It’s All Small Stuff

Yesterday’s post, “It All Matters” was not supposed to be so much an explanation of why I blog about the things I do but rather an explanation of why small things are important (and important enough to blog about).

There is a saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.” Believe me, it’s not all small stuff. Dying. Death. Grief. Loss. Love. Birth. These are all huge. You can’t choose not to “sweat” them, because they sweat you. So much of the accompanying emotional, mental, chemical and hormonal changes occur without your volition. They all work to propel you into a new way of being so that you can eventually handle those immense and intense life events.

When you are dealing with changes, especially traumatic changes, it’s the small things that keep you going. A cup of tea. A flower blooming in the desert. A smile from a stranger. A shadow. (After Jeff died, I so often walked with my head down to keep people from seeing the bleakness in my eyes, that I was very aware of shadow play.)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, there was something I once did that helped train me for grief. Jeff and I lived on a lane that was less than a third of a mile long. At one end was private property. At the other end a busy highway. To take a walk of any length, I had to walk up and down, up and down that lane. It was like a treadmill in that the scene never changed. It could have been horrendously boring, but I learned to look for the small things: a flower growing in the gravel, a reflection in the irrigation ditch water, a pretty weed. I also learned to look through the eye of a camera. Focusing on one of those small things (or even a big thing like the mountains in the distance) helped make that walk as interesting as a hike in the forest. (Well, maybe not that interesting, but it did keep me going.)

After Jeff died, what kept me going were the small things. What brought the world into focus was the eye of the camera. (I was too raw at the time to be able to see life as a whole. I had to break everything up into small, lens-size pieces.)

Conversely, it was also the small things that brought me low. One of the first upsurges of grief came when I broke a mug. The mug was unimportant but it was something gone from our shared life. One of the worst upsurges of grief came when I was blindsided by lilacs. Jeff had loved lilacs, and we had planted them all around the property where we lived. I’d never seen any lilacs in the desert I’d moved to after he died, but one day, shortly after the first anniversary of his death, the scent of a stray lilac bush in a vacant lot called to me, and I was once again awash in grief.

Mostly, though, focusing on the small things helped. I could not deal with the enormity of death, but I could focus on a dying leaf. I could not deal with the immenseness of learning to live without the one person who had made it all worthwhile, but I could focus on a budding flower. I could not embrace life quite yet, but I could focus on a hug or a smile; I could focus on a single bite of food or drink.

Grief is such a hard thing to deal with, but it does come with its lessons, and one such lesson is that in comparison to the immensity of loss, it’s all small stuff. And the small stuff really is important.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Learning About Ourselves From Grief

Someone asked me if we could learn more about ourselves from grief. The question  made me stop to think because whatever we might learn would in no way offset the loss of our loved one, would in no way offset the pain of grief.

But . . .

Like any traumatic experience that we’ve survived, grief teaches us that are all stronger than we believe we are, braver than we can imagine, more emotional than we ever expected, and have the ability to pick ourselves up and take another step when all we want to do is dive into oblivion.

Mostly, though, grief is a process of change, of becoming a person who can survive our loss and our grief. Often what we learn about ourselves is not something that was present before grief gripped us, but something that comes during the process. Values are turned upside down — what was once important is no longer important, and what was once unimportant becomes less so. For example: Not wasting time used to be something I valued, so waiting in line at a grocery store used to irritate me. It was such a huge waste of time. After my life mate/soul mate died, it no longer mattered if I was one place rather than another. It no longer mattered if time passed slowly or moved quickly. It no longer mattered if I wasted time or used my time effectively. So I stood patiently in line. It’s not that I learned I was patient, but that I become patient.

Sometimes people find they are more independent than they expected, but often they are forced to become independent rather than learning that they’d always been so. My mother had been a traditional wife, always catering to my father, cooking for him, cleaning, etc. After she died, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he remarried right away so he’d have someone to look after him, but my brothers taught him to “cook.” And oh, how proud he was of his new-found ability to heat up a frozen dinner or fix instant coffee and toast! He’d always been rigid, and yet, he didn’t suddenly learn he was resilient. Her death had forced him to become resilient.

A friend whose daughter had been murdered set out to learn everything she could about the law and how to get boyfriend who’d murdered her daughter. Although already forceful, she became utterly relentless in her pursuit of justice.

So yes, we learn about ourselves from grief, but often that which we learn didn’t exist before our loss. We became that person we are learning about.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.