That Weight You Feel? It’s Grief.

The world is upside down right now. It’s a time like no other. Some of us saw what was happening in China and knew it’d be like this in the States eventually. Others of us were hoping that it wasn’t as big of a deal as the media was making it out to be. And still others of us figured it was coming but didn’t think it would affect ALL of us and every part of our lives in the way it has. 

The first dominos were tipped, and the falling effect continues three weeks later. Schools are no longer just extending Spring Breaks, sports and extracurriculars are gone, Prom and Commencements are cancelled and for many they won’t report to their school building until the beginning of their next grade.  

Not just schools, but also professional sports; first the NBA, then NHL, March Madness, MLB they all suspended their seasons, then cancelled their events. Unprecedently, the Olympics will now be hosted on an off year. 

And in the midst of it all, moms and dads are scrambling to figure out how to work from home—if they’re not essential; how to keep their families safe from contracting Coronavirus if they ARE essential, and oh yeah, throw in a little home-school too. 

Speaking of home-school, even a brief scroll down on social media and you’re seeing EVERYONE’S highlight reel on steroids. Half of your friends discovered their Pinterest Homeschool Talents seemingly overnight. The other half were happy to have enough WIFI data for the kids to entertain themselves on their tablets for most of the morning. The fear that maybe the problem isn’t your child’s teacher after all wasn’t a thought you could allow yourself to dwell on for too long.

Oh yeah…the kids…and ALL of their emotions too. Their disappointment that their games and teams are cancelled, they can’t see their friends, their NEW teacher doesn’t explain Math as good as their REAL teacher, and suddenly the 6th grade track day (that you never even heard about until now) was the event they had been waiting for, their entire elementary school career!

Are you stressed out just reading the highlights?

Add an additional layer of stress for being parents of kids with special needs; having a job in the healthcare industry; being dangerously low on toilet paper; being laid off or having your job terminated; experiencing a medical emergency unrelated to coronavirus and replacing your weekly grocery store trip with daily trips because today might be the day that you are lucky enough find a loaf of bread for your family of five.

And although our families are “safe” and coronavirus free and we’re following all the safety guidelines as best as possible, we go to bed each night with a pit of despair, smothered with uncertainty in our stomach and wake up each morning asking ourselves if yesterday was just a bad dream after all.

Somebody, pinch me!

Nobody has experience with this. There’s no manual. And this is hard. Harder than any of us could’ve imagined. 

I’ve done a lot of work in therapy for the past several years. One of the things I’m continually gaining skills in is the area of body awareness. Recognizing what my body is saying to me. What is needs. I’ve come to learn that when I’m stressed, my shoulders are what feel it first. Physically, knots will begin to develop right across the backs of my shoulder blades. My masseuse knows me well enough to ask, “Taryn, are you stressed right now?” while digging into my shoulders with an extra (uncomfortable) firmness. After the shoulders go, it moves to my chest and ribcage. I begin to feel a shortness of breath—because I’m usually holding mine—and a tightness that is subtle. From there, it moves to my stomach. A heaviness. Like I ate too many Texas Roadhouse cinnamon-butter rolls before the main course came out. After that, its my emotions. They spill out, uncontrolled. I’m extra sensitive to a joke, to news I don’t want to hear, to commercials that show dogs in the shelter while Sarah McLachlan sings. 

Can you relate?

Is that where you are? 

What about your kids? Your spouse? Your friends or co-workers?

Here is what I know: we’re experiencing a communal grief, therapeutically called ambiguous loss.

You’re probably aware of “the grief cycle”. We most commonly come into contact with it when we experience a death of a loved one. We attend the funeral, we attend all the duties, and when we get home, we don’t understand why we didn’t cry at all and now, three weeks later, we can’t stop. The first time we reach for our phones to call them, we realize how silly our brains are acting or how smells and sounds can turn our entire day upside down. Someone finally tells us, “oh honey, you’re not crazy, you’re just in the middle of grief. This is normal. You’re going to be okay.”

Ambiguous grief acts differently than the standard grief cycle. With ambiguous grief we never get the closure or the ending that we need. With the death of a loved one, the visitation and the funeral is a date, it’s set in stone. The rituals and the ceremonies, even with their hard parts, help us have an ending and a subsequent beginning that propels the healing process forward.  Ambiguous loss gives us no such foundation from which to propel. It just leaves us simmering in the unfulfilled dreams and plans we had set on our calendars, our minds and our hearts. Celebrations we will never get to gather for. Dreams or goals we will NEVER get the opportunity to achieve in the same way we would have originally planned. Pre-planned memories that will never come to fruition. Everything being up in the air, mandates changing daily, schedules array, stay-at-home orders, food and toiletry outages, role shifting, financial insecurities and worries, all of these have no end in sight, leaving us feeling like we are standing on quicksand. Vulnerable. Like our entire world could crashing down at any moment….or at least when the savings account dries up. 

All of us respond to ambiguous grief differently. If you’re a survivor like me, you’re already thinking it’s time to just go get a job at the local grocery store. Anything to give you a little bit of extra financial security. Just in case. Some of us “borrow trouble” from the hypothetical future….we’re already thinking about the chances of being able to sell our house in a recession. Should we cash in the 401k early? Others of us are worriers with an inability to even make a decision at all…the fear that we could get sick by going to the grocery store paralyzes us. 

You need to know that all of these reactions are completely normal. Again, read my words carefully: THERE IS NO MANUAL FOR THIS. WE ARE ALL FIGURING IT OUT DAY BY DAY.

Here’s the deal, despite all of this reality, we have to keep moving forward. The sun will continue to rise and set regardless of how we are responding to our new world. With all of the uncertainty that is a part of our daily existence, we must keep what IS certain in front of us. 

What Is Certain:

  1. Eventually, this period of intense, in-your-face, uncertainty will pass. Cities will open back up. Travel will resume. Grocery stores will be fully stocked. We will be able to gather in groups again. Give thanks that for us, especially in America, this is the case. Many nations have never had these luxuries to count on as certainties.
  2. Our bodies will tell us what we need if we take the time to listen. Take an inventory of how you’re feeling. Turn off the TV and put down the internet connected devices for 5 minutes. Close your eyes. Breathe in your nose for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3, and then breathe out your mouth for 5 more seconds. Think about different areas of your body and see if there is stress, pain, or fatigue. I usually start from my head and go down to my toes. You might be surprised what you hear your body say. If you have children, show them how to do the same. Do you need time outside in the sun? Schoolwork won’t suffer because you stopped to take a 30-minute walk outside. Did you make a schedule with good intentions but have yet to follow it? Don’t come down hard on yourself. Your mental, emotional and physical health desperately need you to be kind to yourself.
  3. At the same time, getting ONE important task done each day will help you feel accomplished and like you’re not wasting away. As small as making the bed, putting away the clean laundry, or responding to an email. Lots of little things add up to the accomplishment of productivity.
  4. Connect with friends and family utilizing technology but be careful with your social media intake. “Let’s meet on Zoom” has probably become the most used sentence in the English language in the last month. We are blessed to have such technology in our survival arsenal AND just like pre-pandemic times, social media can be a leading cause of heightened anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness. The comparison game is strong on these platforms. Seeing another parent leaping into their new position as Principal of PWHS—Pinterest Worthy Home School—does NOT inherently mean that you’re “doing it wrong” or that your kids will suffer. Those of us who aren’t homeschooling or worrying about little ones? You’re allowed to put boundaries on your time, just like before. Students? You do NOT have to be “extra-productive” because you’ve been given “extra time at home”. We still have the same amount of time as we had before. Most of us are just spending our time in different places.
  5. You don’t have to save the world. For empaths like me, the reality that there are so many needs all at once can hit hard. There are so many caring souls out there reminding us….or maybe bombarding us with all the groups we have to “think about”—children who are in abusive homes, now 24/7. Small business owners who can’t stay open. Medical workers without proper PPE. Residents of nursing homes who can no longer have visitors. And the list goes on and on. Help out as you can or as you want, but recognize there are so many needs, you’ll never be able to fill them all. Together, our communities must commit to taking care of each other. You aren’t anyone’s savior and compassion fatigue is a real thing.
  6. It’s okay to be sad that you’re missing out on things you REALLY wanted to do. Do yourself a favor right now and commit to NOT telling yourself what you should and shouldn’t feel. Yes, people are dying and its awful. AND it’s really sad that your child won’t get to walk in their high-school graduation. It sucks that you can’t celebrate your birthday the way you planned. Having to reschedule your entire family vacation IS indeed stressful. ALL of these things are true at the same time. You are allowed to feel both. Validate these things in yourself AND in your children. Your feelings aren’t “less real” because people are dying from this awful virus. (Real Talk: I CRIED when I got the news that my black-belt test wasn’t going to happen as scheduled…I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t be on April 4th, but the reality of it finally hitting was too much for me to handle at the time).
  7. Connect with your faith community to keep yourself spiritually healthy. Many churches have gone online. If yours isn’t capable of doing that, ask your pastor what he or she would recommend for connecting with the faith community on Sunday mornings. Many small groups and Sunday school classes are keeping up with each other via email, Zoom meetings, Facebook groups, and texts. Do your best to stay engaged with your church family and make space for your children to do the same. Taking time to study Scripture, read a devotional-no matter how short it may be, listening to music that gets your focus off of yourself are all helpful practices to keep your spiritual health, well, healthy. 

One last time, these are unprecedented times. Therefore, there’s no normal. There are no expectations for how to behave—other than law of common sense and the care of others and ourselves. We are ALL figuring this out as we go. We ALL deserve grace, space for our emotions, and empathy for our struggles in the midst of uncertainty. Make sure that in addition to giving it to others, you give some to yourself as well.

How To Help Your Kids Process Kobe Bryant’s Death

The tragic news out of California today has so many in the nation in shock and disbelief. When I first saw an article posted on Facebook, I admit, I rolled my eyes and thought, “no way. I hope this is one of those fake news articles that’s meant to just get everyone all riled up.” Unfortunately, I was completely wrong. It soon became all too real: Kobe Bryant had passed. Later news including the death of his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, and thus far a reported teammate of Gianna’s, that teammate’s parent and the pilot of the helicopter.

One of my brothers is a big sports fan. He’s usually who I reach out to when there is shocking news regarding any sports issue. As we texted for a few minutes, we acknowledged that this news hits hard. Kobe is close to my brother’s age. I made the comment to my brother that Kobe is to this generation of kids what Michael Jordan was to me and my siblings growing up….the G.O.A.T. Like him or dislike him, I believe Kobe was respected across the board for his skills, stats and mamba mentality. 

So, how do we help our kids process this event? 

1. Be aware of their news and social media intake during this time. Be willing to cut them off from the over-intake of “news”. Updates will of course continue to be released as time goes on. However, the news media can become never-ending “loops” of non-information, information. It is important for their mental and emotional health not to get stuck in this loop—-encourage a walk outside (yes, even in this cold weather); play with toys away from iPads and other electronics that access news; a family activity….coloring, board-games, baking a sweet treat, etc. Give their brain and emotions a break from the 24/7-ness (is that a word?) of the bad news cycle.

2. Don’t minimize their feelings. For some parents, it may seem odd that our child is having BIG FEELINGS about a person they’ve most likely never met. However, with any celebrity death, there is a degree to which we feel like we “know” the person. When it’s a movie or TV star, we think of the characters they played. There is a degree to which they were “in our homes” on a regular basis. If you’re old enough to remember Princess Diana’s death or more recently Robin Williams, Luke Perry or Carrie Fisher….there are celebrities that create a national (or global) type of mourning. It can be similar with sports stars. Often, sports celebrities are where kids find heroes, role-models and inspiration for who they want to be when they grow up. It’s important to validate their feelings of loss and grief—big or small. Reminding them they’ve never met a person doesn’t take away their feelings about it, rather it communicates that they shouldn’t feel how they feel which is more confusing than helpful.

3. Celebrity deaths can stir up previous loss and grief memories. This is quite normal, especially if the loss was recent and even more so, especially for children. The news of a celebrity death bombards most people’s lives in an intense and saturated way. With children especially, associating a high-news-event such as this alongside the loss of a pet, a grandparent, or other significant loss in their life is common. Be prepared to answer basic questions regarding death and loss. 

4. Questions and fears are normal; give them space to express those without dismissal or minimizing. For some children this may be their first experience with death. The added layer of Kobe’s daughter having died alongside him might also hit deeper as the realization that “she was just a kid too” can hit hard. In most kids’ worlds, death is something that happens to “old” people….like grandmas and grandpas. Not someone they watch on TV, follow on social media, or another kid like them. This realization can spark questions (and fears) about their potential death (or yours). It can feel tempting to promise them that you’ll never die as a way of subduing their fear in the moment. However, this is inaccurate. First, you (as well as everyone on this earth) will eventually die. Two, none of us know when we will die. Making a promise like this to our children is not healthy and could potentially cause greater damage in the future. So what are things we can say that are honest but still help our children calm their fear or anxiety?

  • Every day that we get to spend together is a gift of time from the Lord. There is no way to predict when one of us will die. That is why it’s important to make the most of everyday.
  • One day I will die, that is true. However, God’s Word teaches us that we do not have to fear death because He will bring us all together again. And we can trust in God’s promises.
  • It is true that people die. Unfortunately, this happens to everyone eventually. And it’s important that we don’t spend all of our time together worried about what will happen in the future.  God wants us to make the most of the time that we have in the present, right now. 
  • One day, yes, I will die. However, I don’t live in fear of that day because I trust that God keeps his promises and that He will make sure that you’re (and/or other family members) are okay. He will always be with you.

5. Although not as likely, some children and teens might experience clinical depression (of any severity). While this is normally a symptom of a more underlying issue, it is important to be watchful and attentive of the bigger signs that something is wrong (lack of appetite, over or under-sleeping that is not normal, lack of desire to engage in activities that were previously fun, lack of hygiene (that isn’t normal), and lethargy. If you begin to see these signs, it would be recommended to get your child to a doctor or therapist.

The Big Leap

My therapist looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Taryn, I think this is gonna be the absolute best thing for you.” I couldn’t contain my tears as I thought about everything that this decision entailed. She continued, “I think you’re going to love Iowa.” 

I couldn’t even think about loving Iowa. I was still too numb from the hurt and betrayal that had come just two months prior. How had my life taken a path that was leading me away from everything and everyone I had ever known? Away from anything familiar. Away from my whole life. How in the world was I going to “love” a place that wasn’t Nashville, TN?

I remember going home that afternoon and continuing to pack up my things. I had moved twice before but those times had felt more like a choice. Each time had come with excited anticipation about a new beginning. This time was different–it felt like a “have-to”. The presence of deep grief and loss overshadowed any excitement possible. I called my mentor that afternoon and asked, “Do you think moving to Iowa is just me running away from my problems?” Without hesitation she answered me, “Taryn, I don’t think you’ve ever run from any problem in your entire life!” Despite her reassurances, I felt like Daniel (from the Bible) must have felt when he was thrown in that lion’s den….before God showed up; before God rescued him from certain death.

Have you been there my friend? Have your dreams and plans fallen and shattered all around you? Where you once felt control over your future, you now feel like a pawn being aimlessly moved around a chess board by someone else’s hand? After experiencing this myself I can assure you of one thing:

IT’S GONNA GET BETTER!

This week, I celebrate my two year anniversary of calling Iowa home. My therapist? She was right. Moving to Iowa WAS the best thing for me. And I do love it! I mistakenly thought that I had to completely heal first before I should make a move (both career wise and on the home-front). “God’s going to use this move to continue your healing,” were wise words from my mentor. I couldn’t see it at the time. I was going through the motions, I was doing the next best thing, I was making decisions based on logic rather than emotion and I was scared to death of it all. I tend to be an all or nothing kind of thinker—since I wasn’t all healed up, I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t!) have a position in ministry. 

(Sometimes) God doesn’t need you to be all healed up before moving your influence or using you for a new task. Sometimes the new task or environment will be the source of healing. For me, moving to Iowa was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. I moved here scared, shaken, ashamed, my self-confidence depleted, my trust destroyed, my ability to let others love me gone, my belief that I was worthy of anything good completely dissipated. I remember driving across the i74 bridge, crossing over the Mississippi River and the Iowa state line right around sunset thinking, “God, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But please don’t let me be hurt again. My heart can’t take it and I won’t be able to afford a move back to Tennessee anytime soon.”

Oh if the Taryn of 2019 could be in the truck with me that day! She’d be able to say, “Oh honey (I call everyone honey), God’s gonna blow your mind! He’s not giving you one last chance with a side of left-overs….just you wait! He’s gonna give you more than you could even ask for or imagine! Right over this bridge is gonna be a new church family that’s going to straight up LOVE you, literally hundreds of kids that are going to fill your heart up; friends that are going to honor you; the chance to fulfill your calling of pursuing your doctorate; a crazy intro into the world of Taekwondo (which will also play a part in your healing); Whitey’s Ice Cream; a little orange cat named Theo; being just two hours away from the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois; a house that has a basement and where there aren’t any shootings or drug deals on a regular basis; the wonder that is the annual TugFest; a T-Rex costume that’s going to get you in the paper and not only that but a Triceratops AND a Pterodactyl to go with it; access to beautiful river sunsets that are going to help you breathe and bask in wonder on a regular basis; and SO. MUCH. MORE. 

I’m so glad I didn’t let my (what turned out to be) momentary fear get in the way of all this blessing!

Halfway to BlackBelt and Even Further to Healing

I’m celebrating the one year mark of my Taekwondo journey today. From the time that I began, I have heard that Taekwondo is an individual journey—there’s no race to black belt. As I have moved up the ranks, I’ve told new students, frustrated by their perceived lack of progress, the same thing. There is a great honor in finishing what you set out to accomplish, no matter what finishing looks like for you.

Similarly, the reason why each person begins their journey is different. I was never interested in the martial arts. When I was a kid, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo was the coolest, let’s settle that right now) and the lesser known 3 Ninjas (I see you Tum Tum) but it never really transferred over into a personal goal like those movies do for some. My brother actually won a year’s worth of Karate lessons but my parents refused to let him take lessons for fear that he would be beating people up in the neighborhood (way to go mom and dad!). All of that to say, I never imagined that at 32 years old, I’d don a white belt and a dobok and eventually find my ki-hap inside of me. However, as I reflect on the past year, I’ve realized there’s so much more under the surface of my journey. For me, Taekwondo has been a key component of my mental and emotional health. Struggling with a lot of anger, anxiety, fear, hurt and trauma from people and circumstances in days past, I was sitting in my therapists office when she suggested, “what if you took Taekwondo?” and she listed the benefits of the martial arts. I took her suggestion seriously and went home that day to do some research. I made a phone call and from that moment, my journey was more than just earning a black-belt, it was another tool to help me heal.

I see God’s hand in the timing of me finding Taekwondo. My Taekwondo Master has been teaching for 38 years. As I reflected on my “Taekwondo birthday”, I realized that before I was even born, God began a solution to a problem that I didn’t even know I had yet. And now today, one year to the date of sitting in that office, crying and scared, I am half-way to black belt and even further in my journey of personal healing. 

If you’d like to read about the benefits of Taekwondo for children and adults, CLICK HERE. ***Note, this website is not the location where I train but has great information regarding the benefits.

When God’s Timing Doesn’t Feel Perfect

Two years ago, my life felt like it was crumbling all around me. I had experienced two major life-crises within a year of each other and now another one hit me. No, it didn’t just hit me. It bulldozed me. 

I woke up on this morning and wondered aloud, “what do I even do now?” Have you been there? Where life is so overwhelming that you don’t even know how to put a plan together to make it just a single day. 

From my time in therapy I remembered that being physically active is important to mental and emotional health. As both my mental and emotional health were in serious jeopardy I decided it’d be best to go for a walk in a park. It was a Monday morning so I was thankful that none of the parks would be too crowded at 1:38PM. I drove over to Radnor Lake in Nashville—its a beautiful park in the middle of such an urban city. But when I arrived it was PACKED and having no clue what was going on, I asked the Park Ranger why it was so busy. He said, “Its a holiday today, President’s Day.” 

“Greeeeeeeaaaat,” I mumbled to myself as I finally found an inconvenient parking space. I just wanted a space where I could walk and think and have a serious breakdown without anyone seeing me. “You can’t even give me THAT, God?” I asked as I looked up to the sky. I pulled on my sunglasses, grabbed my iPod and began walking on the trails, trying to sort out everything that had happened in the past three months.

In that moment, God’s timing did NOT feel perfect to me. Injustice upon injustice had occurred and it felt like I was receiving the blunt end of a battering ram from almost everyone around me. All of the things I knew to be true about God didn’t feel comforting, nor bring me peace because my circumstances seemed to reveal the exact opposite of what I knew. Where was God my protector when I was being beat down? Where was God my defender when lies were being thrown like confetti? Where was the God of perfect timing with His impeccable ability to “open doors” for me? Two years later, I can tell you He was with me. His timing didn’t feel perfect in that moment because it hadn’t been my plan. (When is it ever YOUR plan for your world to flip upside down?).

Two years later I can tell you that I’m so glad He changed my circumstances, my environment, my world. I read a quotation several months ago that said, “You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.” Before I was even aware that my environment had made me sick, God being God, removed me from the source of infection. Hindsight being 20/20, I can see now what He was doing and I am so thankful. (Full Disclosure: I might have ugly cried last night while thanking Him for pulling me out of a situation I didn’t even realize I was stuck in!). 

My friends, do you feel like God’s timing isn’t so perfect right now? Have your circumstances changed? Has your world been flipped upside down? I can guarantee you that though it doesn’t feel like you’ll make it, you’re wondering how you’ll survive if ___________________ happens, even taking a day at a time seems like too much, God’s timing will bring about His absolute best for you. Like a mountain climber that climbs to what she thinks is the summit, only to find another peak in front of her, your perspective isn’t always going to be clear in the midst of challenging times. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Keep leaning into the God that sees and knows all things—including you and what you need to be able to glorify Him.