“And no one ever told me about the laziness of grief. Except at my job - where the machine seems to run on much as usual - I loathe the slightest effort.”- C.S.Lewis
Exhaustion, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, loss of productivity….do any of these sound familiar?
Like C.S. Lewis described after his wife's death, many of us have expressed similar symptoms of loss. Some grief counselors refer to this phenomenon as the “lethargy of grief.”
In a (very scholarly) word, I usually describe the feeling as.….BLAH.
Whether we are grieving the death of a loved one or a loss such as divorce, unemployment, illness, separation, or normalcy- as our grief presses on, so does our emotional, physical, and spiritual weariness.
Why is grief so taxing?
In a previous post, I addressed how our brains initially attempt to deny a loss. Suffice it to say, our minds expend a great deal of energy processing the reality of our new circumstances and reconciling how we will adapt, survive, and (eventually) thrive.
It takes a lot of effort, and our brains eventually become fatigued. After the death of his father, a 9-year-old described the situation to me best when he proclaimed, "I think my brain fell out!”
Well said, my young friend…well, said! I think we all can relate!
It doesn’t help when society sends frequent messages that we should "have it all together" or
“get over" our losses.
Remember the first few weeks of the pandemic, when everyone was posting ideas for how we should make the best use of our “extra” time and be super productive? People had the motivation to write these articles, and some of us even had the vigor to apply their suggestions.
Why did we feel the sudden need for productivity at the start of a global pandemic?
Because our brains were still in crisis management mode.…producing lots of energy inducing hormones that aid us in threat survival. The problem is, we don’t remain in crisis management mode forever. Eventually, our brains settle, and the weight of our reality hits us (usually knocking us down for a while).
Messages of “pandemic productivity” sound very much like the advice we offer our grieving friends following a death. We might tell them to “keep busy," "distract yourself," "don’t think about it so much," "try new things," "focus on your work…” These expressions are often an attempt to distract ourselves from the reality of our loss and the pain of our grief.
Yet, to heal (and eventually find productivity, motivation, and joy once again), we must first acknowledge our losses and process our feelings of grief.
Grief slows us down…on purpose.
The word “convalescence” refers to a gradual process of healing after a physical injury. But, a loss is also an injury- an emotional and spiritual wound from which we must gradually heal.
“When you convalesce, you heal or grow strong after illness or injury, often by staying off your feet.” - Merriam-Webster
Did you catch that? We heal by staying off our feet…slowing down…taking it easy. If we push ourselves too hard or too fast following a physical injury, we will usually get worse. Our healing will be delayed. The same is true for our grief.
Convalescence is the opposite of well-intentioned messages to “stay busy” or “be productive.” Rather, we must provide our bodies, minds, and spirits the time and space they need to process the magnitude of our loss, including our emotions of grief.
I’m not bashing "pandemic productivity" altogether. But, we must be mindful of the intent behind our efforts of “busy-ness” when we are grieving.
If we are using tasks in an attempt to ignore or deny the reality of our loss, bypass our pain and sorrow altogether, or neglect our feelings, it may not be the most effective coping strategy.
In contrast, if we are engaging in a new venture because it helps us acknowledge, process, honor, memorialize, or mourn our loss, it could serve as a healthy way to ventilate and express our emotions.
The world is filled with beautiful works created by people in the midst of their grief- art, music, theatre, literature, poetry, social programs, medical advances, and more.
One of my former students is alive today because a grieving mother made a contribution to the world in the wake of her unspeakable loss. She donated her teen daughter’s heart to Annemarie...saving her life and sparing Annemarie's mother the same insurmountable grief of losing a child. This was a contribution borne of great love amid great loss.
My dear readers, we were created with the capacity to love others abundantly…so, we will also grieve and mourn our losses abundantly. This ultimately leads to the work of reconciliation….creating the spaces for us to once again pursue and extend love, beauty, joy, and hope in the midst of our sorrow and suffering.
During the pandemic, my daughter learned to knit (which I NEVER saw coming), and I created this blog (which has been a dream of mine for years). Both of these projects have been positive outlets of expression and have helped us cope with the changes and losses in our world.
But, even still, some days are just plain HARD. This week was filled with more than one of "those days" for me.
So, accept this post as permission to free yourself from the burden of “pandemic productivity” or the pressure to “have it all together” during times of significant loss. After all, if C.S. Lewis said grief can be lazy and unproductive, we don’t need to shame ourselves for experiencing it!
As far as the pandemic is concerned, we’re all just doing the best we can with a situation no one in our lifetime has ever before experienced. Let’s extend ourselves (and each other) a little bit of grace and a lot of compassion along the way!