There is so much left unsaid about Death in western culture. We don’t talk about the extreme vulnerability that it leaves behind. Our world without our beloved now feels unrecognizable, unpredictable and hostile. Grief drains our strength and our energy, both emotionally and physically. It is painful and exhausting on all levels.
After my daughter died, I felt as though I could be knocked over by the slightest breeze, like one of those puffy dandelions that gets blown away with a breath and scattered for miles. I had to become protective of the precious little reserves I had left.
I began to set new boundaries with friends and family. This was inevitable and involuntary in many ways. It didn’t always go well. But I simply didn’t have the capability to provide the same level of support to others as I had before. I didn’t have the strength to uphold the expectations that I had previously built up around me. Friends would call, quickly ask how I was and then proceed to vent about their horrible bosses or to seek help to problem solve an issue they were having. I would hang up the phone feeling drained and alone. Other times, there would be too many questions. The good intentions pushed too far, became intrusive and painful. It was a confusing balance for everyone, myself included. There was no template they could follow, my needs changed by the moment. Some days I needed to have my loss really acknowledged, sometimes I needed to talk about anything else. It’s just the way it was, and sometimes still is.
No one can read your mind, so it’s up to you to protect your energy and your heart. One way to self-protect is to try to reduce contact or block out anything that might either intentionally or unintentionally bump into our wounds or zap what energy we have left. This is what boundary setting is all about.
Here are a couple tools to help set some boundaries when you need to:
1. Gage your strength or energy level like the gas meter in your car. What level are you at right now? How much fuel is in your tank? Are you right on empty? Maybe a bit more? Visualize it in your mind.
2. Do a Check in. Before you answer a ringing phone, attend an event, or provide support to anyone else, etc, first, ask yourself: is talking to this person or doing this activity likely to increase or decrease the fuel in my tank? Is this going to build me up or pull me down? Is this a person or a situation that might be hurtful, insensitive, or draining? Do I have the strength at this moment to risk that? Kris Carr, vibrant cancer survivor and wellness activist puts it like this: does this inspire me, or tire me?
3. Take a nap. Have a bath. Journal. Do anything else that you need to do in that moment instead. Grief is a marathon of survival and perseverance. We need to recharge and refuel when we can.
See you out there on the road. <3