be part of that order. Everything else around us can be spiraling out of control, but if these people are still there and accessible, then usually we can handle most anything. Take one block out of that “house of order,” and it comes tumbling down. As most metaphors, this one breaks down at some point since we know that removing one brick is not going to bring down an entire house. Yet, our emotional houses (that part of our hearts) may not come tumbling down, but they are thrown into uncertainty and vulnerability. That uncertainty is enough to leave us feeling like everything is “falling apart.”
Another example of this is the game that is often played at picnics where the people are blindfolded and spun around. Once the blindfold is removed, they race to the other end of the “track” to either get some item to bring back, or complete some task. Of course, many hilarious videos have been produced at the sight of people “trying to get their bearings” in spite of their inability to re-establish their sense of balance. In many ways, that is how people who are grieving feel. They seemingly can’t get their bearings because an important part of their compass has been removed. In the above example, most people can’t help but try to move because they are motivated to win the race, and that’s when the fun begins. On the other hand, you often won’t see people stop and wait to get their orientation back, and then proceed with the race. The relationship to those grieving is that it feels as if life demands them to keep moving, and often this only increases the level of disorientation and confusion. Yet, if you are getting ahead of me you might ask, “Yeah, but I can’t just stop life and wait to get my bearings. I have to get things done, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting around.” My response would be, “Yes, of course, you’re right, but it may not have anything to do with what we actually do as much as it has to do with what we expect of ourselves when it come to coping with life.”
An important part of grieving well has less to do with “how” we navigate life, and more to do with “what” we expect of ourselves in terms of the quality of that navigation. Far too often, we make no adjustment to our expectations about our own level of functioning, therefore, we expect ourselves to function as if nothing has happened. If you were taken to the ER because you broke your arm, you would immediately be forced to adjust your expectations about how well you handle eating (particularly if the arm broken was your dominant hand). Unfortunately, the “wound” of grief doesn’t demand us to adapt like physical pain does. We can ignore it, or deny it and act as if nothing really happened. It’s pretty tough to ignore a broken arm. To grieve well requires us to learn new lessons of gentleness and grace with ourselves which demands an adjustment to our expectations about our performance in most anything. Everything will be affected… job, personal life, and any other arenas of life in which we are functioning. There are going to be good days, where we actually breathe a sign of relief and think the storm of grief as passed. It’s a divinely provided reprieve to be sure. But there will also be “bad” days where concentration is lost, productivity is depleted, and one would rather just crawl back into bed and wait for the next day. There are also “so-so” days. They aren’t stunningly good, and they aren’t devastatingly bad, and often these are the majority of days as the wound of grief heals.
This sense of lostness contributes, I believe, to what I’ve been feeling of late… connected disconnectedness. While that may sound terrible contradictory, allow me to explain. When someone we love dies, we are thrown into the whirlwind of activities and feelings that accompany those activities that simply blur our vision of what’s happening around us (and within us). When the swirl begins to slow down, and we begin to get our “bearings” back in terms of the world without our loved one in it, it’s as if we are passing through a world of people who are connected to us and us to them, but we also feel disconnected. If you’ve ever watched or read the Lord of the Rings, it’s as if we put on the Ring of Power and we pass through the world unseen and disconnected from it, and yet maintain our relationships with the important people of our lives. Any point in time, we can reconnect to the people in our lives, but still feels “surreal.” I can feel numb and dazed. I can feel “zombie-like” (which has new meaning since the series “The Walking Dead!). For many, these feelings simply don’t make sense. Of course, in order for something to make sense we have to have a reference point or something to which to compare it. Usually, our reference point is not a fixed point, though. Instead, our reference point floats in terms of where we are. In other words, the reference point is simply wherever we are not which results in us concluding that something is terribly wrong. Even for someone who knows this is happening, I still will struggle with feelings that I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling since my mother-in-law wasn’t my blood relative. Then I have to remind myself that blood relationship has nothing to do with it. It’s the significance of the person to whom we are attached that matters. Period. Nothing else. No other explanation needs to be added to the “mix.”
The key and the challenge of grieving well is to learn to accept ourselves for where we are not where we “should” be with the assurance that the grief process will eventually come to an end… just not yet.