The Grief Diary: Busyness Beats Sadness

Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss. This is the third in this series.

In the immediate days following a death there are a myriad of details to attend to, especially when you’re the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. First, you must make arrangements for the funeral or memorial service. You go through the motions numb, on autopilot, pushing your grief aside to choose a funeral director, set the date and location, book the church or religious leader, purchase a casket or urn, arrange for music, speakers, readings, and flowers, pick out the last outfit your loved one will ever wear, decide who to invite to the service, write an obituary, write a eulogy, and do whatever else is needed to memorialize your lost one in a dignified, respectable, loving way.

I’ve arranged three funerals since January, 2018. In each case, I wanted to ensure my loved ones were honored. This took a lot of time and energy in and amongst the grieving. The upside to all this activity is that it distracts you from acknowledging your loss.

Busyness Beats Sadness

Busyness is a strategy you can employ in the weeks and months following your loss to beat your sadness, at least for awhile. For example, taking on the role of administrator for my brother Vic’s estate required me to manage the details of his funeral, along with the help of my brothers. After the funeral, I spent hours each week unraveling his life, attending to his business: cancelling credit cards and bank accounts, selling his house and other property. An administrator works alone. No one can help you because you are the only one with the authority to speak for the dead. Everything falls on your shoulders.

While all of this was going on, I, of course, grieved, and many times my grief was amplified as I had to confront the reality of his death time and again while explaining it to strangers on the phone, or sending out official documents – like his death certificate – to complete my tasks. But I also had to keep it together to conduct this business, so I dried my tears and carried on.

What I learned, though, is that this busyness doesn’t ease the pain or stem the tide of grief. It just pushes it off until the day all the tasks are done, every little thing is sold, given away, donated, or trashed. The funeral is over. A new family lives in his house. The grave marker is installed. Once the tasks run out there’s no hiding, and the loss hits anew: He is really, truly gone, and I must come to grips with it.

My dad died in 1976. To this day a random memory or thought of him can trigger an overwhelming sadness, tears, and grief. Most of the time when I think of him I see him as still living, as he was at 45 years of age, being my dad. I can handle those memories much better than when I acknowledge the fact that he has died and I have not seen him in more than 40 years. Nor heard his voice. Nor felt his touch. That life goes on for decades without a loved one is astounding. Where is he? I wonder. What would he think of me now, as a grown woman, a mother, a writer? What would we be doing if he was still here? How would my life be different if I hadn’t lost him at 15? Because my life would be different in profound ways, I’m sure.

When Dad died I was young, a sophomore in high school. I soon took on the role of co-parent with my mom, helping to care for my younger brothers while she worked. In the 70’s, not many moms worked outside the home, not in my social circle. I had to skip after school activities, sports, clubs, etc, to beat my brothers home so someone would be waiting for them, to supervise them until Mom came home. I did laundry. I started dinner. Busyness beats sadness. I guess I learned that at a young age.

Vic has been gone six months now and there are but a few pieces of his life that still need to be unraveled. I will soon run out of busyness. Hopefully the shock of his inexplicable death and my initial grief will have also been settled in the process, when I wasn’t looking. I know I will always feel sadness, be pissed at him for getting on that motorcycle, and mourn him afresh when the last task concludes and my busyness is finally over. But at least the work of concluding his business on earth provided me with safe cover, space, and time to reconcile myself to his loss.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.

The Grief Diary: Exploring the Aftermath of Love and Loss

This is the first in a new series for this blog. The last few months – no, the last few years – have been difficult for me. There’s been a lot of loss and change, most of it unexpected, some of it for good reasons. I’m generally an optimistic person but even I have my breaking point. I’ve run into it a few times lately. This has left my mind churning and I find myself with so much to say, so much to work out. Writing has always been a means to my seeking clarity, so I decided to use my blog to figure things out. Welcome to The Grief Diary.

The Virus

Let’s start with the coronavirus, COVID-19, which impacts everyone everywhere so it’s not necessarily a personal problem in my miniscule part of the world. I have not been sick. No one in my direct orbit has been seriously ill or hospitalized. The biggest impact the virus has had on my life, thus far, is that I’ve been working from home since March 23rd, 2020. It’s doable, but not ideal. I’m a nurse in a college health center, so much of what I’m doing at home is paperwork and administrative stuff. I miss seeing the students, and I miss the daily contact with my colleagues, our conversations, brainstorming, and troubleshooting. I miss the adrenaline rush when there’s a call for a nurse to race to an emergency, accident, sick student, or staff member. I miss walking through the beautiful buildings on our campus. I miss being in a learning environment (which I wrote about here.)

Yeah, there’s a lot to miss, but one thing I’m not missing is a paycheck. I know I’m lucky to have a job where I can work from home. So many others do not. Too many others have lost so much more to this virus: jobs, homes, loved ones. I understand I’m one of the blessed.

I also miss what most people are missing: hanging out with friends and family; going out to dinner, shopping, a concert or a movie; not having to wear a mask everytime I go out. This too shall pass, I tell myself, and each day passes. Hopefully the newly released vaccines will become more widely available and distributed, or people will just get their heads on straight on how to mitigate this virus so life can return to some semblance of “normal.” There’s something optimistic about that, no? So it’s not the virus that has me tied in knots, although it’s not helping.

The Fridge Gallery

Not my fridge but you get the picture. Right after I made this observation I added pictures of the living to my Gallery.

Let’s talk about the fridge gallery. Do you hang pictures on your refrigerator? I do. I have all kinds of pictures – photographs, clippings from magazines and newspapers, cartoons, and inspirational and motivational magnets and mementos – covering the freezer door. The other day I was looking at my fridge gallery and realized that all of the people in the photos were gone. They’d died. This included my parents, my brother, his partner, an aunt, and a cousin. And they are not the only members of my family who have passed away recently. We’ve endured a cycle of death. Last I counted our extended family lost nine members in the last three years.

Grief is a heavy thing. You need to get out from under it sometimes. But it’s hard to climb out when it keeps being heaped upon you. Many of these deaths were preceded by illness, sometimes savage illness, like a vicious cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Two were the result of a single tragic motorcycle accident on a beautiful summer day. All of them bring additional grief, whether it’s anticipatory as you watch someone you love suffer and slip away, or raw as someone is inexplicably ripped away from you with no warning. I’ve endured both and, trust me, there’s no way to determine which is the easier loss to bear.

The Grief Diary

As I pondered the photos on the fridge I thought of each individual life and my thoughts swirled. I felt an urge to tell their stories, to write about their lives, what made them special, why their memory endures. So I’m starting this Grief Diary to tell their stories, and my own, in an exploration of grief, love, and loss. These posts will endeavor to not only heal my broken heart but to help heal others on the grief journey. I can’t promise regular entries but I will post when inspiration moves me.

An Invitation

Please take this journey with me. We can communicate with one another in the comments, perhaps find healing together. Subscribe to this blog to receive email notifications of new posts. Thank you.