I've debated quite a bit about writing this one, but the words keep popping up in my head and I'm figuring they must want to be said. Hopefully what I share won't seem too self-indulgent, and will resonate with some of you. You know I talk a lot about situational disorganization and its effect on how we manage our stuff. Sometimes, we have to take time to deal with the life things...birth, death, divorce, moving, job loss, any sort of change in the family dynamic. Well, my own dynamic got rocked quite a bit over the holidays, and yes, I'm now situationally disorganized.
My "middle" older brother (I have two - I'm the baby) suffered a massive stroke just before Christmas, and he never regained consciousness. We lost him three days later. This event was totally unexpected, and pretty much knocked the wind out of me, and the whole family. Losing a sibling, I've discovered, is not just a terribly sad, but also a unique experience. Suddenly a person with whom you have the shared experience of dealing with your parents, growing up in the same household of rules, birthdays, holidays, and just hanging out, is gone. I have to admit, I had completely taken for granted that his calm, good-natured, but slightly sardonic presence would always be there at family gatherings. Now we all have a new reality.
I am always surprised (why, I don't know) by the effects of grief, and how it colors everything else you deal with. Three things come to mind in my current experience, and although I'm sure there are many other ways that people "learn" grief, these stand out for me:
Grief is time-consuming. I am ashamed to say, that when I first processed that my brother was not going to make it, I despaired at what I knew was coming. I would have to make time to deal with it. In fact, the grief would force its way into my time - it's not like I have a choice. I know some people who soldier on, trying to "be strong", and perhaps smother up the grief too soon. But I also have a smart friend who told me long ago: "You either deal with it now, or you deal with it later. Later it might be harder." And it is. So when your time is consumed, who worries about color-coding the clothes in the closet? Who has the energy to always open the mail, or put things back where they belong? Taking the time is necessary, but also...
Grief is inconvenient. Hey, I had plans for Christmas, folks. It was all worked out. I had my lists and I was checking them twice. Then I found myself in an ICU waiting room mentally paralyzed, but still desperately trying to figure out if I would be able to order from Amazon in time for my kids to have anything under the tree. Balls were dropped. Sessions were cancelled. I didn't make even one crumb of a cookie. This kind of thing is difficult for control-freak Me, but guess what? None of it mattered, really. My husband and kids were great about taking up a lot of the slack around the house, but still my personal stuff was in disarray. Oh well. I take some comfort in the fact that getting back to being organized will always be a path that's open, when it's time.
Grief is erratic. So it was a few weeks out, and I was starting to feel kind of normal. Sad still, but normal. I was finally trying to straighten up my disaster-area of a home office, and I came across a box of pictures. Uh oh. You might guess what happened next. I went from "I'm empowered! I'm going to be productive!" to "omg, there's his senior portrait. Oh, and the wedding photo. And 4th of July in 197??" And then I was a quivering heap of mess. All efforts at filing, shredding and clearing ceased. The highs and lows just seem to come out of nowhere right now. A song on the radio or a Star Trek reference can wrench me out of "normal" and derail whatever I'm doing. A few years back after my mother passed, I would read books I thought she would like and start to pick up the phone, only to realize...oh crap. Never mind.
But again, as with many things, the office can wait. The linen closets, my bathroom drawers and the garage can all wait. There will be time down the road, and I can take it bit by bit. I need to take a swallow of my own advice and accept that things are different, but not insurmountable. It might not be true for everyone, but sometimes taking 15 minutes to organize something small can actually make me feel better. Like, maybe I have zero control over life and death, but I DO have control over this %$^&*?! junk drawer! Working with clients is therapeutic too, and I'm grateful to them in ways they cannot know.
I recognize that what I've written is not new, and has probably been said in better ways by wiser people. But thanks for reading this far. It's been helpful to finally get the words down, to organize my thoughts (if not much else right now). If you've been dealing with grief, in whatever form, I hope you are working through it in your own best way, with stronger days to come.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?