Grieving: Finding Comfort Where There is None

There have been so many losses this year. Whether you are mourning the loss of a family member, a loving relationship, an old friendship, a fulfilling job, or all the opportunities that have fallen by the wayside during the last eight months, the grief is real and profound – and much harder to handle during a time of isolation. Grieving, finding comfort where there is none, is more than a “one day at a time” endeavor. Sometimes it feels like a minute-by-minute challenge.

I have recently lost someone very dear to me, and I am mourning. I would like to get away from myself and escape the questions I have and the longing I feel, but there is no escaping these things – we cannot crawl out of our own skin, no matter how badly we want to. He is a part of me and with me, he remains.

But as hard as it is anyway, grieving in isolation feels worse. I thank God for the friends who have had my back and supported me even when they weren’t sure what to say or how to be with me. Their presence, checking in by text, phone or Zoom, sending me something to make me smile, just telling me that they understand – these small gestures have made all the difference as I navigate this strange new space.

As always, I find comfort in the words of others, too. Here are some quotes that have given me courage:

“Life is full of grief, to exactly the degree we allow ourselves to love other people.” – Orson Scott Card. I am full of grief because I am also full of love. I love the best way that I can.

“Sometimes only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.” – Alphonse de Lamartine. I am not alone in looking for a beloved face among others, and wanting again to share a smile.

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” – E.A. Bucchianeri You cannot have love without the grief that comes when it leaves. But in all ways, the love is worth it, and it is this love that eventually gives rise to hope.

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” – Haruki Murakami. And knowing this, I commit to doing the hard work of walking through this grief to the other side, where hope and new opportunities await me.

So I grieve my loss, remember my love, focus on the many, many happy memories, and hope for a new chance, a new beginning someday. I remember that all the pain I feel now, along with the love and happiness I felt before this loss, are all parts of being alive. I have lived and am living… and in his words, “so there’s that.” I wish you peace.

Five Ways to Regain Focus in Trying Times

Living in crisis mode takes a toll on everyone. The Mayo Clinic cites the many physical effects that chronic stress can have, but cognitive effects can be just as debilitating. Depression and anxiety are common. However, with the uncertainty of when and if things will return to normal, one effect that I’ve noticed more often is just an inability to focus or concentrate on anything long-term, whether it is a work-related project or plans to visit my kids. If this is you, too, here are five ways I am trying to help regain focus during these trying times:

Step away from the internet. While spending more time at home may mean more time online, one way to fight concentration impairment is to be offline for as much of the day as possible. “Surfing” by definition implies short, superficial and mindless browsing, which only encourages a lack of concentration. Instead, set certain times and purposes for online browsing, and once completed, move on to something else. And when you are online, try positive sites such as Upworthy or ViralNova to pique your interest and renew your faith and hope!

Take active breaks. Instead of surfing the internet when taking a break from work or chores (see above), why not do twenty minutes of yoga? Or take a walk? Stretch? Physical activity is a great way to clear the mind and refocus your energy — and you’ll be healthier for the effort!

Get creative. Take advantage of more time at home to make something. Learn to knit, quilt, draw or paint. Take up jewelry-making, stained glass, or papercrafts. Anytime you immerse yourself in the creative process, your focus and concentration improves — plus you get the satisfaction of making something new!

Go outside. Can you sit outside to work? Lucky you! The sun and breeze and change of scenery is bound to help you concentrate. Even if you can’t, getting outside for a portion of the day will help you clear your head and regain focus. Breathe the fresh air, admire the summer blooms, feel the grass beneath your feet. Walk in the woods, work in your garden, pull some weeds. Nature can be a great ‘reset’ button.

Organize your stuff. Lack of focus often manifests itself as cluttered closets, overflowing drawers and piles of who-knows-what stacked on a desk. If you have trouble concentrating, start to clear the clutter that fogs your thinking and makes a mess of your home. Pick one small space — a drawer, linen closet, or bathroom cabinet — and spread the contents on a table. As you put things back, eliminate items that can be tossed or donated and rearrange what you keep to make the space more inviting and useful. Warning — this practice can be addictive and very satisfying!

Most of us can handle a crisis. We leap into action and with laser-like focus make decisions and move to make life normal again. These times require different strategies, though, because the crisis is out of our immediate control. But by actively taking steps to regain our focus, we will not just survive the following months, we’ll thrive!

Are You Finding Peace or Avoiding Life?

Virginia Woolf once said, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” And of course, she is right. Peace as we generally think of it can be elusive at best, changing with circumstances and mood. But true peace, lasting peace, is earned through the hard work that comes with facing and walking through life’s challenges.

The trouble is “finding peace” can look an awful lot like avoiding life.

We “keep the peace” by avoiding difficult decisions, delicate discussions, and painful circumstances. We “make peace” with something that if we were honest about it, we would admit makes us uncomfortable, angry, or discouraged. We search for “inner peace” by creating a facade of outer peace rather than risking a painful encounter or conflict. We content ourselves with being “at peace” with something, though this “peace at any price” comes at the expense of what our gut is telling us — until finally we “rest in peace” after possibly never really living at all.

Honestly, I am as guilty as anyone of avoiding the messiness of life under the guise of “finding peace”. In fact, I have probably raised avoidance to an art form. But “peace of mind” (and heart and soul and spirit) cannot be found through avoidance. Life has a way of leaking into our facades no matter how carefully we try to contain it.

So what are the choices?

  • Let go entirely. Drop the issue, the relationship, the job, the friendship — just walk away. But this strategy can feel like giving up, and worse, giving up on something or someone worth keeping. It doesn’t result in peace, but in a constant state of wondering, “what if”.
  • Lie to yourself. Hide behind being busy. Tell yourself that really everything is OK, there’s nothing wrong, it’s all good and you are doing all that you can do. A very wise friend tells me often that it is impossible to lie to yourself, but I am not so sure we don’t try. Either way, though, this strategy is nothing more than a band-aid and there will be no peace.
  • Have a plan for dealing with the issue — but at some nebulous time in the future. Think “if this happens, then I’ll do that” or “I’ll give it until (fill in any date or circumstance) and then I’ll decide what to do.” While this strategy can allow you to feel a temporary moment of peace, it doesn’t work in the long-term. The plan will need to be constantly revised, the timeframe pushed back, and the terms re-negotiated with yourself — not a peaceful process, to be sure.
  • Acknowledge the issue and its context before taking steps toward the outcome you want. Recognizing the issue and defining its context is half the battle. Maybe you want a new job, but you are afraid to leave the security of the one you have. Acknowledging the issue of wanting new employment and the context of fear allows for a manageable approach. You can address the fears as they arise and watch them dissipate as you begin to achieve your goal.

Obviously, the last choice is the best choice.

Virginia Woolf was correct that real peace does not come from avoiding the trials of life. It comes from meeting those challenges and growing through them!