Being busy has been a perpetual state in my life for … well, a lifetime. Elli’s lifetime. I certainly had episodes of resentment towards that, but most of the time I just tried to roll with it. I can not stand futility, and raging at circumstances is classic futility. All sound and fury with nothing gained. I did my best to accept reality and do the best I could.
My parents will attest, and my friends will confirm, that I do best when I’m busy. Like dizzingly, must-write-it-all-down-to-remember busy. I thrive on having to push from one task or activity to the next, on having more demands on my time than minutes in the day. That’s how I stay moving — I know I have no time to waste and so I do not allow myself time to stop or even slow down.
Then Elli’s life and all that went with it… ground to a halt. The end. The perpetual motion that was a fundamental component of me almost froze in motion.
It will sound very strange to anyone who has never walked in the valley of the shadow of death, but grieving is like walking through molasses. A single step seems to require the effort and resolve normally reserved for a tough day or even week. You begin weighing the benefits of doing something against the physical and mental cost – the effort – required to start and finish it. Most activities fail the test at first.
The first few weeks, I managed to put food in front of my family (most of which was already made by caring, loving friends). I sent Bigger Boy to school and laid Little Boy down for naps. I read email and a few cards each day. When the kids would report that underwear or socks or pants – some crucial item for dressing each day – were completely gone, only that desperate state would succeed in driving me downstairs to the laundry room.
That was it. And I would be completely wiped out all day.
The last few weeks a few more activities have slipped into my daily agenda, and my energy level seems to be recovering slowly. We grocery shop, we go to story time at the library, we’ve arranged some play dates with friends, we even made gingerbread cookies. It all still takes longer than normal — for example, it took us 4 days to finish the gingerbread cookies, we invited friends over to help at one point, and we still didn’t decorate every one of them!
I hope that increasing our busy-ness is not an attempt to avoid my grief. I try to let myself feel it when I feel it. But I don’t want to wallow in it, be paralyzed by it, either. I don’t cry all the time anymore, though I certainly do frequently. And most of the time, I’ve noticed that I think and cry most when I’m alone or idle… like showering, driving, trying to fall asleep.
Rather than just marinate in those feelings, I’ve started praying during those times. I take my tears and I tell God about them. Outloud, I speak the pain I’m feeling. I ask, even demand, my questions… outloud since I’m alone. Losing a child, or any loved one for that matter, tends to expose all your unanswered questions or nagging doubts that you can skillfully ignore at other, less intense times. I am no exception. But what do you do with those questions and doubts? Do you just stare at them and let them frighten or overwhelm you? Do you begin searching for answers? Do you take them to God very honestly and ask Him to show you the truth and restore your peace?
I had the blessing of talking with a friend over coffee last week. She asked me when I had time to read, because I was sharing some of the books I’m reading in my search for answers. This is one of the things that I’ve tried to do with these new empty hours. I leave the television off, which I’ve noticed actually functions like Novocaine for my brain. Particularly after the kids go to bed, I grab a book or write in my journal or read an article online. Sometimes I’m just too tired to process anything, but gradually that time has been more and more usable for reading and thinking.
So I’m trying to protect that time as we ever-so-slowly settle into a new normal. I want to save time for reading and writing, for thinking and for talking things over with my husband. And especially for praying and talking and listening to God.