Spinning Plates when the Plate spinner is grieving

It’s been a little over two weeks since my father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m working not to focus on counting the days.

For me counting the days leads to rumination and isn’t healthy.

DisclosureThis is just my effort to process and to assess where I am and share that. I have a need to be witnessed. If you read, I thank you for witnessing what I’m going through. I do ask and hope that my sharing will not invite comparisons. I’m not looking to be compared nor am I inviting others to compare themselves to me. I’ve found that comparisons in either direction have been less than helpful, not terribly health either…

I have experience with other types of grief and how the grief cycle plays on my emotions. I’m trying to use this hard earned self knowledge to grieve in a healthy way and if I’m lucky, suffer less.

In the past when I have grieved I have sometimes been able to keep other aspects of my personal & professional life on track and sometimes my personal or professional life has gone completely off the rails.

In the early day or two after my father passed, I was able to keep the plates of my professional life spinning. Forward momentum, doing things helped me dip my toes into the pool of grief. I slowly inched in at times and at others collapsed backwards into the deep end.

Now, a couple weeks later, some of my professional life seems to be a little off the rails. My bank account is empty, literally. I lost one new client project all together, it was a bit flaky and wasn’t looking like a good project. Still if I had been on my game better, I might have done something useful with it.

I have a couple others where the combination of my communication challenges while grieving mixed with general communications challenges that seem to be everywhere have stalled 2 other projects.

The bottom line is that as I attempted to spin up these 2 plates, they never realized a healthy velocity, wobbled and crashed.

I have been able to inch forward on super small maintenance projects, but that’s not remotely sustaining in a financial way.

My father’s passing has required of me in a real sense and even more in an emotional sense the need to help. I’ve been working day and night, compelled to try and bring order out of the chaos of the plates he was spinning with his own business. This is a short term necessity for my emotional health and for my mother’s finances. I am not doing this alone, my mother and my brother are very engaged in this work as well. It’s taking all of us, our combined effort to figure things out and keep things going.

At times this has helped me to continue to only dip my toes in the pool of grief. It kept me busy with practical things.

I definitely still grieved. I did not avoid grief. I definitely have run through all the phases and emotions of the grief cycle repeatedly.

Keeping busy simply helped give my mind a break from grieving 24/7.

And the anxiety of my own finances running out is becoming a bit critical. I’m currently at my mother’s home, 750 miles or so from home. I don’t have the cash to return home let alone cover any of my bills when I get there.

I’ve got 7 days to get my house in order, literally. I’ve pulled that together before and I might again. It simply means picking up new plates and trying to balance and spin them again.

Regardless, as a person that experiences anxiety and has learned many ways of managing it, this new anxiety mixed with the emotions of grief and the circumstances, is not easy.

Again, being able to help other people is an emotional comfort. It’s helping me to manage the anxiety levels and keep things at a level 5 or 6 instead of a 9 or a 10.

I’m grateful for being able to help.

I’m anxious about not being able to do much to help myself.

I’m writing this partly to simply get it off my chest. I’ve shared this anxiety, fear with others and I’m grateful that they were able to hear me out.

I’m doing things to try and get the plates spinning again. I’m just not ‘there’ yet. It’s party challenging as well because this month started on such a positive note. It was one of the first months I’ve had in years where I could see the light at the tunnel, could almost feel the warmth. Large sustaining projects that might have been enough to help me build a new future entirely were in my grasp.

Now, I can’t tell where that is at all. Communications problems on that front have obscured the light and the money I thought would be here by now, is probably at least another month away.

So that’s where I’m at today. I’m trying to help where I can, its the only momentum I have going for me at the moment. I’m working mentally and physically every day (splitting my time between accounting work and equipment work for my dad’s business) and trying to get things started again with my own projects. I crash from exhaustion each night just before 10 and wake up to repeat around 7.

I’m grateful to be getting enough sleep in terms of quantity. The quality isn’t always there. I’ve had a lot of dreams including or involving my Dad. I’ve had a lot of nights where I wake up a half dozen times per night and typically get back to sleep in minutes if not 20-30 minutes at worst.

I’m eating ok. Not outright unhealthy and not as healthy as I would like. A lot of cookies and deserts delivered by caring friends and family right after my father’s passing, have been consumed by yours truly in the last two weeks. I’ve been walking or running a couple miles almost everyday as well, even doing most of that with my Dad’s large dog, Diesel.

Diesel, a Bernese Mountain Dog, may need a new home at some point in the future. He was my Dad’s and he is large. My Mom has not decided to re-home him yet, lots of conflicting emotions, however that might be a next step.

Diesel’s a great dog, but for reasons that might be obvious above, I can’t take him myself. While he was the runt of the litter and maybe two-thirds the size of a normal Bernese, he’s still about 100 lbs and with all the fluff, looks to be 140 lbs. My lease allows for one small pet, something the size of a cat and I’ve got one of those already.

So life is complicated. I write this on a Sunday morning as I prepare to head to Aldi’s and get some yogurt, sweat tea and granola with the last of the money in my bank account.

I’ll be ok. I’ll get through this. I’m not having thoughts of self-harm or ideation or anything. I’m ok enough given the circumstances. I’m just grieving. This is where I’m at.

Processing Grief – less than 2 weeks in

It’s been less than two weeks since my father passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. I have run through the grief cycle with emotions. For about the last twenty four hours, I’ve been hovering in and out of a general feeling of sadness and depression.

Intellectually, I know that I need to feel what I need to feel. I know that I’m going to touch base with all the feels eventually as I go through the grief cycle. Knowing this isn’t making the current step of grief any easier.

I’m feeling very impatient about feeling depressed.

I do not have time for depression. Generally, I cope with anxiety on a regular basis. That’s tera firma for me. I stress about the future and I’m hopeful that I’ll work through it and figure it out.

The depression that caught up with me yesterday started after looking at a pile of pictures. We’d put together a few picture boards for the viewing last week. I was sorting through them, some mine and some belonging to other members of my family. I snapped pictures of pictures (using my iphone) to get copies of some of the pictures I did not have.

When we put the picture boards together, I was concerned we wouldn’t find enough happy, smiling pictures of my Dad.

I was pleasantly surprised that we found a lot of them. It made me happy at the time.

Then yesterday as I was getting copies of these pictures, it struck me that he looked very happy and at the same time was no longer here with us.

I hit a bit of over load with the whole thing and had to move into self care mode. I took a nap, woke up, practice yoga, then went for a run, ate some healthy food, spent some time with his dog (big fluffy dog named Diesel), watched some Mozart in the Jungle with my Mom.

I got a good night of sleep (quantity about 8 hours, with multiple times when I woke up and went back to sleep.)

Today, I got a number of things done, and then around 4pm needed another nap.

The depression I’m feeling is spurred on by my father’s passing, but it’s all wrapped up in my own personal, current crap.

Just before he passed, a number of good things were coming together for me. I was finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

That hasn’t changed, but my feelings about how well that is or isn’t working out feels depressed today.

It’s just a feeling.

I can take a step back and intellectually see that things are still looking up. But the feeling is sucking a little wind out of my sails.

I’m writing this, sharing it as I need to exorcise these thoughts. I do not have time to be stuck in a depressed stage of the grief cycle right now.

I may need to feel the feels, but I need to survive as well. Some of this is going to have to wait to be felt a different day. I’m well aware of this risk. Not working through emotions in the present usually leads to a bit of festering of emotions.

I simply don’t have the space to eat the entire whale of grief right now. I have a few too many other challenges that have to be dealt with or else, the whale of grief will be even more difficult.

So that’s where I am today. Speaking some of my pain and depression, trying to unload a bit of it, get it out of my system, air the laundry of my mind, take a bite of the grief cycle and swallow it. So that I can move forward a bit further, solve more problems and go from there.

Divorce on Facebook

Solutions Rather Than Explanations – When empathy makes everyone feel bad & improves little

For weeks have I been percolating around a conundrum about empathy. Having the ability to empathize is one of those things that points to the existence of humanity or consciousness.

Humanity might be too egotistical as I’m certain I have witnessed dogs and dolphins express empathy.  It’s probably not something inherent to humans alone.

More specifically, when humans are incapable of empathy at all, we often see narcissism disorder enter the room.  If Narcissism is ‘bad’ then empathy must be ‘good’, right?

granted these are all moral judgments, setting that aside for the moment

The tricky thing about empathy is that it can lead some of us into codependency, or maybe it is a gateway or something. Some of us (raises my hand) want to understand others, we work to put ourselves into their shoes to understand and relate better, and the codependency trap can spring.  The more we walk around in someone else’s shoes, the more we stop living our lives and feeling theirs.  With a person close to us such as a spouse, family member or friend, the potential here can be greater.

I came across a hypothesis that utilizing objective compassion instead of empathy might be a healthier approach, or ‘Why Empathy is Bad‘. I have been playing with this hypothesis in my mind since I read it. Empathy can allow us to understand someone’s challenges better. It can also draw our focus in on an issue (their issue) and in our minds give it a disproportionate level of importance in our own bigger picture and priority list.

When we have a hyper focus in the wrong direction, it creates peripheral blind spots all over the place.

That’s nice But How do we use that concept of objective compassion?

First, we cannot fall into empathy traps. We can hear people out and work (hard) to remain conscious that their challenges are not our own. We can have compassion for their plight, and objectively stay focused on our own challenges. We can assist if we like or if there is common cause in a challenge contemplate joining forces.

We do not have to take on their load and carry their burden on our shoulders.

Sure we can help, if we choose. I want to emphasize the ‘have to’ aspect of the sentence above.

If we start ‘feeling’ compelled to help out of empathy, maybe too much empathy, then we are potentially sticking our toes into the pool of codependency.

Rubber hits the road in a real life example

I’ve had many examples of all of this express itself to me. This week one in particular stood out. It happened on Facebook.

Two friends of mine, friends in real life and friends on facebook, had been married. They divorced. The divorce was finalized this week.

I do not know all their details. This did not appear to be a happy, we’re still great friends type of divorce.  I’m not judging, just observing.

I learned about the divorce from a post that he shared online. I had seen hints that the divorce was coming for months, including witnessing a physical separation social profile name changes. I didn’t have any confirmations that this was going on, just circumstantial stuff.

He shared a post stating that the divorce papers were final.

I would describe this post as angry. There were insult hashtags directed at her. There was an image of him flying the bird at an image of her as she faced him, back to the camera. There was an icon of a cracked heart.

My impression was that he was angry and hurting.

Feelings do not mark us forever

I have witnessed many people on different sides of divorce feel and express with great venom the anger that they feel.  Anger is one of the stages of the grief cycle.

In my experience, it is one that is tolerated the least.  Anger has a way of turning happy people off and turning them away.  It alienates the angry from most other people.   Anger attracts anger often times, it reenforces and grows.

This post did not anger me. I did not feel angry. I witnessed it and chose not to try it on and feel it.  I replied with a comment expressing my happiness that he was moving on to another stage in his life. I did not reenforce the anger.

I chose to show and share compassion for someone that was hurting.

Why?

Well, that’s a tough one. He’s my friend. I met him through her originally. She’s my friend too.

I want to see both of them come through this thing happy and healthy. I do not want to witness them hurting themselves nor each other.

I chose not to reenforce any of the negative, and focus on the positives.

Solutions Rather than Explanations

This choice of mine stemmed from lessons I learned reading Michele Weiner-Davis’s book titled ‘Divorce Busting‘.

Disclaimer: This book did not save my marriage. I also did not hire the coaching service either. Maybe that would have helped, but I chose not to do that.

In the book, it describes a type of therapy called ‘Solution-Orientated Brief Therapy’ or SBT for short.  It’s a results oriented therapy approach.  It grew from the notion that we can look inwardly all day long and the knowledge of what ‘truly’ caused a psychological problem, that knowledge may not free us from the problem.  Ergo SBT focuses on the things that get results and help people live, be happy and maintain a good relationship.

Note, I was not looking to heal nor save this marriage. That is totally not my thing. I’m not the marriage rescuer. I have zero skills in this area. 🙂

This marriage was done, the paperwork on the divorce done too.

I did see a friend angry and hurting.

I shared compassion. I did not add fuel to the fire.

I saw the potential for fuel to amplify this as a couple possible scenarios:

  • Encouraging the anger by empathizing or responding in kind with my own expressions of anger or past divorce experience that made me angry
  • Castigating my friend for expressing his anger in the way that he chose to do. The day divorce papers are finalized is often a very emotional day. Like on any highly emotional day, I have witnessed that anyone can let things bubble up and out that they might not when in more control and command of themselves.  We all make mistakes. I was not there to judge. I was not there to be the internet/facebook police either. Doing so in my mind would have been an act of ‘public shaming’. In my experience, public shaming generally causes people to entrench and double down on their behavior. They get defensive.  Public Shaming rarely generates results as quickly as other approaches. In fact, I recently read that its important to be public with our praises and private with our criticism.  That applies even when someone else is being public with their criticism. Two wrongs don’t make something right.

I separately reached out to my other friend to express my compassion to her. I did this privately as there was no message publicly. She is my friend as well. I was not choosing sides in this divorce. In some ways, I feel closer to her and have more history with her.

Cyber Bullying

I will not share that private conversation. I will state that we are no longer connected as friends on Facebook.

His post might be construed as cyber bullying. I’m not agreeing that it is nor defending that it isn’t.

As I mentioned before, I am not judging his actions.  That does not mean that he is not accountable to someone for his actions. It just means I choose not to be the police, judge or jury in this situation. I’m not in an objective place to do that.  He has his shit to own. She has her shit to own. I have more than enough of my own shit to own without dipping into either of theirs.

I did witness one of her sons, his now former step son, call him to account for his actions.  I was proud of the son for sticking up for his mother.  In some positive ways, it reminded of actions my own son took in somewhat similar circumstances.  It was one of those moments when we get to witness a child of someone we care about, we witness that child do the right thing. We know that no matter what, that child has come into their own power.

They spoke truth to the power of their former step-father.

For me, it was a life moves on moment.

When empathy makes everyone feel bad & improves little

Owning my shit, I am reflecting back on my choices here. My actions had consequences. I do not know if I chose wisely or not.

I do know that my choices did align with my current path in life.  My life path may or may not be ideal. I’m not perfect and never will be.  I am working to learn and working to grow.

In this case, I chose not to pick one person or the other to ’empathize’ with and thereby zero in on the feelings of one friend over the other, choose sides, and attack the other.

This might have been a passive choice.  Sometimes passive choices might be the wrong choice and sometimes they might be the wrong choice.

I do know that I witnessed a young man rise to the moment and do what he felt was the right thing.

I do know as well that I did not add fuel to the fire of anger that my friend was experiencing on what might be one of the more emotional days of his life.  I have experienced people fueling my own fires (despair not anger) and know what it feels like to be pushed even further, maybe too far.

I am happy that I added my voice in the way that I did. I am happy that I was able to be there for both friends as I was.

My choices and examples might not have been what either wanted. That’s ok. They can take or leave me.  They are their own people. Their paths might be light years away from my own.  That’s ok.

I see them as friends and want to see both of theme survive, heal, grow, and thrive.

Our paths may or may not cross again in the future.  That’s ok. I cherish some amazing memories I have with both of them. They may or may not know it, but together, when they were together, they helped me achieve some amazing realizations in my life. They put me on a path that was life altering. It was not easy by any means, but I sincerely appreciate their influence on me.

Alone, their influence was that of people that were simply friends. But there was that time when they were together when it was magical and significantly influential and helped me. I will always be grateful for that.

Their marriage did not last, but I feel that their marriage was definitely important, even if it was only those moments that I witnessed.

And their influence is also part of what is now enabling me to see the power and pitfalls of empathy.

I am focusing on Solutions rather than explanations of what or why someone should or should not say what they might say.

I am focusing on doing things that Help with Life, not the opposite.

I see no help in applying a scarlet letter to someone’s actions.

I do see help in showing compassion and calm.

The people around us have to feel what they have to feel to move through their lives and learn their lessons.  I can’t tell someone how to feel. I definitely can’t tell them how to live.  I know that doing these things do not help. Even if I had the power to make them ‘feel’ or make them ‘live’ in a certain way, it would not help them. Without free will they would not grow, they would not be happier.

I certainly wouldn’t be better for having that type of control over anyone.

I love living knowing that my friends will rise to their challenges. They have their shit covered and will get there.

Along my way and as our paths cross, I will share my light and love and compassion. I will listen attentively and work to notice their light and hear their compassion too.

I will not pick up the shit they drop and add it to my pack.

I will continue with my strategy. I will live my life. I will open up to people and be honest. When I take action, I will focus on what helps with life and focuses on results and not on explanations about judgments of others behaviors.

Or at least that is what I am about at the moment…. 🙂

My way is not the only way. My way may not be best way on other paths.

I might even be blind or ignorant to a better way for this path of mine.

Maybe your own experiences have led you through a similar path? Maybe that path showed an alternate way, a more effective way that delivered better results and helped you, helped those that you cared for?

Maybe that even inspires you to share an alternate way?

If so, I thank you in advance and will love to contemplate it. I do not know the answers. I simply am looking for more.