Confession: Seven months after losing Steve, I have yet to make it through an entire book on dealing with grief. Partly, because I read too many books at once and the grief books are easiest to put down. But more because the minute I run into subjective truth that’s stated as universal, I tend to tap out. I’m not defending that method, just being honest about my response system.
I never want to be someone who spits out easy answers or weary platitudes, but I do want to be a helpful voice in the journey for those coming along behind. I really, really do. In fact, I feel it’s part of the reason I’m even on this spinning planet to begin with. So, I want to share my entire strategy for walking this weird road in one sentence and it is this:
Do what’s working.
If something works, I try to stick with it. If something doesn’t work, I put it on the shelf for a bit and maybe I’ll try that thing later, but for now, I put the bulk of my limited energy into the things that make me the happiest in the long run. Here’s my short list of current Happymaking habits – these may not be happy for you, but I encourage you listen to the rhythms of your life and make a list of your own.
Movement. After five months of resisting running (which I LOVED before), I finally re-prioritized it. Actually, I prioritized walking, which led to running which has led to new levels of health and happiness on nearly every level. Running, for me, involves the great outdoors, fresh air, great music and those beautiful and mysterious endorphins. I try to get a trail (or as a last resort: treadmill) beneath my feet 4-6 days each week.
Social Connection. I made a contract with my introverted self to connect with three people for coffee or happy hour each week. I further promised that I would, in each of these connections, share honestly and transparently about something going on in my life – not everything, but something. Every Sunday, I take a look at how I did with this and determine who I will connect with in the week ahead. This habit has brought so much life and healing and I know Steve – who was the extrovert in our relationship – would be really proud of me for doing it.
Food with Joe. This is a whole, big long story that I will probably write more about down the road, but for now I will say that many failures led to the formation of a new habit which has proven to be a huge success: Eating with Josiah four times each week. We cook together three nights a week (for convenience and fun, we use this company and sometimes this one, and we love it!) and have an official lunch out every Sunday during which Joe gives me an update on his relationship with time, grades, money, friends and Jesus. We’re on our fourth month of this system and I can’t tell you how much it’s impacted our relationship and my happiness level in general.
Sleep. I’m not an awesome sleeper, but both science and experience tell me it’s essential. Honestly, my life implodes without good sleep. So, I’ve had to establish strong and often unpleasant micro habits, like going to bed earlier than I want to and saying no to that afternoon cup of coffee, in order to make it a priority. I’m still not great at it, but I’m learning what works and what definitely doesn’t.
Mornings. Starting the day with solitude is probably the single most important habit in my life. It gives me a chance to think, pray, plan and just sit with the sunrise. This has been true in my life for about ten years, but I wasn’t able to stick with it the last year of Steve’s life because of the aforementioned sleep situation. It’s good to be back to mornings.
There are other, smaller things, like crying when I need to, journaling the journey, talking with friends who are farther down the sorrow road than I am, etc., but these five have been the most consistently effective habits I’ve committed to thus far. Within each one is a list of micro habits that make the big one easier to tackle, but that’s another post for another time.
Wherever you find yourself today, I hope you feel the warm grace of a good God breaking through the icy edges of winter.
With hope for spring,
Well, okay. Full disclosure? Last week was not my very favorite week in all of history (aside: my grandson says “frayvrite” and it’s lodged in my brain that way now, so I hear his cute voice every time I type that word.) I’ve been reading a lot about the science of happiness and one thing I keep running into is this idea that the happiest people are not necessarily those whose lives are going perfectly, but rather those who have learned to quickly and automatically identify the good and beautiful in a world full of hard and ugly. I’m trying to learn to scan my surroundings for happiness instead of scanning for threats and, it may sound like a flimsy strategy, but it’s helped me through some really rough days so I’m keeping it.
I really AM going to write more this week, but for now, here are Five Happy Monday Things.
- Arugula – because it’s delicious, but also sounds like a sunny vacation spot.
- Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm in every single color.
- Fresh starts
- Omnifocus for managing the fresh starts.
- Go, Broncos!
- Bonus: Tonight is Grandma Fun Night at my house! Grey & Finn are coming to make Valentine cookies and Grandma Fun Night is my frayvrite.
What’s making your eyes light up this week?
I met Steve Stern when I was 16 years old. We fell in love when I was 18 and were married one year later. Knowing him, loving him, making a life with him – it’s most of what I know in this world. When I lost him a few months ago, I felt a little like I and all my history had been erased – it was as if I couldn’t see my own face in the mirror anymore. The first month was filled with spinning, spinning, trying to find solid footing. It was so easy to focus on what’s been lost, and very hard work to fully appreciate what remains.
About six weeks in, I sat down and had a good heart-to-heart with myself. I made the decision to stop looking back and figure out who I am now. I wanted to get to know this Bo. Single Bo (which still sounds super weird to me.) Steve will always be such an enormous part of my life because that’s what truly great people do to you. They weave their way into your thoughts and opinions and hopes and dreams, and when they’re gone holes happen. Gaping holes. Scary holes. I’ve watched some sorrow-sojourners fill those holes up with someone or something else so they’ll stop hurting. No judgement on this method, I’ve seen it work for some, but it’s just not for me. I don’t want quick fills. And I don’t want to form this new season of my life around another person. Quite transparently, that means I don’t want to look a certain way or cook a certain way or fold my laundry a certain way because of someone else. Not yet. Maybe not ever. But I’ve been around long enough to know that in the “not yet” and the “maybe not ever”, unknown possibilities are often incubating inside the sovereignty of God. I’m more than content coexisting with that mystery, and in being on a need-to-know basis with Him.
In related news, a few friends have asked about my wedding ring, which I recently moved to my right hand (baby steps) and will eventually put on a chain. I didn’t move it because I’m ready to move onto another person, but because it felt like an important step in the next phase of the journey (though again, lots of people do it differently and that’s perfectly great!) I’m saying yes to this season of life, however scary and crazy and uncomfortable it may feel. I am in no condition to date, so refrain from sending me suggestions. Just know that I am alive and well and trying to lean into the adventure. I can’t change that loss and sorrow are a part of my story, but I can choose to write the narrative around it to include discovery, development and joy in the me that I am now and the me that I will (hopefully!) become.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I know this is intensely personal and perhaps even really awkward to read. If I’m honest, it was pretty awkward to write. But this is my story and I’ve come to believe my story is good. And also? I’m grateful for you.
It’s a grey, snowy Monday here in our little mountain town. We’ve had a lot of grey this year, which isn’t at all typical. Our city’s weather resume proudly lists “300 days of sunshine per year”, and I can feel the population collectively scanning the sky for signs of Merry & Bright.
I’m not doing much sky-gazing this week. I’m keeping my head down and my shoulder to the wheel because I’m busy, y’all! It’s wedding week. Plus also it’s finish-the-basement-remodel-week. Plus also Tori-moves-down-to-the-new-basement-apartment week, which means Bo-has-so-many-closets-to-clean-out-down-in-that-thar-basement week is also upon us. Two big things that are very important to each of my wonderful daughters have converged at the same fixed point on the calendar. A point on the calendar, by the way, that on it’s own carries such weighty reminders of Steve’s absence. I often find myself wanting to text him with wedding updates or remodel issues and it takes a minute for reality to splash up in my face and remind me he’s really, truly not here.
What I’m learning through this is that for any given situation, there are multiple vantage points, multiple realities, and each one is valid. Weddings are a lot of work and money and stress. So are remodels. So is moving. So are the holidays. Each would be so much easier to do with my beloved here. Grief is hard to carry during already-emotional life events. These are just really real and there’s no point in arguing with them. However, I’m finding that the whole key to whether a day is grim or glorious is in my willingness to find alternative vantage points which allow me to see the equally valid, positive realities.
- I have a home we love, with plenty of room for the people who share my life and my heartache. All this remodeling business means I can share my home, but have my own space which is just about ideal in every way.
- Doing all this during the last week of the year means we will all start the New Year with fresh new spaces – and one of us will even start it with a fresh, new name! I adore new beginnings.
- The people I love most are about to converge upon my home to celebrate with us. For five years, I have wondered how I will survive my first New Year’s without Steve – now, I know for sure I won’t have to do it alone.
- Biggest of all: my sweet daughter is about to marry the man of her dreams. He is the man Steve and I have prayed for since before she was born. Together, they will climb mountains and build dreams and GIVE ME MORE GRANDBABIES! (No pressure, Tess!) Truly, this is a remarkable gift and it is worth the long to-do lists and the late-night planning sessions and 17 trips to Goodwill to find “just one more glass vase candleholder thingy” (I’ve collected well over 100 over the past 12 weeks.)
Multiple realities this week. Some of them hard, but many of them holy and so, so beautiful. I get to choose the way I see these things and I know that no one would argue if I wanted to cry big, drippy tears of self-pity for a minute or a month. But, I can’t. I won’t. I don’t have time! This week of wonder is too precious, too perfect, too important to sacrifice on the altar of a life-is-against-me mindset. I may (read: definitely will) cry tears of joy and I may cry tears of wishing Steve could see all of this, but I refuse to view this week as bad or unfair or anything but a gift. This is my solemn vow. Yes to the New Year. Yes to weddings. Yes to new life.
Grief is heavy today. It’s awkward and cumbersome and frustrating and surprising. Weird that it’s surprising, right? But it is, because so far the holiday season has been pretty much lovely. It’s been fun to decorate and plan and shop and not worry about how Steve is or where we’re at in the Shadowland. It hasn’t been overly-emotional or difficult and so maybe I thought I had moved into a new phase or something. Not “through it” or “over it”, because I’m not yet convinced those phases exist, but maybe I thought I had moved into the “handling it” phase, like I had Olivia Pope’d my grief – all efficient and decisive and in control. Heh.
This side-road of sadness snuck up on me because last week was awesome. And Sunday was great. It was full of family and really fun. But Sunday night, I felt the clouds roll in and I think I’ve identified the trigger point and I fear it’s going to sound crazy when I tell you what it was, but I’m telling you anyway because then you can tell me I am, in fact, not crazy. So, I started on the gift-wrapping and it was going fine, until it came time to sign the tag. To Josiah. From…my pen hung in the air for a long time until I found the courage to write it. Love, Mom. Just Mom. To Corey. From….Bo. Just Bo. Seeing my name all alone on the card made me feel as alone as I have felt since Steve went home and it made my kids look truly and honestly fatherless for the first time ever.
And that’s when the clouds rolled in, grey and weighty, with a suffocating kind of sadness. Usually they move in and out pretty quickly. This time, they’ve lingered longer than I’d like – through two nights and two mornings and three coffee meetings and two Christmas movies. Through driving and shopping and still more gift-wrapping. I’ve fought it, but not very passionately. I’ve jabbed at the air a bit, but I don’t think I’ve landed a real punch yet. Grief makes you tired, is the thing, and sort of wild-eyed so I feel my aim is off.
This morning, I woke up and my Year of Yes seemed not just impossible, but invisible. Impossible, I can do. I like impossible. The quickest way to get me moving is to tell me it can’t be done. But invisible? Different story. Today I have felt sorrow-blind, widow-blind and, consequently, Yes-blind.
But here’s what I know: I am following the One who can see in the dark. I am living in relationship with the Light of the Whole Wide World, and though this corner is blind, He sees the entire road. If I could see, I wouldn’t need Him to lead. But I can’t, so I do. I need Him. So much.
Because I have no other weapon to wield, I’m saying Yes to Day 143. The only day I can see. The only truth I know – that He is good and all He does is beautiful. He will be beautiful to me and in me and through me. Yes to that truth. Yes to light. Yes to life.
Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows. Isaiah 9:2