After the death of a loved one, many of us would love to crawl into bed and not have to get out for a few years. Maybe not ever. The pain is overwhelming.
Life doesn’t work like that. There are bills to be paid. Kids to feed. A house to clean. Depending on the size and quality of your support system, you may get some breathing room for a little while if others pick up the slack. But eventually, you have to start getting stuff done again. Usually long before you actually feel ready to.
Everyone has different circumstances ranging from working in an office to working for yourself at home. There will also be differences in how much support you have and how understanding the people in your life are. Each suggestion can be tailored to suit your situation.
I know you do not want to. For many days after my boyfriend died just the smell of food made me dry heave. I tried unsuccessfully to eat numerous times. Those first few things I tried and failed to eat still make me sick now over a year later. The thought or smell of them makes me nauseated. I finally managed to force down some oatmeal when I could not take the lightheadedness anymore.
You need the energy to work. Find something bland that you can keep down. Eat enough to keep you functioning, even if not at full speed.
Accept You Won’t Be Yourself
It will be a long time before you are back to your normal levels of productivity. Depending on how close you were to the person you lost, you may never return to what your old normal was.
If you lost a partner or child, a part of you is gone. Your new normal is different from who you used to be. This may change your priorities and have an effect on your productivity. You may not figure out the extent of those changes until you are much further along in the grieving process.
At first, you are just a giant bundle of raw pain. Nothing makes sense. Everything hurts. You just have to drag yourself through each day.
Be gentle with yourself. Any progress you can make is good.
Some action is better than no action. When you begin working again, sit down at your desk and start. It does not matter with what.
I began with my inbox because it was out of control by the time I finally got back around to managing it. It took over a week to get it fully handled, but in those first minutes back, that is what I worked on. The inbox was something I could measure progress on so I could see that I was doing something useful.
Momentum starts to build in small steps. Find small simple things to get you started again.
Lists, Lists, and More Lists
Grief makes you spacey. You will forget the most basic things. Your mind will cut out in the middle of activities and you will forget what you were doing. Or you will forget how to do something you’ve been doing your whole life.
Your brain is entirely focused on your pain. Little else is going to penetrate it. Help it out by listing everything. Have to-do lists of what you need to do that day, week, and month.
If you struggle to remember how to do things, make instruction lists. You don’t have to make the lists public knowledge. Put them on the memo app on your phone. Then if you suddenly forget how to work the office copier, the only thing your colleagues will see is you looking at your phone. They won’t know you are looking up the instructions.
If you have someone supportive and non-judgmental, get them to help you make the lists and have them check to make sure you didn’t miss any steps.
The tears will come unexpectedly. They may be triggered by a thought, a phrase, a memory, a smell, or nothing at all. When you are out in the world you cannot control what you will see or hear. I once broke down in tears in a store because an ad playing on a television in the electronics department said something my boyfriend used to say in a very similar intonation. Cue the waterworks.
Keep Kleenex handy. I have mine on my desk, in my bathroom, on my nightstand, in my purse, and in my car.
Have a private place you can cry. Maybe a seldom-used conference room or a bathroom at work. Even your car can be repurposed. Because I work from home, mine is the bathroom. My son knows if I suddenly rush in there, I’m crying. It happens a lot less often these days than it did in the beginning.
It the early days, it will be largely uncontrollable. As time goes on, you will regain some control. Develop a mantra or a ritual that helps you hold it together. Mine is to clench my fists and dig my nails into my palm. I focus on that pain and it usually will buy me some time with the tears when they appear at an inopportune moment. It usually gives me enough time to get somewhere private before I break down.
Schedule in “lose it” time. Depending on where you are in your grieving process you may need daily time. Or even twice daily. As you progress through maybe you can make it weekly or monthly. But set aside time as often as you feel you need to let your emotions out. Give yourself permission to sob as hard as you need to. Letting it out will help you process through it. Eventually.
Plan ahead for hard days. Special days like birthday, anniversaries, death dates, and special holidays will be extra hard. If you don’t feel like you can handle working those days, try to take them off. If you have to be at work, let your boss or close co-worker know you may need to dip out if you get emotionally overwhelmed.
Know There Will Be Problems With Some People
Death is something that is difficult for many people to acknowledge. Especially in American society. It is something that is hidden and not talked about. As a result, many people have no clue what to say or do when faced with the reality of it. Many others are so scared of it that they fall back on fairy tales or other bullshit.
You will have to decide for yourself what you want to forgive or overlook. My line in the sand was drawn at selfishness.
The people who didn’t know what to say so they avoided the topic were fine. I didn’t really want to talk about it anyway. The people who just made a generic statement of condolence were also fine. There were a few people who said awkward things that I also overlooked. I did not think any of them were being malicious or selfish — just clueless.
There were a couple of people however, who got the heave-ho out of my life because of how they reacted. I am an atheist. My late boyfriend was a Presbyterian. We handled it by not talking to each other about our beliefs. We acknowledged we thought differently but did not try to convert each other.
I don’t hide my atheism, but I also don’t make a big deal about it. These two women were very religious which is not normally a problem, but after my boyfriend died, they would not stop shoving their beliefs down my throat ever goddamn time I encountered them.
I was willing to overlook one religious condolence statement. I did that with lots of people. Even those that knew I did not believe. I saw no harm in them coming from whatever their belief-system was to express compassion or empathy.
These two women were different. Because they continually brought it up, I felt like they were selfishly using my grief to make themselves feel better about their fantasy about what would happen when they die. His untimely death scared them into recognizing their own mortality (he was similar in age to them) and they tried to convince me that their beliefs were right so that they felt less scared about what is inevitable for all of us.
I finally had enough. I stopped working with one and stopped volunteering at an organization in order to avoid the other. I don’t need to be angry on top of my pain.
Decide for yourself what you are willing to tolerate. Most people mean well and should be given some latitude, but some are just selfish. You don’t have to tolerate assholes just because they claim to be doing something for your own good.
Grief is hard and you have no choice. Life goes on and you need to make a living. These suggestions can help you get back on your feet and get moving forward again. One tiny step at a time.