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Doing What’s Working: A Purely Subjective Take on Surviving Sorrow



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,





February 25, 2016 - 11:16 am

Flor Nunez - Thank you for always bring your best to all of your followers! I am so blessed with your advise which comes to awaken the real me in the midst of a season of health struggles. May our good God continue to inspire you to bless us!!

February 25, 2016 - 11:38 am

Holly McKim - Bo- Thank you for sharing nuggets of truth, wisdom, and your journey. I do not have anything that comes close to paralleling the road you are on, but I am often challenged and encouraged by your words. I recently told a friend “Don’t be the you, you don’t want to be. Create a support system. Make a plan. It’s time to stand up and do something!” It turns out that I was talking to myself as well and I really like you action steps 🙂 Thanks for bringing more ideas to the table so that I might glean one or two. Ultimately, I’ll land on what works so I can “Do what’s working”. Vastly different journey- same God.

February 26, 2016 - 9:55 am

Marlys Johnson - When I was first widowed, I worried that I wasn’t grieving the right way … because I wasn’t falling into any deep, dark holes. Because I have yet to cry myself to sleep (not that I haven’t cried … oh yes, I’ve cried), but not to sleep. And because I could sit in church alone; I could walk the trails alone that Hubby and I hiked together; I could come home alone to an empty home. What was wrong with me?!!

But as you surely must know from your blog, everyone grieves differently. And here is what works for you. And I love that you don’t want to spit out weary platitudes, but you do want to be helpful. Thank you for your good, honest, down-to-earth tips and insights.

February 27, 2016 - 9:06 pm

Miranda - I have been reading your blog for a while now. I always want to comment but I don’t really know what to say. Thank you for sharing your story.