Email: Homeschooling through grief
I am really struggling with the recent death of my Mom. She has been ill off and on for the past few years and my 9 year old son Sam and I have spent much time traveling out to Vancouver from Calgary to care for her in that time. We recently returned from spending 5 weeks caring for her as she died. I am extremely weary and worn out. My poor son spent most of those 5 weeks watching (crap) TV and playing computer games. (He is a right-brained learner and a late reader.)
Now that we are home I’ve been expecting ‘big things’ from myself in terms of ‘getting back on track’ with our homeschooling. I’m burnt out. We fortunately have a very loose HSing rhythm–based largely on your Brave Writer Lifestyle so it is rather gentle anyway, but I still just don’t have much left at this point to give to him. Do you have any experience with grief in this way? Any words of wisdom for me/us?
First: hugs. Grief is such a strange thing. You can be perfectly calm at a memorial service and then burst into tears in the supermarket line. You feel energetic from a good night’s rest, but can’t remember phone numbers. Your brain feels scrambled. Sometimes you’re living under water, all actions slow motion and blurry, hard work, yet the pain is dull not sharp. Then guilt jumps you and you wonder why you can’t pull yourself together to get things done when you’ve already cried your tears and the event that triggered the grief was so long ago (whatever amount of time that is: six hours, four weeks, one year).
Homeschooling under those conditions is grueling. You feel responsible yet unable. It happens to school teachers too. My American Literature teacher in 11th grade lost his fiance in a freak tidal wave on the California coast. It derailed our class for the rest of the year. He spent one session telling us the vivid details of what happened to her, through his tears. From that day on (early fall), he never did get himself together. We limped our way through The Great Gatsby, Steinbeck and Hemingway without much insight or clearly defined writing projects. He missed many classes. Yet we survived. He did too.
One benefit to homeschooling is that you literally are in a house. Taking breaks, napping, crying in the bathroom are more viable than in a school setting. Remember that. Give yourself a break. Additionally, if you’re grieving the loss of someone in the family dear to you (as you are Kelly), chances are your kids are too. They can understand if you say, “I need this morning to just lie down and rest because I’m sad.”
I’ve been through one of the toughest years of my life (2009). My grief was not induced by death, but it’s been a process of loss anyway. I can’t say I survived it well, but I will share with you a few things I know about living with grief and adjusting homeschool to that unhappy rhythm.
“You can’t cheat the dark gods.”
If you’re sad, you’re sad. Don’t pretend not to be or it will squirt out in irritability or anger when one of your kids spills the orange juice or giggles too loudly. If you feel blank and unfocused, chances are supporting a rigorous routine will elude you. Then you will heap guilt on your already weary spirit. Start by recognizing that you’re in a process that will take some time to get through. Acknowledge your feelings, in a journal if nothing else, and find ways to slow down the pace of life to accommodate your sadness.
Get a support system.
Don’t rely on your kids to talk to you or to help you through the blues. Pick a friend you can call any time of day or night. Then talk to that person. Or if you prefer, create an email dialog with someone who understands your pain. Exchange emails. Don’t keep your emotions in. Find an outlet of support. (Hint: Husband may not be the best person for this if he is going through a similar grieving process.)
This is when it helps a lot to go back to basics. What aspects of homeschool are most nurturing to all of you? What can you do with your kids that is the lowest stress? I found that reading aloud was a great way to stay on track and to be restful. I also liked using DVDs and the computer for some of our education. I relied more on tutors and group learning (co-op) so that I wasn’t in charge of so much. Remember: you can catch up next year. No need to press too hard this year.
This is not the year for glitzy memorable unit studies complete with parties and field trips. Think 3 R’s. How can you keep reading, ‘riting and ‘rithematic going? Let history and science slide (if your kids are not in high school). If they are in high school, rely more on self-study and movies, group learning and tutors (if you can). Recognize that sometimes just keeping up with the basics is about all you can muster, but it is enough. Some years, it’s more than enough. Teatimes are one way to keep a routine that is nurturing. See if these can continue to be in your weekly lifestyle without too much stress.
Let them watch crap TV and play computer games.
I know, I know. That sounds so cynical. Here’s something I know from experience. Kids learn because that’s what they do. I’ve discovered from having been through a rough year myself that my kids have learned stuff I never taught them from Seinfeld episodes, from reality TV, from music (spending big quantities of time listening to and copying lyrics). Your kids need space to recover too, so let them do some of these “lesser forms of learning” without guilt. Remember the summers of your youth when you vegged out all day watching game shows or old movies? It’s okay. They’ll be okay. A little bit of learning combined with a lot of technology and TV for a period of time (a season) may be the easiest way to recover from such a blow as losing your mother. You’ll all get restless and sick of that lifestyle when your energy revives. You will. Trust it.
Deliberately take time for you.
Get away from the house, the family, your responsibilities. If you can spend time each week alone at a library or in nature or at a spiritual center, do it. I go to church alone (my kids go to a different church). In warm weather, I take time after church to go to a look out over the Ohio river. I read, journal, sit quietly, and watch coal barges float by. In the cold weather, I ski each week. Be good to you. Restore yourself. Love yourself.
Evaluate your recovery not by days or weeks,
but by months and quarters.
Change your measurements to longer spans of time. If you get a writing project done per quarter or maybe per semester, be glad. Affirm what you do. Ignore what you don’t do.
Over time, you’ll heal. You’ll know you’re healing because your energy will rebound. As it does, add in some of the missing pieces. But don’t be afraid to throw stuff out or to have a month where you lapse. Grief isn’t linear. It’s cyclical. You can get a lot of energy back and then one visit from family can send you back into the spiral. And of course, if you find that your grief turns into depression, you know (I’m sure!) to get professional help. Therapy has helped me tremendously and sometimes anti-depressants are the difference between drowning and swimming to safety.
Here’s hoping that each day gets a little better for you, just as the sun’s rays are lengthening a little bit every evening.