I awoke the other morning to dense fog. I could just barely make out the outdoor lights from the houses across the street through the thick wall of white outside my windows.
It felt a little like a cozy, comforting blanket insulating me from the rest of the world as I got ready for the day that morning, but that cozy feeling disappeared quickly once I had to venture out on the commute to work.
Visibility was reduced to a mere fraction of the distance I could normally see, so driving at normal speeds caused potential obstacles and hazards to come looming out of the fog at the last possible moment.
Even the cars with their headlights on where not visible until unusually close. Those with only parking lights on did not appear out of the mists until they were even closer yet. And those who chose not to turn on any lights at all were virtually invisible until they were only a few feet away. (And there were an amazing number in this last group!)
It made my normal, everyday commute much more hazardous and challenging than it normally is, and I found myself driving a little slower, paying much closer attention to the road, and hesitating to take risks (at left turns, for example) than I would otherwise.
This relatively simple task went from something I do mostly on autopilot to something that required an unusual amount of focus and energy. The drive felt much longer and more tiring than normal.
The fog of grief
Most of the brokenness we experience in life comes in the wake of loss of some kind. It may be loss of a loved one, a relationship, a job, our health, our home, a cherished dream, our safety, our financial health, our belief system, our way of seeing the world, or even a complex mixture of these things.
The grief that arises as we face this loss often feels like that thick bank of fog I drove through the other morning.
Our grief feels as if it separates us from the rest of world, and we find ourselves moving a little slower, straining to focus enough to accomplish everyday tasks, being blindsided by obstacles and challenges we couldn't see coming, and struggling to make even simple decisions.
It's exhausting and frustrating and sometimes a bit claustrophobic as we struggle to continue functioning in our daily lives.
It feels like something is wrong with us. It feels like something we need to struggle against, something to fix.
But just like the fog outside my door the other morning, the fog just is. There is no way to wrestle with it, to fix it, to make it go away.
We can only deal with the challenges it presents.
The dynamics of fog
What often looks like a solid wall of white in dense fog is actually an active, dynamic, ever-swirling, ever-changing cloud in motion.
It swirls around us like sheets of tattered fabric blowing in the wind. There are patches that thicken and thin, sometimes even abruptly giving way to small pockets of near-clarity.
With each thinning of the fog or pocket of opening, it's easy to think that maybe the fog is dissipating and we are almost through to the other side. Only to have those hopes dashed when the thick, milky white descends again moments later.
That's true driving in fog and in moving through the fog of grief. It never stays still to be examined. It shifts from thick to thin to a glimpse of normal and back to thick again for no apparent reason.
That's easier to accept from the fog outside my window than it is for the fog of grief. It's much too easy for me to start blaming myself for "failing" when the fog of grief thickens again around me after each thinning, even though that's equally as irrational as blaming myself for the thickening of the fog outside my window the other morning as I drove.
The fog dissipates as the sun rises enough to burn it off. No amount of rushing through it or fighting against it makes the slightest difference in that timing.
When encased in a bank of fog, there is absolutely nothing I can do about the fog itself. My job is just to take care of myself to be best of my ability to make it safely through to the other side.
Navigating the fog
Navigating through the fog of grief is not all that much different than driving through fog.
It requires allowing ourselves to slow our normal pace. In accepting the limitations of the fog, we give ourselves permission and grace to slow down, to not try to get as much done as usual, to accept that things may take longer than we are used to.
It means accepting that our usual routine will require more focus and energy than normal, so we can expect to need extra rest, extra down time, and more help and support from others than usual.
It means recognizing that we may not be able to see as far as we usually can, so delaying big decisions and getting help in evaluating options can bring extra protection during the time when the fog may be hiding obstacles and challenges that we would normally be able to see.
Most of all, it means accepting that the fog is our reality for the moment. It will pass it its own time, but that is outside of our control.
Self-compassion, self-kindness, and extra self-grace are the only things we have in our control to make the journey easier.
(Likewise, compassion, kindness, grace, and support are precious gifts to those around you who may be going through times of fog. Pressing them to "snap out of it" doesn't do any good. The fog lifts when it lifts, not because you or they will it to.)
Questions to ponder
What has traveling through times of fog felt like to you as you were grieving?
What helped you to navigate those times better? What made traveling through those times more difficult?
Which of those things that helped can you reapply to help yourself (or those around you) the next time the fog of grief descends?
What about this metaphor helps you make sense of the experience and offer yourself more grace to get through it? What doesn't fit for you?
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