Being on autopilot…

Quote with pictureThree weeks ago our family pet died. Two weeks ago my father-in-law died. Somewhere along the way I switched from being present to being on automatic pilot, yet both modes have taught me something.

I know I was present during the 15 hour drive, as we tried to make it there before Dad died. I have very clear memories of the drive: how in sync my husband and I were as we drifted from talking to long periods of reflective silence. In and out like comforting waves.

We talked about death, the unknowns, our fear of not getting there in time, yet the peace of knowing there was nothing left unsaid. We told stories about Dad, laughing one moment, crying the next.

During a silent period I remember thinking about how we were talking about the past, while being very present to the experience. It made me realize that reminiscing during grief is a way of helping our minds bridge the gap to a new present that no longer includes our loved one. It also made me wonder about those moments of disconnection. Maybe they too are what we need: a break so our minds/hearts can process the new present?

These thoughts allowed me to consciously give myself permission to withdraw when I needed to over the days ahead; to choose when to be there for others and when not to be; to factor myself in, so my tank would not run dry.

It also helped me realize that I needed to shore up my reserves for the days ahead, by surrounding myself with positive energy. So, while in the passenger seat, I sent emails to a number of friends letting them know what I was facing, asking them to send positive energy, put us in the Light and in their prayers.

I practiced visualizing a bubble around me where supportive, healing energy came in, and negative, draining energy bounced off the impenetrable shield of the bubble. For miles and miles, I visualized this bubble.

As we drove, I took breaks from the whirl of thoughts and focused on my breath. I remembered the line from a book I had just read: “Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now.” Using this short phrase, I grounded myself and was able to focus on the beauty all around me: the way the rain clouds were a whispery haze, floating around the mountain peaks, blurring out the tree tops.

Being present during the drive made the call we received an hour before our arrival, more bearable. I believe it allowed me to be there for my husband when the waves of grief hit, having not arrived in time. And when we said our goodbyes in the hospital room where Dad’s body lay, I felt his presence: I knew his spirit had waited for us and he was there.

After Dad died it was nine days of making one decision after another other, packing one box after another, cleaning one room after another, notifying one office after another, being there for my husband one day after another. It was nine days of being fully present at times, to being totally disconnected and on automatic pilot. As the days progressed, it became harder and harder to re-engage and be present.

During the 15 hour trip back home, autopilot kicked in more and more. Returning to an empty house, with no purring cat to soothe my soul, I went into shut-down mode.

For the last three days, I have felt like a zombie: a hollowed out version of myself, my tank completely empty, my reserves gone, my mind, body and spirit numb. I am on automatic pilot, detached from the present moment.

I know this, but I also know that it is okay. The cave I am holed up in, is where I need to be. I need to cocoon for a while before I can step out again.

Writing this blog post is a first step out. It would have been easier to say “I’ll skip writing this week” or to listen to the voice that said “You’re so numb, what can you possibly write that will be insightful or of any value to anyone?”  This post does not have to be profound. It just needs to be a step out of the cave, back into the world, back into connecting again. One tiny, first step.

And with each step out, I know the ember of life will come back. I will breathe softly on the ember, treat it tenderly and, in time, my glow will come back. For now, it is what it is…and I am okay with that.

7 Responses to “Being on autopilot…”

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  1. says:

    Hi Diane, So sorry for your losses, and thank you for being willing to share your thoughts. Auto-pilot can be good at times, especially in grief. It is tragic being on auto, without good reason, when one should be fully alive. A time and season for everything.

  2. Kim says:

    The determination and strength you’ve shown by posting even when going through rough times is inspiring to me Diane. I can honestly say that I take away at least one point to ponder with each and every post. With gratitude….

  3. Cheryl says:

    Be gentle and patient with yourself Diane. My dad has been gone 20 years now and there are still days where the grief overwhelms me. You will be ready when you are ready, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Thinking of you and Rick and praying that you will find peace.

  4. says:

    I remember when my father died. No matter what I did I couldn’t get warm. Numbness is a good way of describing the feeling. Blessings to you and your family.

  5. Ana says:

    Numbness and withdrawal allows us to recharge our batteries after draining times, allows our wounds to start healing. Something like the induced coma people are put into after severe accident.
    Allowing yourself that numbness and silence is what you needed after this emotionally devastating and demanding month. I see you’re on the right track: you shared with us another inspiring entry in your blog.
    Thank you for sharing, Diane, I’m sure more people will find something there for them, just as I did.

  6. says:

    Great post! Love the line “Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now.” What book was that from?

    I just finished (again) Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” where he asserts that we can find meaning in everything, including pain and suffering. Thanks for sharing…

    • Thanks for leaving a comment, Tobe. In answer to your question, the line was from the book “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. PS: Thanks for the book suggestion — I’ve jotted the name down so I can pick it up (and will add it to the “Recommended by Blog Readers” list). Enjoy the rest of your week.

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