Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

“Mom, it’s okay to do nothing”

I’m a big fan of lists. When I have too many ideas and plans swirling in my mind, a list helps. Putting items on paper or in an app helps me quiet my mind. Making a list makes me feel like I have a handle on my life and my responsibilities. Like I have a plan. Doing the things on the list makes me feel productive and organized. Crossing them off acknowledges the effort and gives me sense of accomplishment.

I’m sure there’s a whole tribe of kindred spirits out there who, like me, find crossing things off a list a little bit fun.

But sometimes lists don’t help. Sometimes I don’t want anything to do with a list. Don’t want to touch pen or paper, don’t want to think about what I could do, what I want to do, what I need to do. Don’t want anyone telling me what to do, least of all myself. I feel a little lost when that happens.

One recent Sunday, I got up and put a big pan of baked oatmeal into the oven for workday breakfasts. Then I made a coffee and headed down the hall to log in to church. I felt flat. I was missing my usual morning optimism. I tried focusing on the service and prayers, singing out loud, being in the moment. I didn’t feel worse after, but didn’t feel better either.

After church, I wandered out to the kitchen to find lunch and plan the rest of the day. I thought about what I could make for myself. Lunch is a fend-for-yourself kind of meal at our house, so I can use any combination of food I want — vegetables! spice! dairy! — without taking anyone else’s allergies, health concerns or taste into consideration. I couldn’t muster my usual enthusiasm and ended up eating some of the baked oatmeal for lunch. (Oatmeal for lunch… that was a first for me. I didn’t even really like oatmeal until the past few years. Is it an age thing?) I had another cup of coffee and poked at my phone. I wondered what to do with my afternoon.

Normally, I’d call Dad right after lunch on Sunday. It’s been several months without those Sunday afternoon phone calls, and sometimes I forget that he’s gone. I miss the calls. I miss him.

Just do something, I said to myself. I put a load of laundry on, folded a load. It didn’t help: no energy or momentum was found in the doing of this chore.

I knew where I wanted to be: on the couch cocooning with my crocheting. But I thought I should probably do something productive with the afternoon.

I felt tired, vaguely cranky, a little sad. None of the things I thought of doing seemed important enough to bother.

I was standing in the kitchen, not deciding anything, when The Art One (formerly known as Thing Two) emerged from studying.

“I don’t feel like doing anything,” I told her. It was a pathetic sort of grumble. Even Grumblings the dragon was in a meh sort of mood.

“So don’t do anything,” she said. “It’s okay to not do anything.”

I was taken aback, but already dismissing this advice. Husband had suggested the same thing not half an hour before. What kind of crazy advice is that? I’m not a person who just lazes around all afternoon!

Then she said, “I know you grew up in an environment where you always had to be doing something, but it’s okay to not.”

Whoa. I suddenly felt very seen. I thought about my own self-talk in response to her suggestion and about the various stories I’ve told the kids about when I was growing up. I suppose I may have given that impression. I suppose it was often true.

I pointed out that I know how to do nothing, and she reminded me that when I go on vacation, I always say I’m going to do nothing… except a whole list of things.

Oh. I can’t argue with that and win. Even if they’re fun things, mostly.

A wisp of a thought: The two people I’ve been closest to for the entire pandemic both suggested that I could, actually, just do nothing for an afternoon. Maybe I could consider it?

The Art One then suggested I think about how I’d feel on Monday morning. Would I feel better if I rested today or if I forced myself to do things? I couldn’t figure it out. Thoughts of what I might want to do were tangling with thoughts of what I usually do and what I should do.

I decided to go to the post office and let my subconscious figure it out. Mailing a book back to someone would remove one overdue obligation, at least. Husband asked if I would like to walk to the post office together. My inside voice gave an immediate no, but I decided that I would do it anyway in hopes that sunshine and exercise would help with my mood.

After the walk, I still felt sad and out of sorts. As soon as my shoes were off, I headed for the couch. I picked up my crochet hook and felt a little smug, as though I were playing hookey.

The Art One wandered out again, done her studies for the day, and we agreed to re-watch some episodes of our latest C-drama obsession, Legend of Fei.

Gradually, my mood shifted to contentment. It was cosy and comforting to crochet and watch a story, to feel The Art One’s feet tucked under a blanket beside me. Husband even joined us for a few episodes.

We ditched the regularly scheduled supper and ordered takeout. We kept watching, I kept crocheting. We laughed and chatted.

When it was time to stop and go to bed, I felt like I’d taken a mini-holiday.

It wasn’t a cure. It was that day’s solution to that day’s grief. I remember from when Mom died in 2000 how grief ebbs and flows. I’m grateful to some of my favourite people for helping me ever so gently to see that it’s okay to take a mini-vacation now and then, for prompting me to spend a cosy afternoon on self-care.

That afternoon was a good reminder for me that

  • It’s okay to not be productive sometimes.
  • It’s okay to have sad days.
  • Comfort activities can help.
  • Sometimes, the best advice comes from the most unexpected source. Yes, The Art One, I’m thinking of you! Who said you could grow up and get smart!?1

It’s been a long year. Many of us have coped with loss — of loved ones, of our regular routine, of social contacts. There’s a lot of grief around. What are your comfort activities? Send me an email at susan at or leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Be kind to yourself and others. I hope you find some good.

  1. Let it be noted that The Art One’s response to this question is, “I have a degree in psychology.” Imagine more than a hint of sass in the tone.

About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

4 Replies

  1. Auntie Gwen

    This was a Good Grumbling! I really can empathize with you on this and as I get older, I give myself permission more often to do just what the Art One suggested! When I unplug I like to binge watch my favourite series on TV, I like to play mindless games and then pour myself into a book as a close observer of the plot! Who knows what else I can muster up in the future!!! Love you and sending hugs!

    1. GrumblingSusan

      I love you too, Auntie. Thanks for reading and your lovely comment. xox

  2. Well done Susan! Your musings, told from a most personal voice, really touched me. Yes, grief does ebb and flow (I know personally those feelings even after 2 years), and going with the (ebb and) flow helps to bring the love to the outside to wrap around the grief on the inside. Big hugs to you.

    1. GrumblingSusan

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Victoria. I love the way you describe love wrapping around the grief. Hugs to you as well!

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