The theme song for my early days of living in sorrow and loss was “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne. There simply wasn’t a lot of reserve left in the tank. Every day more was going out than coming in and I would run on empty until I fell into bed.

Benjamin Precious loveI began to measure what I could and could not do and called it the economy of energy. So much of what I was once able to accomplish simply had to fall by the wayside.

This whole shift of energy started long before their deaths. In fact, it started at the birth of our first child.

Lydia almost died in childbirth. Matt spent his first month in Intensive Care. There was little time for sleep. Either Lydia or I spent every moment with Matt through his early days in the hospital.

When Matt was eight days old he had major surgery. They removed three quarters of his bowel and he wore a colostomy bag for his first seven months until they reconnected his bowel. Matt was awake every thirty minutes to an hour for seven months. So were we.

Benjamin the world couldn't stopLydia and I triaged our time and energy. We rested when we could. Compounding our challenge was Lydia’s energy was mysteriously low. We didn’t know it was the virus. We knew something happen to her, but we just assumed it was all the stress we were under after the birth and her recovery from nearly dying.

The economy of energy was forefront in my awareness. I had tangible reasons for my exhaustion.

However, the depletion of energy under the weight of grief and sorrow is less tangible. The invisible consumption of loss devoured me. While life went on in the outside world, I spent every ounce of energy just surviving my sorrow.

Everything that was once easy became so difficult. Normal tasks took an abnormal amount of time and energy. I would stare at unopened envelopes overwhelmed. It was a herculean effort to just clean the kitchen.

The world didn’t stop; nor could I. But I had to do it different. I had to accept that I just couldn’t keep pace. I had to stop being so self-critical about my level of functionality. I simply had to find a different way to make it through a day.

Life is fragile. Grief is even more fragile because it is a part of life. There is no difference for me between life and loss. They are inseparable in their being a part of me. I do not compartmentalize my life into this or that. There is only this. And this is all of what is.

But life has a way of camouflaging grief in the doing of my day. The normal tasks of the day do not go undone, but I’m keenly aware of the amount of energy it takes to get them done.

It’s the new normal for me. I do not measure what I could do to what I can do.

Lydia and I had a scaling system as to the degree of her energy. Ten was she was able to do the things she needed to do. One was the lowest point of her functionality for that day. I would ask her, “What is it today?”

A few months before she died she said to me, “A ten used to be getting in the car and going to the grocery store. A ten now is getting to the refrigerator.”

I do not have the same scaling system I once had. I’ve learned my limitations. I know what living in loss takes out of me. I know what I can and cannot do. I have reluctantly come to accept my new normal.

I’ve also learned self-care. I’ve learned to prioritize. I have let go of so many tasks that deplete me and savor the ones that replenish me.

The underlying task that permeates everything I do is the task of being gentle – with myself and with others. Gentleness is my remedy to my persistent over-expectations. I used to beat myself up thinking I “should” be able to do more. Gentleness says, “No, this is all I can do and this is all I need to do today.”

I still run many days on empty. Even now I don’t have a lot of reserves. I go gentle into my days and gently into my night. I hurt in so many ways. The last thing I need to do is self-hurt. I gently let the moment be what it needs to be.

I’ve learned to economize my energy to maximize my moments. Life is too precious to use unwisely. If I have to make a choice of trying to keep pace with the world around me or lean into the world within me, I’ll choose to lean into healing every time.

Healing is my only hope on days when there are no reserves and I’m running way past empty. I will use every ounce of my energy to lean into my sorrow and do what is necessary to embrace my loss and my life.



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