Compartmentalizing Grief?

Right now I seem to be seeing/hearing/dealing with everything through a filter of loss. Since writing is what I do to process things, I expect a few blogs on grief will be forthcoming.

Of course I’ve been reading books about loss and grief.  If you’ve read my blog for any extended period of time, you know I’m a researcher and synthesizer.  One of the fascinating things discussed (I can’t recall which book!) was a person falls somewhere along the dealing-with-death continuum from highly experiencing all the emotional feelings to doing all task-focused activities.  I’m high on the task focused side of the continuum and worry I’m not dealing with the emotional side of grieving.

There was the gut-wrenching task of getting rid of all her belongings – even though nobody in the family wanted the stuff, even though I loved that chair/lamp forever but it just didn’t fit anywhere, even though I still have piles of her things all over the living room.  There was sorting through and dealing with the family photos – I paid to have them digitized (just to get them done) but still need to toss out the originals – ack. But the hardest and most task-focused activity has been all the paperwork that comes in the aftermath of a death.

Why is this stuff (after-death estate paperwork) so hard? Is it my negativity (anger, self-blame) flowing out into it that makes things go wrong? Because something went wrong with almost Every Single company I had to work with.  From unable to make a connection over weeks of phone calls and email, to hours waiting on hold or working through the call “trees”, to wrong paperwork (one set was done wrong 4 times by the company), to checks mailed to 10-year old address “because we had it in file” (versus the address filed on the paperwork sent in!). Every single task had a frustrating set-back, re-do, start-over..

Then there were the message tracts I just did not need to hear from people – “Everything always goes wrong, you should expect it to.” Or even worse, “I knew that would happen”.  I wanted to hear “You’ll get through this. Yes, it’s hard and you’re dealing with incompetent people and flawed systems. You’re smart and organized; it will get done. Give yourself some grace and patience.”  [Surprisingly, typing that message up allowed me to hear the words I needed to hear!]

Working through all the after-death estate paperwork made me wonder, do you assume someone will be incompetent and then be surprised when they are not?  Or do you assume someone will be competent and then be disappointed when they are not?  My innate nature is to assume competency. I assume someone is trained to do his or her job efficiently and effectively. Bad assumption when it came to dealing with after-death paperwork, the people, and systems associated with them!

But there were positive messages that came through as well, sometimes even in FB posts as I seemed to get onto a string of grief and loss pushed posts. One of my favorites felt like I was hearing my mom’s voice say:

“Take the love you have for me and turn it into light and laughter…then I won’t be gone. Let the light guide you, inspire you, and help fight the sadness.”

I’m in a much better place emotionally now than when my MIL died twenty years ago. That was the last significant death I had to deal with and it felt like I was in a tunnel with no light at the end.  In my post-retirement years, I’ve identified many of my self-limiting beliefs (aware of them, if not shifted them), I’ve addressed triggers of abandonment (and use of glimmers), and I’ve been practicing positive psychology techniques.  I believe this personal growth is helping me to manage the grief somewhat better this time. 

Or perhaps I’m just compartmentalizing it and ignoring the emotional side of things as I focus on the post-death estate management details. Unfortunately I think that might be more likely the truth. So on a deal-with-it note, I just booked a session with a bereavement counselor to help me face the emotional side of grief. Because while everything seemed to go wrong with the tasks and things still are on the to-do list, some are getting done and there are fewer tasks to focus on. It’s time to look at the other compartment.

Picture: me – Spring flowers in a local garden. Taking time for one of my glimmers!

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22 thoughts on “Compartmentalizing Grief?

  1. Sending you a big virtual hug, Pat. You are resilient and competent, and you will get through this. Still, I know it isn’t easy. I’m glad you are being proactive and have decided to meet with a grief counselor. Along the lines of what Leanne said, when I am grieving the loss of a loved one, I remind myself how blessed I am to have loved someone so deeply and to have experienced their love. Take good care of yourself. Sending love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Christie, Interesting that the grief counselor had the exact same words as your last ones… “Take good care of yourself”. I’m trying to give myself space and time… challenging for my check-it-off self. Thanks for the virtual hug… they are helpful!


  2. Oh Pat, I just want to reach through this screen and give you a hug!! I’m sorry you’ve encountered so many mistakes and miscues, it sounds incredibly frustrating!
    Dealing with all the responsibility after a loved one has passed is huge and it’s on top of trying to process your grief… unless someone has gone through it they really don’t get it. It will be OK and you will get through it, slowly but surely. The one thing that really surprised me is how SLOW everyone else treated my requests and needs for filing forms and processing paperwork…it was maddening! I wanted to get all the ‘official stuff’ out of the way quickly but it just doesn’t work that way 😦
    I hope things go smoothly from this point forward and I hope your visit to the grief conselor provides some guidance and relief. Sending big HUGS!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sharon, You get it! I was shocked with one response of “we’ll send you paperwork in 4-6 weeks”… on a pension program close out… and after trying to get a response from them (calling & emailing ) for 3 weeks! Still have not seen that paperwork, either. Ah well, I’m learning a bit about patience, a bit about not expecting competency… I did read that there is often learning through grief. I’m going to put that “slowly but surely” on top on my after-death to-do list. Thanks for the virtual hugs… they really do help!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love what one of your responders said. “You are doing your very best and that is enough.” You are an incredibly intelligent and capable woman and I am confident you are doing everything extremely well, including dealing with the grief and especially the paper work stuff. You are a diligent person and you will get through this. When you’re having trouble think of all the people that are not as intelligent, diligent and able as you trying to get this s### done. This too shall pass.
    Congratulations on scheduling with a grief counselor. Good for you for realizing maybe you could use a little guidance and then finding it.
    I’m here if you want to talk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candyse, Thanks for your kind words. And from someone who knows me IRL, they hit home even more. 🙂 I’m trying to accept that this is going to take time and to allow myself to feel the pain – that’s been tough to allow and where I do believe the grief counseling will help. Many of the paperwork tasks have finally been resolved (not all, but many), so those check-offs are also helping reduce the stress. Tears still come readily, even typing responses to positive blog comments! But life goes on, and I will get through all the tasks eventually!


  4. Pat, I used to consider that most people are competent, but these past few years I have crossed over to the cynical side. Now, I just steel myself for a trying ordeal for even the simplest task. You are dealing with sh*t on a lot of levels. My heart goes out to you. Smart to schedule an appointment with a professional.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Suzanne, Realizing I may need to shift back into a more cynical approach to life is disheartening. I’ve spent years now trying to be more positive and optimistic. But, my husband often tells me I expect too much – expecting competency, expecting customer service to provide customer service, expecting manners, expecting systems to be designed intuitively. (That last one… I was a product designer. I know how to design for human intuition.) I am working on acceptance of the incompetency… maybe expecting it is next step!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My sympathies on the loss of your mom. Mine died in 2016 and I still have the urge to phone her. I miss her but am not shrouded in grief as I was then.

    As for the business stuff, I think it is a symptom of this “quiet quitting” thing that is going through our society. I rarely encounter anyone now who is doing their job well, and it’s hard on our generation because we took pride in doing a good job. You are encountering a lot of it just because there are so many tasks to complete, but you will get through this. Just keep plugging away. Your organizational skills will keep you on the path.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nina, Yes, I keep reaching for the phone to call her – to see how she’s doing, to tell her about something that happened. A bit painful to realize that urge might continue to years.

      I like your perspective of “quiet quitting”. I also think it’s a symptom of years of it didn’t matter if you tried hard or just showed up – you got the medal, you passed, you got a paycheck. The slow-death of the work ethic and the continued growth of entitlement. They used to complain our generation had entitlement issues, but I think it’s just gotten worse and worse as years go by.

      Sorry for my rant! Thanks for your kind words (and recognizing I do have good organizational skills – I worked to develop them years ago!)


  6. Oddly enough I find that everything is F##### up these days and it has nothing to do with death messiness. I tried to get some blinds repaired… read my block I mean blog. Still not returned 6 months later. I tried to get some standardized Lesson plans adopted for a teaching gig.. etc etc. A friend who husband died 2 years ago is still managing the paperwork along with some paid financial help. But even finding paid help is a challenge. So what is this all about we might ask? I think it is a bureaucracy trickle down effect. For example every one and their dog has to have a criminal record check. Except for all the phone and internet scammers. Thank you for listening to my rant. All the rabbit holes we have to go done are adding to our burden of dissatisfaction with LIFE at this moment in time and I don’t see any fixes coming down the road.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure the root cause, but the increase in poor work ethic, poor customer service, and lack of manners is disheartening. When combined with grief feelings, it made me go ballistic a few times myself – adding to the lack of manners. Sigh. I am hoping I’m still not dealing with things in 2 years!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It seems absolutely insane how much run around you’ve had. Such incompetence is terrible at any time, but handling grief at the same time would make it so hard. I think, of you’ve compartmentalized it you did so because you had to. I get the goal driven aspect as it’s a trait we share and like you I would want it all squared away before or after I dealt with the emotions. Take care of yourself. Find the positives and glimmers and keep remembering it doesn’t all need to be crossed off by a certain moment. Hugs. Bernie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I chuckled at the “doesn’t all need to be crossed off” because yeah, it’s kinda how I roll. Recognizing this is going to take more time and a roller-coaster of emotions (feel them to work through them) is the first step. I’m trying to let things not hit me as hard… waiting on responses, redoing paperwork. It will get done. And hearing everyone supporting me virtually has been super helpful too!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. John, thanks for your kind words. I do think the grief counseling will help (first meeting was helpful in what I needed it to do). I have to recognize this will take time, grieving is not a short process.


  8. Pat,

    I have compartmentalized as well when with my in-laws and parents passed. Plowing thru the “have to” things. Saving some things for “later”. A cry here and there.

    One of the craziest things I remember after my father in law passed was needing a death certificate for the cable company!

    I had a good cry today after learning that Aunt Betty passed. It helped me grieve my mom as well.

    Sending hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kris, It’s been interesting how my mom’s passing brought back feelings from my MIL passing as well. Aunt Betty’s didn’t impact me (I think I’ve only met her one time) but I can understand it impacting you (you had closer family connection).

      I’m starting to shift from plowing through and putting some focus on dealing with the pain of grief. It’s odd in some ways – feeling like I’ve joined the “club” of women who’ve lost their mothers, becoming the matriarch of the family (West side, not Doyle side), a shift into elderhood. Yes, you can see I’m shifting a bit from plowing through and into thinking about the meaning.


    1. It’s scary to encounter so much incompetency. I realize more and more that in my work life, there wasn’t much of that…I was spoiled by working with (mostly) amazing people my whole career. And yes, dealing it when you’re a mess emotionally is even worse.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh Pat – I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with all this stuff. I’m yet to experience anything remotely like it, so it’s hard to have anything worthwhile to offer – other than “you’ve got this and you’ll get through it – but it sucks”.
    One thing I do come back to is that the harder it is, the more it means there was a lot of love in the relationship that’s been lost. I almost envy those who have deep grief at the passing of a parent – because I felt nothing when my dad died – absolutely nothing – and that shows how little love there was. So, lean into those who are there to support you, remember the love you and your mum shared, and allow yourself to grieve as much as you need to. Sending you a hug xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, You “get me” in knowing what I need to hear! Thanks for your virtual hug also. I am working through it, but it’s going to take longer than I originally imagined it would. I just need to allow the time to work through the emotions.


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