Homeschooling through Heartbreak

Grief is a tsunami. Sometimes you have a warning, and other times, it’s a shock. Either way, the typical landscape of your life is suddenly underwater and rearranged. Everything is messy, and recovery seems distant. After a near-drowning, a person vomits up the water she struggled in and then just lays there and breathes. At that moment, she can think of breathing only—just the very next breath. Moving isn’t an option; neither is planning. Grief is like that, regardless of the reason. But we aren’t going to be victims of this tsunami. Jesus is bigger than grief, and He fills voids and refreshes the spirit. 

However, grief is a necessary process. We move through the shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, and depression to experience recovery and hope. Grief inhibits executive functions, like planning and preparing. It slows down the processing of information, sometimes to a standstill. Because we may not be in control of the situation, we are cranky and unreasonable. Parenting while grieving is a challenge, and home educating is even more of one. We still need to take care of ourselves and our children, and we want to be loving and kind in the process. Intentionally putting your relationship with your children ahead of academics makes it possible to grieve and recover as a family. You should consider whether or not any of you need professional counseling, and seek help if you do. Either way, here are a few steps to take when you can’t see what to do next.

1. Make room to process.

Slow down or even pause your school year. You and your children all need time and space to process. At first, you also have plenty to do. You may have relatives to deal with, services to plan, and accounts to tie up. In our case, our house was disordered after an extended hospital stay, and I needed an entire month to clean and reorganize to fit our new family dynamic. And I had very little energy. My children were in early elementary school, and we did no schoolwork for a couple of months. No one was any worse for the wear. That year, we spent the mornings cleaning and playing and the autumn afternoons riding bikes and blowing bubbles after quiet time. Then we returned to schoolwork after Christmas. We faced another loss just a couple of years ago when I had a high school student and two in upper elementary. During that semester, I cut back the freshman’s workload significantly while still making slow progress in the subjects he needed on his transcript. Things that weren’t necessary, we dropped completely. That gave all of us some room to process, and overall, his high school career was unaffected. 

2. Look for things to be grateful for 

When you are grieving, the world is grey and dull. When you’ve lost significantly, it’s hard to be grateful for anything. Naturally, joy is distant. But we have the power of choice. Give thanks for small things – the feeling of warm water on your hands, the colors of changing leaves, your kids’ silliness, the smell of cinnamon, the spiciness of a taco. This is another chance to be intentional. I told my kids that I was on a hunt for things that made me smile, and they helped me find items: a bright red leaf, puddles left from rain, interesting cloud formations. We found all sorts of things together. During that season, I kept a literal list of things for which to be thankful. I added to it faithfully in the evenings. It was beneficial to have a tangible list of blessings in my flood of grief.

3. Do the next right thing.

Now that you have had some time to recover, take out your usual To-Do List. Use it to make a new one that feels like something you can handle, and then move some of those items to a “maybe” category. You probably aren’t ready for the whole homeschool routine yet. Pick subjects that don’t seem overwhelming, and start with them. Leave things that are a struggle for a little longer until you and your kids are ready. In my house, we began with reading aloud every day, snuggled up on the couch. We would read some in the morning and some at night. Eventually, we added math and language arts back in slowly. Within a few months, we were back to our old routine. Our home life had shifted so that old routine no longer worked, but we found a new groove. We were still recovering, but we began to move on.

Everyone grieves differently, but these ideas have helped my family through multiple seasons of loss and sadness. Some of them may seem silly, but pick an idea and gift it a try if you are struggling. See if one of these tiny changes makes your day a little bit easier.

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