Goals vs Systems As It Applies to Grief

I read an interesting article in Entrepreneur on The advantage of focusing on your system to accomplish something as opposed to focusing on your goal. In other words, and as explained by the author of this article, James Clear, if you are a writer, you commit to writing X amount of days for X amount of time until your book is finished. The idea being that if you have a solid system in place, your goal will happen. Alternately, if you focus only on your goal, and you do not have a good working system, your goal may happen but what then? You have no system for maintaining it.  This creates the yo-yo effects often seen in a poorly executed weight loss fad. As James Clear puts it in his article, “every time we set a goal, we try to do it. We try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.” If we have a good system in place we can adapt more easily to circumstances beyond our control, otherwise we are shooting blindly, hoping we hit the mark.

As I read James Clear’s article, I thought about my own business. Being a business owner with no real schooling, has been challenging. Luckily, I have a very take charge approach and simply put, I can’t fail. This is not a “I can’t fail because I’m that sure I’m winning” kind of statement but rather a ” I can’t fail because my family needs to eat” statement. I have two kids, two cats, one dog, one turtle and one amazing man who works along side of me and who shares this ownership in business,  I don’t want to let down the team.

Thinking of of my business and my set system, I also couldn’t help but think of the grief myself and my family were and are going through with the sudden loss of my Dad. With him being gone 4 months, I can’t help but feel that I should be ‘over’ some aspects of this mourning. Of course, each one of us is grieving in their own way and are dealing with different issues created by my dad’s physical presence no longer being here. The more I speak to my mother, who is heartbroken the most, I am reminded how much she wants to ‘get there’, to that goal, that place of peace, of knowing that even though Dad’s not here, things will be fine and life will be happy again.

This brings me to the question of, How does one have a system in a time of grief?

For me, though my dad’s death was unexpected and at times I still come to tears and my thoughts go to the ‘should have’s’, I know I must focus forward and so I do. My system that is already in place has become my system for getting through this mourning.  But it’s easier for me. I have, as I pointed out above, kids, pets, a business and a husband who is counting on me to push through this. So, I do and because I am forced to, by my own encouragement and by the encouragement of my spouse and friends,  the goal seems closer. I am back to my system, my daily routine, setting things in place that need to be, moving things along that have to stay in motion and drinking copious amounts of coffee when I’m zonkered.

For someone like my mom, the spouse, who has no kids at home and who’s life revolved around my fathers, and his life around hers, the world seems empty and the system has utterly shattered. She is faced not just with the loss of her husband but also with the loss of her system. THEY had goals. THEY had dreams. THEY had things they were going to do. THEY had a system to achieve the goals. Now THEY is only a she.  My mom is now facing finding a new system just for herself. Her goal? I am unsure completely, you would have to ask her but if I were to guess, perhaps, contentment and joy in this life without my dad, and to come into her own and find herself after years of my dad being apart of who she is. Being married to someone for over 40 years, you tend to share a bit of them in you and they get a bit of you in them. My husband and I have been married only 15 years, and it is hard to imagine a daily routine where he isn’t there, even if he’s just silently sitting in his armchair watching Fraiser. It’s like you trade pieces of yourself. Slowly the two do in fact, become one. Even after the death of a spouse, they remain a bit of who you are. So again, how do you build a system when half of you is missing and you can not go back to the old way of things?

The temptation in grief is to completely alter your view in life and escape. This comes through the urge to change states, hair color, cars, philosophies etc. For me this alteration manifested in my desire to throw away every problem I had with people, hug them and say ‘let’s be friends’. I wanted to live in peace, because after all, god dammit, wasn’t life too short? (Que the butterflies and easy listening music) The truth is, as much as that seems great, life is life and we have to deal with everything that comes our way. As much as I want to throw away the problems, that fact is, they are still there and will be no matter what philosophy I apply to them or where I go. Perhaps, there is a balance to be struck, I can adjust my attitude and the way I deal with issues, but I can’t deny or forget that a problem exists simply because I want to escape or that I find this Utopian idea  of “why can’t we all just get along’ inviting.  So, I have to adjust and make this adjustment a part of my day to day system of dealing with my grief. It’s small, it’s not a huge leap but it is a change and after someone dies, the need, desire and lust for change is so overwhelming and it hits us all in so many different ways and to varying degrees of urgency.

So, once again I ask, How do we develop a system as it pertains to grief? The honest answer? For you, I don’t know. For my Mom? I don’t know. For me? I have an inkling of an idea but…..I don’t know. Maybe the system is found in the simple, monotonous and the mundane. Perhaps the system is found in the daily rising for coffee, the walk outside, the nightly glass of wine. That seems like a start. Then small changes incorporated, the boxing up of memories, the letting go of personal items, getting involved in a group that watches birds or goes hiking or just gets together for a drink a couple times a month. One thing I think I know, is that you have to push when you don’t want to. It’s uncomfortable and it hurts like hell, partially because you’d rather stay in this sad and angry state, there’s something satisfying in it, but also because moving forward feels like you are leaving your loved one behind, suspended in space and time. On the day before my Dad’s ‘Celebration of Life’, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just wanted to lay there, covered up. My husband made me get out of bed. It seemed cruel and I yelled at him, telling him he was being insensitive. He looked at me and said gently something along the lines of, “Maggie, Your dad is dead. But the kids and I are here, and we can’t let this house fall apart.” I hate it when he’s right. That day, my new system began. Plans to move forward, how I was going to tackle the days when my grief seemed overwhelming. My goal isn’t so much a thought to me right now, as it is something there waiting for me along the line of my system. I say along the line, because really after the goal is met the system stays in place to help make way for another goal and then another. New things will be added to the system, some taken away to suit different needs. t’s about personal progress not attaining something. In this situation, it’s about dealing with grief in a healthy way and not letting it close me in the dark. It’s about realizing that carrying a corpse isn’t honoring my father, but living and progressing is. It’s about showing my children how to grieve, not properly but completely and come through stronger, more loving and happier. It’s about carrying my memories and giving them life again by removing them from the past and using their knowledge to fuel the future.

The system for grief is much more complicated, the lines are very blurry, and it’s different for everyone. Yet even when we don’t feel like we are making progress, we are.

I’ll end with some thing my Mother-In-Law told me once. After speaking to her about something i was going through, She told me in her Georgia accent, ” You take the time you need and you go in a room and you scream and cry, but when you come out of that room, you don’t think about it, it’s over. You have to move on. If you don’t then it ( your anger, a person etc) wins” . I think this is wise, in Grief we have to do this many times, but just as the screaming and crying is part of the healing so is picking ourselves up off that bed, opening the door, walking through it and then closing it behind us. If we don’t then the grief wins. This small piece of advice given in an entirely different situation is now part of my system, which will get me to and help me beyond my goal.


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