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Losing Focus: Lacking Concentration in Grief

“I feel like I’m going crazy…” It’s a phrase I have heard from so many grievers. It can be just this feeling that brings someone to a support group after the loss of a loved one. There are many signs and symptoms of early acute grief, but losing focus and lacking concentration in grief may very well be one of the most frustrating.

Why? Because we need to pay attention. To be productive at work, to remember the things on our to do list, to feel a part of what is happening in the world around us, we need to be able to concentrate and focus.

Prior to our loss we were doing this all day and every day, multi-tasking at home and at work. If we were lucky, we could remember every birthday and every special occasion. We not only managed our lives but had the ability to check in on the lives of those closest to us as well.

And then it happened. However it happened, whenever it happened- whether we had time to prepare or no time at all – our loved one died and suddenly everything around us changed. Including ourselves.

So just how much of an impact does losing focus have and is there anything we can do to feel better now?

When life was good, we probably took our ability to focus for granted. Every time we remembered to turn the stove off, every time we closed the garage door, every time we were able to find our keys or where we parked the car…

So losing the ability to focus and concentrate can be quite disorienting. But why does it happen and why is it such a common part of grieving?

Well, quite simply, the process of grieving is a full time job. And not a 40 hour a week job where we get nights and weekends off and we get a break or reprieve. Instead, it is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week job with no time off, no vacation, and no place to escape. Grief is more demanding, more intrusive, and more exhausting than anything we’ve ever experienced before. To say it causes someone to be preoccupied would be an understatement because that would imply there actually is room left to think of anything other than the loss. And in the early days, there just isn’t. There isn’t any room left in our head or our hearts, and there is not one bit of energy left to focus on anything else.

There’s not a lot that can be done to change it, though being aware of it helps.

  • Know that right now you may need to write down everything, and I mean every last thing.
  • Get the help of friends and family. Be honest and tell them your head just isn’t where it used to be and as much as they can help remind you of special events, or even little things, that it will be much appreciated.
  • Try not to overbook yourself. Say “no” more than you did before. You need rest to be focused, and we already now how exhausting grief is and how hard sleep can be to come by. So do a little less now if you can.
  • Even if you were a great multi-tasker before, you’ll be better off now doing only one thing at a time. Stop when you can. Find yourself in the moment. Say things out loud (“I’m closing the garage door now”), slow down and take your time like you never have before.

And know that it will come back. If you were an avid reader before and now you can barely get through a magazine article without having to go back and reread what you’ve just read- know it will come back. If you could juggle your work schedule, your kids sports schedule, doctors appointments, vet appointments, and still remember to call your best friend on her birthday – know it will come back. If you had a special skill at work, or a hobby at home – something that took a time and focus that you’ve since lost- know that it will come back.

Tell yourself that. Remind those around you of that. Ask for patience. Be patient with yourself.

We don’t “get over” our losses. We never stop missing or loving the person who is gone. But these very harsh and acute side effects of grieving  tend to soften and fade with time. How much time? It could be months, it could be years. But being aware of the symptoms of grieving and taking care to ease these symptoms (as much as you’re able) should help ease some of the suffering they cause.

This is what other grievers are going through. You are not going crazy. You are grieving- and this is what grieving looks like.

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About the Author

My name is Karyn Arnold and I am the founder of Grief in Common, Grief in Common is a website designed to connect and match those who are grieving based on background and similar experiences of loss, for online chats and opportunities to meet in person. I have been working in the field of grief and loss for over 15 years, facilitating bereavement groups, providing support one on one, and educating the community about the grief process. I love this work. I love the resilience of human spirit I see in this work and I have always felt honored and grateful to provide an outlet for a person to grieve.Unfortunately, loss is an inevitable part of life. And while it takes time and it’s never simple, I truly believe that within each of us is the strength and courage to heal, to live and to move forward, in ways that we may never have thought possible. So take the first step in figuring out what's next and where to go from here...go to today and connect with those who will understand.

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