A few days ago, I started work on a new book, based on the early days of grief. It has me heading back into my journals from those first few months. So I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve found myself wandering around, unsure of what to do.
I put the spatula in the freezer. Forgot where I put my keys. All those “widow-brain” moments that used to be so common have faded over the years, but they can, and do, come back.
If grief has recently erupted in your life – and by recently, I mean anything from yesterday to two or so years ago – you will most likely find that your brain just does not work.
You may have been brilliant and organized Before. Able to multi-task, remember, execute.
But grief changes all of that. Changes it radically.
Think of it like this: let’s say you have 100 currents of brain power for each day. Right now, the enormity of grief, trauma, sadness, missing, loneliness, takes up 99 of those energy currents. That remaining 1 current is what you have for the mundane and ordinary skills of life.
Remembering that cooking utensils belong in the drawer, not the freezer, that your keys are under the bathroom sink where you left them when you ran out of toilet paper – these things are just not high on the brain’s priority list. Your mind, like the rest of you, is doing the best it can to function and survive under very severe circumstances.
Now, up there, I said this grief-brain will happen anywhere up to around two or so years after your loss. I use that two year marker not because it is scientifically proven, but because that was right about when some of my own brain skills began to come back on-line.
Fleetingly at first.
I’d feel like I had it “back together” with my memory and cognition, only to have a completely confounding day. Then my brain would snap to again. And then lose it. Back and forth.
In time, the days my brain was functioning well stretched into longer and longer arcs. The confounding days or actions became more sporadic.
As I approach the 6 year mark, it’s those confounding days that are rare now; my mind seems to have largely recovered.
So the good news is, if you’ve felt like you’re losing your mind, if the simplest of activities proves far too complicated, you are not crazy. You’re completely normal. Your mind is simply doing the best it can with very limited resources.
If you are afraid your mind will never return, I can tell you that, most likely, it will. It may have some changes, but your general capacity to think, reason, remember, and organize will most likely come back.
Slowly at first, but day by day, your brain will come back on-line.
For me, when my brain gets tired and confused, it’s a clue that I need to slow down. Rest. Check in with my heart, see what comfort I might need.
It’s an on-going dance, this living with grief. A constant companion that is sometimes light, and sometimes just too much.
Your way will be found. You’ll just need to listen to yourself as best you can.
How about you? How has that widowed-brain, or grief-brain, shown up inside your loss? Are there early warning signs that tell you you need to slow down, turn inside, listen? If you’re outside that initial impact of grief, how have you noticed your mind changing, as you become more accustomed to the weight of grief?