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What is "Maintenance Grief"?

Today I'm reminding myself of the importance of "maintenance grief" in my personal and professional life.

Often, we think of grief in terms of the top stressors we might experience in life - death, serious illness, divorce, job loss, etc. But grief is actually important in our everyday life, too.

Here's an example from my own life. The month of August is usually bonkers for me. We have three family birthdays that are close together, plus the start of the school year, plus it's hot and humid (which I hate and absolutely has an effect of my attitude and energy), plus some other factors that make this a difficult time of the year for me.

As an enneagram 9 with a 1 wing, I've realized that a broken soundtrack is, "If I had done it all perfectly, things wouldn't be (messy, problematic, difficult, unfinished) right now." The presence of any problem or hitch in the plan signals to me that I didn't do something right. Now, I'm learning to acknowledge that problems are a part of life. I have zero expectation for other humans to navigate life in a way that assures smooth sailing 100% of the time, but internalizing this message for me means that - especially during the month of August - I have to make maintenance grief an intentional self-care practice.

This grieving process always involves letting go of what I wanted and accepting what is, which includes three things: 1) The starting thought (becoming aware of my frustration/negative thoughts about a particular circumstance), 2) The grieving thought (acknowledging the loss, thinking about what I want the reality to be vs. what it is), and 3) The accepting thought (I choose to accept myself and this situation as they are).

Here is an example of what this looked like for me last Friday:

Starting thoughts: "Ugh, all my pretty flowers in the backyard planters are dead! I should have been better at watering them. I should do something about them before the family birthday party so people don't have to look at them and so they don't think badly about me because I am not on top of all the things I should be on top of."

Grieving thoughts: "I'm sad the flowers died. I spent money and effort on them, and maybe I could have kept them alive longer if I had been more dedicated to watering them. But I have to make choices with my time, and I chose to prioritize other things. I can't prioritize everything and some things just aren't going to get done. I grieve the loss of the "ideal Erin" who I think should be able to do all the things. And I grieve the pain of having a flaw exposed to others. I grieve that there is a gap between what I want to do and what I can do."

Accepting thoughts: "I have limited time and energy. I accept that I can't be on top of all the things. I'm going to stop trying to be "ideal Erin" and accept the real me, with my flaws and limitations. I'll choose to show up as my real self with my family, dead flowers and all. I'll choose to love myself even if others choose to criticize me."

As you can see, maintenance grief applies to the most mundane things, even dead flowers. We can often skip over grief in these types of situations because it seems really dramatic to think I need to grieve some flowers. But these are exactly the kinds of real-life issues that can cause negative self-talk and stress, and when we don't pause to deal with them they become huge issues.

Over the past weekend I've engaged in maintenance grief about many things, including: a school supply shopping trip that didn't go as planned; not planning my time the most efficient way possible; letting go of Pinterest-worthy birthday ideas; loss of time and energy for me to focus on my business goals. Pausing to grieve these things as they come to my awareness has helped me to stay in control of my energy instead of reaching a breaking point where I engage in destructive patterns. In the past, my energy would get sucked dry and then I found myself overeating and isolating myself well into September, while thinking "what is wrong with me?" As I've learned how to engage in maintenance grief, I have more power to truly let things go instead of carrying them with me and allowing them to continually use up my energy.


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