When David died, I never knew how to answer “how are you doing?” Sometimes they would respond to their own question with “day by day, I guess, eh? Yup just day by day,” why were people asking rhetorical questions? What do you mean by “day?” I am worried about the next hour…I need to get through the next hour 24 times in a row. I would never say this, I would nod in agreement and go with whatever answer they were looking for.
They checked in with the 32-year-old widow, they did their good deed for the day. It wasn’t until I was hospitalized in my own mental health journey did someone call out this bullshit, she was a nurse named Grace, “now really,” to my automatic answer of “day by day,”
she checked in with the widow she did her good deed. I took a breath and shook my head, “I don’t have a day.”
“What do you have?”
“I can’t see past right now but all I am doing is breathing.”
She laughed, “I like you breathing. Breathe. For every minute you are breathing it builds, one minute becomes two, becomes five. pretty soon you have one hour and that was one hour more than you were alive. Take a small victory and let it build, like bricks.”
“Small victories, child. Who cares about the day? live minute by minute. Pretty soon you can answer hour by hour, but there is no way of knowing day by day if you don’t know minute by minute. small victory, you have remembered to breathe, the small victory you are standing..”
A lot of moving through grief is small victories, but, those small victories can be powerful building blocks to things like self-compassion, esteem, security.
Small victory: you woke up. If that is all you did-especially after the few days before and after the funeral, I will do a little celebratory dance in your honor!
Small victory: you accepted a cup of tea from a friend.
Small victory: you remembered about food in the fridge. Eating might be different, but you remembered the food.
Small victory: showered/bathed, changed pajamas.
Small victory: you did the things that you needed to do that were difficult. Talked to the bank, lawyers, credit card companies – whatever were applicable to you.
Small victory: you allowed yourself to grieve. Crumble. Break down.
Small victory: you did it over again.
By the end of my stay at the hospital, I was saying hour by hour to Grace when she asked me how I was doing.
Three years into my journey I can sometimes confidently answer “day by day,” when those conversations arise. Sometimes.
Small Victory: I can recognize that “hell if I know,” can also be a true and valid response.
But, it was because I allowed myself the opportunity to build on those little victories with other little victories.
Small Victory: still breathing.
Find the little victory in those early days of grief. Forget about the days if you need to and concentrate on the little ones ”I checked the mail,” “I accepted help from a neighbor…”
Little victory: I am no longer envious of old people holding hands in the grocery store…
Little victory: you are still here, you are breathing…