First grief, then work

One could also rewrite that with verbs: First grieve, then work.

I woke up at 5:45am, my body still not adjusted after the daylight savings time change. I went to sleep late, only intellectually grasping what was happening in the election. I woke up and, even before consciousness, I could feel my heart broken.

It’s noteworthy, isn’t it?, that the feeling called ‘broken’ is heavy like cement, or like I swallowed six hard-boiled eggs without chewing. A broken heart does not feel like shards of glass. It’s a fullness that jams your esophagus.

Next, crying. I had to do that, and a few texts to my friend Lisa. I called for a Day of Mourning. I was still in bed, and I lay there.

“First grief, then work.” I read that right before I made plans to give up on social media (that betrayer) and the New York Times and the radio. The phrase was tweeted by Ada Límon, a writer I don’t know, yet.

It’s true: I did flirt with the idea of not going to work, or of going to work and refusing to work, or of going to work and telling someone else whose fault it is. Because it’s not mine.

I sat up and wept some more, my back against the pillows I put there to prop myself up. I thought of my children, one at a time.

Then I thought of cleaning out the fridge. Really. And I thought of emailing someone I teach with and promising, “Tonight I will download all those papers and put them in our dropbox.”I imagined the downloading, the renaming of the poorly named files.

The list started to form after that.

Once, at least 25 years ago, when I worked at Harvard University in fund raising where the theme was always leadership — “We are training the future leaders of America, and the world” (I got so tired of that) — I said to my friend Joe that I regretted I was no visionary. He reassured me that there would be no movement without people like us to schedule the troops, order the supplies in advance, and make enough coffee to keep everyone energized. Everyone would also need a tshirt or uniform in a size to fit their width and height. I am good at logistics, and so was he, and there would be no progress without us.

I don’t know why that anecdote popped into my mind. I have no plans today to join a movement. But, you know, logistics.

Items on my mind for today:

  1. pack a school lunch for Grace
  2. walk dog
  3. text Lydia and Eli
  4. clean out the fridge
  5. update the handout
  6. put hoses away for winter
  7. clean up bits of trash in the yard
  8. download report drafts

After Jimmy died, I stopped running for a while. After about a month, I started to worry that my body was going to go into a permanent slump, and that frailty would set in. The thought of this offended me. Only a few months ago I could run five miles at a time (with a few walking breaks to catch my breath), and here I was imagining assisted living. I messaged my friend Kristin, world’s best fitness trainer: Please, give me four things I can do every day that will keep me from the long slow slide into decripitude. I want to be ready, when the time comes, to take on a physical challenge again.  She gave me these four things, along with a rationale and encouragement:

  • walk or run (20 mins enough) x 3 per week
  • planks daily
  • squats daily
  • push-ups daily

I do them. I keep track of them in a notebook I labeled Health 2016. It’s not just for my health; it’s also for all four of us.

Also after Jimmy died, I started a notebook I labeled Financial 2016.  I write things down I have to do, and there’s a lot. Even if I do one thing, it’s something. Over time, those pages have become stitched with check marks, even as I add more items with open check boxes.

Did you, like me, expect that today you would wake up with a visionary at the helm and you would be inspired to go through your day with zest and even sign up for the revolution? I was ready, and my mind had already started to play over the options of causes to join: public education and equity, civil rights for LGBTQ people, or equal pay for equal work.

There will be no call to arms today. You know that. There is no leader at the helm, just a person in power.

(I’m sighing a lot, trust me. And once while writing this I got up for 10 minutes to make Grace’s lunch.)

I don’t know what any of us should do today. You know what, though? Inspiration is not needed to take action. Getting out of bed requires just two feet on the floor, eyes open, and glutes engaged to get you standing.

Get through the day. And get through the day tomorrow. Do this enough times, and soon we’ll be ready for a challenge that requires more than just maintenance effort.

What’s the first thing on your list? Do that. Me, next? Walk the dog. Winston climbed up on the kitchen table as I’ve been typing, and his face is on his paws, and he’s waiting.

Not that making lunch or walking the dog will be enough. It won’t. We know that.

3 thoughts on “First grief, then work

  1. I am reminded today of what my mother-in-law said a few days after my father-in-law died. She said that what is strange is how quickly life goes back to normal. The routines and the things that need to be done remain. Although, boy, Jane, what you get done in a day is truly amazing! I have determined that if I get one thing on my list done besides the usual go to work, make or get food, do laundry, it is a good day.

    I also know that that sage, my teenage son, is right when he says, “Why does everyone talk about needing to be a leader? If everyone is a leader, then no one is a leader, and all you have is chaos.” All you do is really important!

  2. woke up this morning and the world was different. feeling sick all day. among family, friends, in the streets: disbelief, collective depression. your post is such a comfort, Jane. Thank you!
    let´s stand united against the madness of the world, everywhere. let´s not give up. let´s try.
    love from your European friend

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