Just do 3 things. That’s it! You’re a Success, my Friend.
I don’t remember where I heard it but I do remember when: my dad had died about two weeks before, and I was scrambling in the maelstrom of fresh grief, feet off the ground, unable to tell up from down, tossed by waves of emotion that came out of nowhere, forcing me to pull over and sob on the freeway, or lie down at 11 a.m. and stare at the empty blue sky for hours, or claw out of the hot, incoherent panic that cremation had hurt my dad, as if he were still alive and in his body.
It was during a time when I couldn’t walk up the hill without breathing hard, my chest aching like someone had bound my lungs and gagged my heart’s desolate chambers. They just weren’t working as well.
Heartbreak is physiological. Did you know that? The same parts of the brain which process physical pain light up in the throws of loss and grief. Learning this was a vindication: heartbreak is real. Real in the way our culture likes to recognize what’s “true,” which is to say, scientifically. I wasn’t imagining it, or bobbing adrift in some excessive, touchy-feely, woo-woo, California-hippie-dippie bullshit (I am, after all, a bit of a California hippie); my body hurt, and was fatigued sometimes to the point of temporary incapacitation, and it was real.
The fatigue! It was the thing that lingered longest. It is the way I know I’m in a grief spell now, whether because of my dad’s death in 2018 or the end of my marriage or the loss of a friendship or opportunity or dream, or a pandemic, or climate catastrophe, or the global retreat from democratic ideals. This grief-fatigue is different. It’s not I’m tired. It’s not I’m sleepy. It’s like wet concrete, there is a sticky sludge to it, it seems to emanate from the bones, it touches every cell in my body, it engulfs the mind, it is weary and total and can’t be fought. These intense moments may last twenty minutes, or a week. But they are also, thank goodness, temporary. They pass. The cure? Rest, doing less — but not just any rest. Rest undertaken with the intention of tending to my grief. Rest that witnesses what I’m carrying.
And that’s where the rule of three comes in.
I read somewhere, in some article I found after Googling something like “how to survive grief,” that in the midst of acute loss, we should…