As fall marches on, there are days where life just feels like “normal” in a lot of ways. We have settled into some new rhythms of life, chores and projects are starting to get done a little more consistently around the house, and despite still having very difficult days and weeks, I am able to make it though many days without crying.
That is not to say that I don’t still feel the weight of grief or that I don’t have very difficult moments in the midst of very normal activities. It’s just to say that I am somehow learning to carry this heavy load with the help of good friends and some grief management techniques that I am picking up along the way.
This past weekend was full to the brim of youth ministry. It was my first truly packed weekend since losing Alexander. An all day service event on Saturday, followed by worship, Sunday School, two meetings, and a confirmation learning event with parents. Seven hours on Saturday, and a ten hour day full of programming that I was leading on Sunday.
Here’s the thing I have found with grief. I can still do all of the things I have always done. I can still manage a meeting and prepare for a retreat and stand up in front of a group of 100+ middle schoolers and parents to lead a session on peer ministry leadership. I can still sit through a meeting and make it through introductions where people are talking about their children and their families. I can still worship the God of hope and comfort on Sunday mornings and teach high school Sunday School.
But all of those things – and especially all those things in the course of 48 hours time – demand a lot of effort and energy. More than ever before. Because, my reality is this: not only am I still an off-the-charts introvert, needing rest and recovery time after spending large amounts of time with people; I am now a grieving introvert – carrying the additional weight of missing Alexander, recognizing that none of these things are the way they should be even though they look so much like they did a year ago, and just trying to make it through each moment of each day.
I have found myself relying a lot on deep breathing to get me through my days and weeks.
A few years ago, at the Renew Retreat, Pastor RW who understands grief and ministry so intimately came and led a session on breathing and self-care for ministry. He taught us a variety of breathing techniques for managing stress, anger, and sadness in the midst of ministry. I didn’t think much of it back then (besides the fact that it was really fun to practice our lion breaths that night at Lutheran Memorial Camp), but I have found myself returning to those techniques a lot lately.
I also have a good friend who reminds me regularly to take deep breaths – to get some oxygen to my brain. I’ve heard her use this with her own kids as well when they get worked up about something. It’s good advice. It’s good parenting. It’s good friendship. “Slow down. Take some deep breaths, and get some oxygen to your brain.”
As I find myself in situations that are challenging or exhausting. As I find myself being washed over with a wave of grief. As I sit in the car hearing a song on the radio that we sang at Alexander’s memorial service or that just brings on intense emotion. As I sit with a friend talking and processing and doing the hard work of grief and healing. As I stand in front of a group of parents and students and catching myself saying things like “As a parent, I suggest…” or catching my mind wandering to how I so badly wish Alexander was here to be meeting all of these kids and families who I love and care about so much. As I sit in a meeting listening to parents share about their seven year olds and their three year olds and their six month olds. As I sit in a restaurant or walk through the grocery store and catch a parent carrying their infant in a carseat or pushing a stroller with a little boy about the same age as Alexander.
Deep breaths in.
Deep breaths out.
Some days it’s the only way to get through. Some moments it’s the only way to get through.
So, if you catch me pausing in the middle of a conversation or a meeting or some other activity. It may just be that I am taking some deep breaths, and bringing my mind and my spirit and my body back home for a reunion together present in that moment. It may just be that I’m taking a few deep breaths to recenter myself and to get some oxygen to an overworked brain.
It may just be that I’m doing the hard work of grief and healing.