Rippling… the implications of grief
Dealing with someone gone is tricky. It’s even trickier managing the dynamics of the people left behind. True to the stages of grief, I’ve jumped right back on the denial bandwagon. Oh, I tell myself it’s because of the stuff that’s going on around me, which remains to be seen. But stuff is definitely going on.
If you randomly google dealing with grief, people tell you to rest a lot; eat well; spend lots of time talking about the people that are gone and letting people be there for you. Well… boo. I ain’t got no time for none of that, honey.
All I’ve got time for is a whining, clingy 3 year old, who refuses to eat, sleep, take a shower, get in the car seat, stop asking for ‘daddy’ when he’s not here, and generally let go of my hair. For those who haven’t read my previous blog on parenting, this is a problem she’s had from when she was a baby. She’d clutch my hair. As she got older its become insecurity/extreme tiredness related, rather than always. When I say clutch my hair I mean hang on to it for dear life, climbing wherever she has to to get a space to sit and hold on. That includes my shoulder.
So I’ve had to put all other emotion on hold. The flashes of memory that make my heart skip a beat and my eyes tear are reserved to the dead of night, the few hours that she does sleep, leaving me shattered in mind and body. And I’m dealing with her needs. No one tells you about that. And when you don’t have the time to google the cr@p out of the subject, you wing it.
In Y’s case, we had a loved one lost, followed by her father leaving (he had to leave a few days ahead of us to get back to work), followed by a long, long journey (that’s 1+2+4+3.5+14+1+1=26.5 hours from door to door – I kid you not), leaving behind the rest of her grandparents and her aunt whom she’d gotten used to living in close proximity with, followed by JETLAG!
Aaaaaaa jetlag! Who knew it was such a problem. Pre-Y, jet lag for me involved drinking myself relatively silly on the plane and napping, keeping myself awake till bedtime at destination, taking a sleeping pill and letting my body rest. I’d eat a bit more than usual. Repeat on day 2. And we were golden.
Jetlag with a child, especially of coherent but not fully reasonable age (some might say that goes on till 20, but I digress), is awful. They get overtired. They scream. They definitely don’t want to sleep when you’re sleepy. Adrenalin kicks in and they will keep jarring you awake if you dare doze, as many times as it takes, to stamp the thought of sleep out of you. Trust me.
So like I said, Y had been through a lot. And in the moments, which were few, that I wasn’t angry and feeling sorry for myself about why this was happening to me, especially after a horrible flight (ah yes, that’s another post), I realized that. I felt her pain like it was my own. Heck, it was my own. And I did what I could to ease it.
At first I went with ‘lets just get her rest, it doesn’t matter what time’. I coaxed and cajoled her with all manor of favorite food. I tried a few activities that she loves. Nope! All she wanted to do was watch TV. A habit she’d fully gotten into while we were away because with so much on our plate, M and I resorted to letting her sit in front of the TV when she wasn’t with his parents. Before that TV was often trusty baby sitter when I had to do chores/take a call but she’s usually too ADD to watch more than a couple of short shows, never mind an entire movie. Now its full-on, constant need. From the moment she wakes up when she asks for it, to bedtime. Of course I don’t let her all the time, which leads to yelling, screaming, tear and tantrums. Ah joy.
So when nothing worked, and I was so tired I could kill someone from literally 20 hours of sleep in 6 days, I called on trusty friends. Real and virtual; by which I mean when I really don’t have any answers I post on the mommy forums. Yay mommies, if nothing else they have kind words, which help. The general advice was that she was old enough to plough through and put some routine into things.
I find this very hard. Not the routine… I love routine. I’m Virgo. But, apparently genetically, I find it hard to wake up kids/keep them awake/generally do most things that standard discipline requires when we’re off routine (turns out my mom couldn’t do it either). Anyway, I steeled myself, and got a move on it.
Here’s what I did:
- I waited till usual nap/bedtime even on days when she was up at 3:30 am (and there were a few). The first day she didn’t make it all the way to 8 pm, which is her bedtime so I put her down at 7. I woke her from naps after 2-3 hours (slowly reduced), because she would keep going if I let her.
- I gave meals at mealtime with light snacks or milk in between when she was hungry. Hard as it was to say no to a child who wasn’t eating and wanted a full meal at 4am, I offered milk and a few crackers just to help her along. It filled her tummy even if it wasn’t what she wanted. And god knows she wasn’t eating what she ‘wanted’ when I gave it. I tried.
- We put her to bed in her room, in her cot. My husband or I stay with her till she falls asleep, holding her hand if she needs it. When she wakes at night – a when rather than an if – we bring her to our bed and hopefully she sleeps the rest of the night there. Didn’t work the first couple of days, she just was up; but now its slowly starting to change. Apparently jet lag lasts a full 10 days. Remember that.
- We started to send her to preschool once the worst of the not sleeping was over. Started with half a day for a couple so she could still come home and sleep longer than she would there. And then graduated to shorter full days.
- Finally, and most importantly, we give her lots of hugs and cuddles. We answer her questions of grief as honestly and lightheartedly as we can (I’ll try to do another post on that a bit later summarizing some things I read that helped). And we giggle, laugh, nap together when possible, sit close together, act silly and make a mess while we spend time as a family. In the end, what she needs back is a sense of security after a big loss that she witnessed. And we’re definitely going to give it to her.
What I’ve seen so far is that her days/nights are normalizing. She doesn’t cling as much, and the questions and tantrums are getting fewer. God I hope this lasts! That’s all I ask for now. Any sleep time issues we can fix later as long as we’re all rested and well.
All this might not work for everyone. Some might not have the flexibility to do any of this and may need to send off to daycare on day 1. Do what you’ve got to do. There’s not judgment in parenting, not from me at any rate. Im just putting it out there if anyone can use it.