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Decide where to spend your energy

December 12, 2012

You have a limited amount of emotional (and physical) energy. Grief takes up a HUGE portion of that energy, which is why you feel so tired all the time. Unless you make a decision about where to spend that emotional energy (either consciously or subconsciously) you run the risk of getting stuck in your grief and never moving on.

There are three possible ways to spend your energy:

  1. Getting stuck in the “Why?” and “Why ME?” reflections.
  2. Getting stuck in the “Poor me!” apathy.
  3. Adapting and moving forward.

Obviously, option 3 is the healthiest.

In the first option, you get stuck in the phase of needing either a reason for the death or a reason to explain either why you are suffering. While there may be a reason for the death, about half of all miscarriages, stillbirths and neo-natal deaths have unknown causes.

Those who ask ‘Why me?’ are not struggling with the concept of suffering; they’re struggling with the seeming randomness of that suffering. Why should their child be taken, and not the child of the person next to them on the bus? At it’s heart, this reveals our innate selfishness as human beings. We believe that we should be immune to all suffering, because the world should revolve around us. That’s not an easy truth to hear, especially when we’re in deep pain. This question speaks to the heart of our beliefs about the nature of the world, of God, of our place in humanity and in this world.

On the one hand, science teaches us that the events that occur in the world have infinitely complex causes. The Butterfly Effect explains how relatively minor events (like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one continent) can set in motion a series of events which result in a cataclysmic event elsewhere (like an earthquake on another continent). When a tornado rips through a town, there is a reason why one house is seemingly destroyed at random, while it’s neighbour remains unscathed, yet the science behind that reason is so complex and chaotic that our mortal brains can’t really grasp it. Even computer models struggle to factor in all the variables. So there is a reason why this has happened to us, rather than anyone else, but right now we can’t grasp it, because our brains aren’t sufficiently complex to be able to.

From a faith perspective, the same is true. The thoughts of God are way above ours. In the allegorical story of Job, in the Bible, who loses not only ALL his children, but his house, his job, his possessions, his investments – EVERYTHING – and all on the same day, Job never finds out the real reason. The readers (that’s us) do, because we can see the back story, but Job never does. In the same way, we may never know the reason while we remain on this earth.

So, why me? Well, because. Just because. Maybe one day you’ll know why, but for now, you can either get stuck searching for an answer for the rest of your life, or you can choose to try to live with the mystery.

The second place you can spend your energy is in being apathetic. Yes, being apathetic takes energy. If you can live with the mystery, you may feel the need to make everyone around you dance around you and continually placate you. Poor me! Now, this is not to say that you can’t feel sorry for yourself. Losing a child is … the worst kind of pain there is. However, getting stuck in such a way that you try to control the world around you and bend it to serve your ego – that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

This kind of behaviour, in the long run, will only serve to cut you off from an increasing number of your friends. Most people expect you to move on after about 2-3 months. Realistically, as I’ve said before, it takes about 2 years. In between that, the 3 months – 2 years period, no matter how you are progressing in your grief journey, some people will respond by asking (or at least thinking, even if they’re tactful enough not to say anything out loud) that, really, you ought to be over this by now and why aren’t you moving on?! If they’re real friends though, then as you express your emotion and commemorate your child, they will realise that you are moving on.

What this second option is talking about is something slightly different, something slightly more sinister. When you deliberately start to manipulate situations and people to make yourself feel better, to make people pity you, then you’re stuck in the ‘poor me!’ phase. It’s not healthy.

The third, and healthiest option, is to spend your energy on adapting. You will never ‘get over’ the loss of your child. You learn to live around it. The deep pain recedes, but there’s a hole in your life now that will never be filled. Dwelling on why it happened, or why it happened to you, or getting stuck in a pity party, is not going to fill that hole. It’s not going to help you become a functional member of society again.

The only thing that will is choosing to adapt to your new reality. What that looks like for you will be completely different to how it looks for any other person. Our kids are engraved in our minds, on our hearts, and with God. Nothing can erase that. Nothing can reduce their significance and value. No-one can minimise the pain of their going.

Yet we have to live. We have to get back to our family, back to work, back to our friends. Don’t deny your emotions, don’t deny your pain. You will need to find a way to be true to your child, while allowing yourself to move on. It could start with an acceptance that its okay for you to laugh again, to be happy again. It could start with a decision not to spend an hour looking at the photos (just 5 mins instead). It could begin with a decision to walk the dog around the block.

Each small decision you make, to step back into the world, is a step towards using your energy to adapt, rather than getting stuck and wasting your energy on being stuck.

Grief is by no means an easy journey. You will learn things about yourself, about your family, about your friends, that you never knew before – and some of it will be unpleasant. You will discover who your true friends are – and you may be in for a surprise or two. You will plumb the depths of the ‘dark night of the soul’ till you feel like the very air you breathe is solid and that you can’t take another breath.

But you will survive.

As you work through these tasks (and not necessarily in this order) you will find you gradually move into the light again.

And we would count it a privilege to walk that journey with you. If you need a listening ear, you can email us (bornsleeping@gmail.com), or find us on Facebook (BornSleepingZA).

You are not alone. You don’t have to do this alone.

Blessings, as you journey this road!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Abigail permalink
    August 31, 2014 5:06 pm

    Thank you so much for this helpful article. since I lost my child in 2013 , when am read this I feel like am talking sharing my pain with someone. had never had anyone to tell how I feel abouy it.

    Thank you so much for putting hope in my life .

    • August 31, 2014 7:26 pm

      Hi Abigail. Glad that you found us, and that we were able to help, even just a little.

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