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Routines for Survival in Difficult Times

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen 

Although my focus these days is on bereavement, this article will be useful to many people, grieving now or not. My hope is that people will see my experiences and adapt them as needed for their own unique situations.

We all grieve differently from each other, and for people in our lives; the reactions I had for each of my parents and my oldest brother were varied. Their passing was not unexpected — unlike my beloved wife Charlene. (It has been almost seven months, and I cried writing these words.) Grief is not depression, but my lifelong struggle with it complicates matters. Part of me died with her.

The Grief Fog

When a loved one passes on, it is common to have a grief fog hit us: We go into a kind of shock. Thinking is impaired, and bereavement counselors as well as booklets advise us to avoid making major decisions whenever possible unless a trusted advisor is available. (Sleeplessness often accompanies grief, making things worse.) This fog can linger, stronger at some times than others, for months or a year.

  • I almost started kitchen fires twice. Providentially, I hadn't wandered away and was right there to keep them from getting full-blown.
  • Apathy over clutter in the apartment; I have no one to please. The bed is not made again.
  • Crying while driving is frustrating, annoying, and dangerous.
  • Setting things down and being unable to find them a moment later.
  • I forgot to lock the apartment door several nights, but that is no longer happening.

By the way, grief also affects us physically.

As for me, I have been facing all bereavement mostly alone. This apartment is so empty. Some help comes from the church, but few friends and no family are nearby. I believe God often sends people our way in times of need (maybe some ministering angels, such as Heb. 13:2). Legal, governmental, and financial matters required my attention, and I cried out to God as well as asking for help from strangers in government offices! Don't be too proud to ask for help and admit you don't know what you're doing.

Circumstances influence bereavement. As said, I am mostly alone. However, I feel badly for people who have to explain what has happened to their children and make those serious adjustments with and for them. I understand that children can be a source of comfort. Charlene and I did not have children together, and her only child from a previous marriage died a few years ago. I think she never grieved properly and she bore a greater burden for years.

Going Back to Work

Again, each circumstance is unique. I had undergone triple-bypass open-heart surgery about a month before Charlene suddenly died. When it happened, I was thinking of playing bridge — that is, doing a swan dive off a high one to erase myself. That was helped by the pastor and other counselors.

Counselors suggested that I needed to get back to work. I implored the cardiologist to sign the paperwork with no restrictions (I was past the time limit of not lifting anything more than ten pounds, no raising both arms over my head, blood tests and echocardiogram were good, and so on). If I had restrictions, I could not be allowed to return to work, and I had no source of regular income. The supervisors I have been blessed with agreed to ease me back into the work environment. It is going well.

Simple Routines for Daily Living

A previous job was tyrannical, to say the least. Even being seven minutes late on "critical business days" meant losing holiday pay! That job required me to clock in at six in the A of M, this one starts at seven. I had developed a routine that served me well then as well as now. Much of it is based on visual cues. 

If you study on it a spell, many of us wake up bleary. Those of us with the grief fog even more so. 

Let's walk through my workday routine setup which begins the evening before. The wakeup alarm goes off at 5 AM, so I have to prepare.

Get the clothes out, including socks and underwear. Those are set on the dresser, other clothes are hung on doorknobs and such. Very easy to see and find, no fumbling in the closet at that hour. Since I shave in the shower on alternating days because my beard growth is unimpressive, I put the razor cartridge on the sink the night before shaving days.

Better not fall. If I had a serious injury or die, nobody would find out for days.

In the kitchen, I set out reminders of tomorrow's breakfast. I plan what I'm having. Cold cereal in its plastic container, same with hot cereal, frying pan for eggs, coffee cup — you get the idea. My lunch is simple for various reasons. I take a sandwich, some fruit, and animal cookies.

My habit is to have breakfast in front of the computer so I can check things like email or activity on the Fakebook version of The Question Evolution Project (which I am not operating all by my lonesome, and am still able to preview articles and post links), plus other internet activities.

Before leaving, I look at the checklist on the door. Charlene isn't here to drive something out to me that I forgot to bring on her own way to work.

Sunday is Pill Night. That is, I have containers for vitamin supplements and prescriptions. There are containers for various times of the day. The cardiologist wants me to take two certain pills at bedtime. Metformin is at breakfast and supper. And so on. Anyway, putting pills in certain containers so I can take them at the right times has been an important routine of mine for years.

Laying out clothes and breakfast dishes, making lunch, and other things may sound like a lot, but I reckon that it only takes about fifteen minutes. Yesterday, I lost track of time and was a little bit late to work, but not enough to have a penalty. It could easily have been worse if I had not prepared things the night before.

Put Things Where They Belong

Time to go to work or an appointment. Where are the key cars —the car keys? Dreadful feeling. Part of my routine when  I get home from work, shopping, laundry, or whatever is to put the keys in the same place. I tell myself, "They must go here."

It is so easy when tired, confused, preoccupied to leave a trail of stuff on your way through. Like the keys, things need to be found again. Sometimes in a hurry. My alarm is on my phone, which is in the same place by the computer (except the other morning, when it was blaring away in the living room, oops). The clothes I mentioned laying out are also put in the same place each night.

Consistency matters. Being mindful of where you put something ("I'm setting my wallet on the dining room table right now") helps a great deal. You'll thank me later.

Monthly planner, Unsplash / Eric Rothermel


Something I strongly urge people to do is to use online calendar systems for setting appointments. Big names like Microsoft and Google have them, but there are others from lesser-known companies. Including on cell phones. (I disremember if the calendar on the flip phone I had would allow reminders, though.) I use those to alert me of appointments and various duties. Emphasis on remind because I can have them sent frequently if I want. Also, birthdays, events, observances, and whatever I want to keep on record in great or little detail.

Mayhaps you prefer paper. Fine, a blank calendar for the month can be found online and printed. Or use the one hanging on the wall if there's enough room to write in it. Whatever you do, seriously train yourself to look at it frequently.

At the height of grief fog, business, confusion, and crying fits, I had notes all over the place. On a good day, I was able to type them up and get them reasonably consolidated. Even so, type out or write things down. Questions to research, long-term goals, shopping lists, people to call for information, whatever. Especially if you think you may forget something.

There are also To-Do lists available for both cell phone and computer, look for those with checklists.

Do you savvy that there are resources available so important things are less likely to be missed? Hope so.

Do not be Your Own Prisoner

While it applies to everyone, even more so to the bereaved: Be gentle with yourself. Feeling badly, telling yourself off — those only do harm. You have permission to miss a point in your routine, just resolve to do that thing next time around.

Charlene disliked getting her hair cut, so when she did, she had them go very short. Here she is with Basement Cat.
Also, it is your routine for your benefit. You can tweak it or even rearrange it. I recommend paying attention and even having an inner dialogue when doing so. (Since I'm alone, I talk to myself in addition to praying.) Focus, like you do with the placement of keys and things.

There may even be a time when you decide you don't need all or part of a routine. If you can function without it, groovy!

Allow Down Time

Sometimes it's called decompression. Focusing on duties, work, chores, estate matters, etc. can be draining. Carve out some time for yourself. It's good for your mental health.

Things piled up here and the place was cluttered. Some of it was apathy, some of it was papers related to Charlene, some from fatigue. I suspended my daily writing for The Question Evolution Project for a time, a tough decision after all these years. Hopefully, I'll be resuming on Sunday, April 21. The fog is less intense, and I can deal with some of the things I had laying around. I also needed some recreation.

When I get home from work and put the keys, company device, e-book reader, lunch bag in their places, next is supper. (Some folks call it dinner. The wording is a habit.) After that is washing dishes. Then devotional booklet and Bible reading. Writing a post or article for my creation science ministry happens here or on days off.

Nearly ending the day with television time. Since I don't care for much of the modern stuff, I've found old friends like The Rifleman, Rockford FilesVoyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and others. Also, I've made new friends watching very old shows. Sure, I watch some that are newer, but not as many. It's my decompress, down, detox time. It seems to help before bed. And I usually read a bit before lights out.

All y'all probably know more about this child than you ever wanted. Surprisingly, I was once a very private person. Now I'm open about many things in hopes that someone can get something out of my experiences. While I have a long way to go and I'm still learning, things have improved. I hope this article will help folks get through their difficult times, and other folks to have inspirations for more personal efficiency.

Please share this with people you think may benefit from it.

'Scuse me while I whip out lunch now. The music that follows is one of our songs; there are a couple of places in the lyrics that fit us very well.