Wondering how to navigate this new normal we’re living? Start here

I'm struggling these days.  You too?

It was early Sunday, like real early, 2 am early and I couldn’t sleep…again. Mind you, I consider sleep a cherished hobby and I don’t get through my day well if I’m not fully rested. And now’s not the time to be sleep deprived – it makes me extra weepy.

So I’m lying there and think ‘take your own advice Rusti and lean into what you’re feeling; get curious.’

Not getting anywhere, I move on to meditating, following my breath. Each time I get swept up in thought (dozens of times btw), I gently and with a friendly tone remind myself, come back, begin again, it’s ok.

Even that’s not working. I toss, I turn, I pray and think of the things I’m genuinely grateful for.

After an hour and a half of these efforts, I decided it was just better to get up and get on with the day. Being sheltered in place affords me the option of taking a brief nap later.

As I’m making coffee, I wondered when will I be able to get my sleep back on track. It’s been nearly 3 weeks since mom passed away and I know this is all part of the grieving process, but how long?

It was just last week I felt so confident I was moving through the grief process that I found myself calmly telling a friend how I’m ‘riding the wave’ and ok with the disrupted sleep, the nightmares, the tossing and turning…’this too shall pass’ I heard myself say. And not that I didn’t mean it; in that moment I felt sooooo confident and calm about it. Now, 3:30 am…not so much.

I was feeling so courageous and semi-ok last week, that I sent out this blog to you, mainly because it was helpful for me to write and I hoped it might help others too. That same day, I ordered the book On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler.

This is so me. So typical of me; my standard m.o. whenever I find myself in a swirling vortex of emotion I’ve never encountered. To think that I could figure this whole grief thing out and arm myself with expert advice so that I’d get through this season in life better.

Better than what? Than who? And why am I striving to grieve better, how odd is that?

“You can’t bypass the pain…if you don’t feel it you can’t heal it” – David Kessler

Turns out, it’s not odd or strange. It’s actually pretty common to want to make sense of chaos, uncertainty and experiences you could only imagine and yet, now find yourself actually living through.

Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do while we stay at home, shelter-in-place through this COVID-19 pandemic?

We’re all experiencing grief as we live through this pandemic whether we realize it or not. It’s better to identify it then wonder what’s wrong with us and be self-critical of the way we’re handling things.

Lucky for us, we’ve got an amazing and timely resource to help us with our pandemic grief. 

Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast recently featured David Kessler, co-author of that book on grief I just bought.   Btw, he wrote another book after that entitled Finding Meaning: The 6th Stage of Grief – and it’s that book that will help us all better equipped to make sense of what we’re feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The podcast episode is about 40 minutes long and so worth listening to especially if lately you’re finding yourself nervous, restless, full of anxiousness, scared, lonely, worried, fearful, pissed off, impatient, moody, and just generally not yourself.

Here’s some of the key take-aways I got from the podcast:

  • people think there’s an end to grief; like reaching the acceptance stage means you’re done; not so! 
  • Kessler knew acceptance was not enough when he experienced the loss of his son; he needed meaning and thus the 6th stage of grief was born
  • the stages of grief are just scaffolding…loosely there for each of us but not in a linear sort of way…it’s messy and not linear and we all grieve differently.  There is no right way to grieve.
  • we desperately want grieving to be linear because we want it to be over
  • we’re all dealing with a collective loss right now with this pandemic; the life we knew is now gone and the future is uncertain; the anchors we once knew have been pulled up and we’re drifting with no known certain course ahead
  • it’s natural to feel a weight or heaviness on your spirit, it’s the death of life as you knew and the regret that you took simple things for granted; we didn’t realize how much we loved this or that until it was gone or inaccessible
  • we’re in this together and for now, we’re holding each other’s hands virtually; we still have that
  • it will end, we will go on, and we’ve got to feel these feelings.  We must feel the grief!
  • it’s no wonder we’re feeling grief, we’re experiencing SO many losses all at once:  loss of physical touch, standard work life, gathering for meals, gathering for worship, the loss of routine…and so on
  • to move through this, we have to name it:  say hello to grief and pull up a chair, time to cozy up and feel it.
  • The part of the podcast that that stopped me in my tracks was “the worst loss is always your loss”…BOOM!  I began to crumble amidst the truth in those words.
  • What’s going on for me (my mom’s passing and not from COVID-19) isn’t what’s going on in your world, but it isn’t more valid or relevant than what you’re going through and experiencing.

Comparison has no place during times of grief

Each of us can help one another by making space for one another’s grief, by doing these things:

  • Drop the judgment; don’t judge another’s grief because we all grieve differently and there is no one right way to grieve
  • Be gracious with others and trust we’re each doing our best at our level of ability, consciousness and capacity
  • Be a good listener because there are often no words in times of grief
  • Be willing to sit with another silently and witness their grief (virtually for now), as uncomfortable as it may be for you – it’s the soothing balm the grieving need.
  • Experiment with technology to find new ways to feel connected to your loved ones when in person just isn’t possible; this might mean going outside your comfort zone…at first it’s uncomfortable and then it’s the new way; a new normal.

Lastly, many of us have gratitude practices that genuinely work to direct our minds and energy toward gratitude no matter the depth of sadness or tragedy that we experience.  We’re glass half full and optimistic kinds of people.  I consider myself one of those people.

Kessler cautions us however.  He says when seeking gratitude early on, there is no gratitude to be found.  Early in grief we can experience what might be mistaken as gratitude but it’s really just a win – you showered, bravo!  You didn’t cry all day, well done!  You didn’t bite your partner’s head off for leaving a cabinet open, way to go!  You helped someone else with no expectation of return, woohoo.  You helped your child with their math homework, you deserve a medal and hazard pay LOL.

Instead of seeking gratitude during these early days in the pandemic, we’re better of reframing it by identifying it and giving it a name.  These are wins and acts of resilience.

Genuine gratitude will come in time.   And until it does, as Kessler suggests, be willing to name your wins and take solace that you’re doing your best.  Pause and acknowledge yourself.

Together we’re stronger and we will get through this!  

For more even more on David Kessler’s work and his online grief support group, go to:  https://grief.com/

I hope today’s blog was helpful to you in some way and if you think others would get some value from it too, please share it.

If you have a comment or wish to ask me a question, I’d love to hear from you.  Simply reply to this communication or contact me here.

Onward & Upward,

Coach RustiQ

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