Last week I wrote about things that actually help with grief, but I left out a big one. Boundaries. If you are lucky, you will have a lot of people who care about you, who want to know how you are doing. You do not owe all of them your story. In fact, you don’t owe anyone your story. That is a boundary you get to set. For example, even though I have this blog and am fairly open about my grief journey, I don’t talk a lot about it when I’m at work. That’s a boundary for me-work is a place where I am confident and capable and in early grief I needed a clear separation between the chaos that was my personal life and the successes of my professional life. At work I am the tik tok teacher, not the grieving widow.
This blog was its own type of boundary. I was realizing that grief isn’t so much something you get through but something you live with and I wanted my social media pages to go back to what they were before-honest but curated snapshots into my life that were lighthearted and fun. So I started this blog. This isn’t a hard boundary, I will often link to this blog on my personal social media pages, but most of what I post on my personal pages is quick glimpses into my regular day to day life. Honestly it’s mostly just pictures of where I went hiking. So if I want to wax poetic on all the ways hiking has contributed to my healing and how it soothes my grief I can do that here on this blog. Facebook doesn’t need to be the home of my multi-paragraph ramblings on grief.
I also much prefer to write out my feelings rather than to talk about them. Having the blog lets me share my feelings and allow people to see how I am doing without conversations that I often find uncomfortable. I can think about exactly what I want to share and how I want to share it. Then if people start asking questions I don’t want to talk about at that time I can honor my boundaries and say, “I actually write a lot about this on my blog-here’s the web address, you should check it out.” This doesn’t mean I never want to have actual conversations with people-rest assured I will set the boundary when I need to…so don’t freak out if you’ve talked to me about grief and are now thinking you shouldn’t have done that. You are always welcome to ask the question (in a way that is out of true concern to how I am doing and not in a way that is nosy or gossipy), and I will let you know if I’m willing to answer it at that time. But be aware, this is a boundary I developed, I was very word vomity in early grief and often revealed more than I was comfortable with. This is another scenario where you need to know your person as some people won’t be comfortable with questions or may answer even when they don’t want to.
Boundaries change throughout your grief journey. In early grief I had to be very careful with the type of media I consumed. Fun fact about me I am obsessed with cults-I think they are fascinating so I never say no to a good cult documentary. But in early grief I just couldn’t handle them-it was too much. So I watched a lot of Great British Bake Off instead. I remember thinking, ‘I’m like a toddler-someone needs to monitor what I’m watching.” But, of course, there was no other person to monitor my TV watching so the person who had to monitor was me-I had to set that boundary for myself. Looking back, it was a nice first step in the journey of truly caring for myself.
After a major loss you become a different person, you just do-there’s no way around it. That also requires different boundaries-and it means you need to be really honest with yourself. Here’s an example. On family vacation you have the option to be a buddy. Basically you draw a name from the hat and that person is your secret buddy for the week. You leave little notes and treats on their bed throughout the week and whoever drew your name will do the same for you. At the end of the week everyone tries to guess who their buddy was. It’s especially sweet to see the little kids run up to their rooms to see if they got a buddy gift but also take time during the day to make something special for their buddy. This summer was our 32nd year of family vacation and I had been a buddy for about 30 of those years. This year, I wasn’t a buddy.
It would be easy to say I just didn’t want to so I said no. Or I wanted to be able to take time for extra hikes and I didn’t want to worry about keeping up with buddy gifts. But if you want your boundaries to work you need to be honest about why you are setting them. This year I wasn’t a buddy because the thought of someone coming into my room, even just to deliver a gift, filled me with anxiety. I needed my room to be a private sanctuary, I needed to know that retreat was available to me and there wouldn’t be even a tiny chance that someone would be there when I needed a moment away. Because though family vacation is wonderful, it is also hard to see people living the life you imagined for yourself when your life now looks so different. So I needed a boundary. (Speaking of boundaries this is probably the first time most of my family is hearing this-because I didn’t want to talk about it on vacation…it was a boundary)
Boundaries are important in all phases of life, not just in grief, but I think they are especially important when you are hurting-really any time you are not operating at full capacity. Healthy boundaries are tools for self-care not acts of selfishness and you get to decide what they are and when you use them. So go set some boundaries.