I fell deeper into my grief each I heard that some things had broken or stopped working. Can one cope with grief by attempting to fix or mend broken things? Are there any correlations between helpless attempts to fix broken things and the death of a loved one?
Why am I struggling to fully accept some help that is being offered to me? Most especially from my family who were staying with me? Why do I feel ashamed or have these weird feelings of nakedness?
Why does this happen each time someone steps in to help with things that I normally do but unable to do momentarily due to my new circumstance?
What is it that makes me feel this way, was it something they said? Was it how it was said? Why am I being sensitive to accepting help?
How am I to cope with grief?
Let’s backtrack a little, as I share with you one of the days which I hope answers my many questions.
What I am about to share with you highlights one of the ways I am learning to cope with grief.
Let me take you on a journey through one grieving evening. It was on a Saturday evening. I eventually mustered the strength to make the long commute from my bedroom to our living room on the ground floor.
This was a two-flight-of-stairs trip. On a good day, it would take me 2 minutes. But, usually, when I am hungry, I am faster than superman.
I have measured my time before and my speed record from the bedroom to the kitchen was 45 seconds. Don’t you think I should get a medal for the fastest commute from bedroom to kitchen award in a three-floor building?
This 2-minute journey began to take longer. It would take me on average between 20 – 30 mins more than necessary as I faced several emotional roadblocks. Sometimes, I would make it to the landing of the first floor and find myself returning to my room.
I would hear occasional breaks of laughter and think to myself that, “Tolu you better not take your dark cloud of sadness to bring everyone’s spirit down.”
Other times I made it to the bottom of the stairs, again only to find myself back upstairs. This happened occasionally. I wondered if I could truly cope with this grief and the consistent ache in my heart.
I found myself taking long, deep breaths and bracing myself as I am about to see anyone in the house. It was as if I could hear someone shouting in my ears “brace for impact.” I eventually made it, made it to see my siblings, my sister-in-law, and the three jolly crews that evening.
We had our regular chit chats, mostly about food, sleep, and how I was doing. I am sure I didn’t stay up to 10 minutes, but it felt like forever. Grief made me emotionally absent. Being around people felt like being in detention and I couldn’t wait to escape.
Being alone in my grief felt like the natural habitat. I felt like fish out of water. It felt like I needed to be somewhere else and needed to quickly escape back to my room. My body was present, but my mind was not there.
Before I could make my escape, I was told that the washing machine had stopped spinning clothes as they attempted to do the children’s laundry. My heart sank on hearing this, I felt the wave of grief overcome me, I felt the temperature of the blood in my vein getting colder.
In my mind, I grabbed the washing machine and dashed it out of the window. I felt the washing machine had let me down.
Almost every washing machine uses the same operating principles. You load the laundry, add the detergent or pod, sometimes you add fabric conditioners. You select the washing program. Push the start button. The machine locks its door, fills the drum with water. It washes, rinses, drains the water, it spins the drum, eventually ends wash and unlocks its door. Its cycle is usually washing, rinse, drain, spin, and end.
I found it hard to accept that the washing machine had stopped working because I had done laundry the week before! You see, it felt like one of those times when you find it hard to accept a piece of information you believe to be the truth.
Broken man fixing broken things
I was disappointed each time I returned to the washing machine because I hoped that the clothes would have been washed. The washing machine would only fill the drum with water. I kicked the washing machine at times, I hit it at times hoping that my kick and slap would jolt it to work.
Why did I Kick and slap the washing machine?
Don’t blame me for slapping the washing machine, you see I grew up in an environment and had seen many successful results of where electronic devices stopped working and one of the fix it solutions which worked a lot of the time was to either slap or kick the device. Somehow those electronic devices came back to life.
For example, back in the day, when the TV or radio stopped working, I would see one of my uncles go to the device and tap or gently slap the side and it jolted it back to life. I have also done that on many occasions and they worked too.
I don’t understand the science behind it, if at all there is any science behind it, but they usually work. Have you also tried this fix it method? Please let me know that I am not the only one.
Only this time, this fix-it method didn’t work for me.
I made 4 fixing and washing attempts over two days. It turned out to be true that indeed the washing had stopped spinning. This failed attempt heightened my grief experience.
This washing machine not working made me upset. I felt Chidinma had recently died and now my washing machine is dying on me too. I was overwhelmed and struggled to cope with the emotions of grief.
I imagined this couldn’t be happening. There must be a way around fixing this thing, I jumped online to read and where possible ordered some parts and attempted to fix it myself. Truth be told, I was knocked off by a mass of grief. This meant I isolated more.
I am amazed at how quickly the dirty laundry of babies and toddlers pile up. It’s like one moment you feel you have more than enough clothes and before you sneeze, the mountain of laundry has piled up again. The children were fast running out of clean clothes and laundry needed to be done.
I had two options, either to buy a new one or fix it. I was going for the fix-it option. I couldn’t accept anything or anyone else dying on me. The washing machine felt like another loss that I was mourning over.
On one of the evenings, I received a message that buying a new washing machine was being considered. I choked and had this strange feeling of weakness, it felt like I had put another burden on people who are helping. I felt rushed, embarrassed and vulnerable.
I thought to myself, these guys are already doing more than enough, this expense of buying a new one (either on me or on them) is not on! Not now! I thought about their expenses of time, energy, resources that I had already taken.
I would find myself lost in the sea of questions. Here were some questions that were added to the other ongoing questions in my head in that period: Is it that I generally don’t like accepting help? However, I enjoy helping people. I felt betrayed by the washing machine and felt worthless.
Is this pride? Is it that I like things being done my way or no other way? What is it about being helped that I am struggling with? Why do I feel somewhat weak and naked each time anyone is offering me help?
We had reached out to some companies requesting their expertise to help fix the washing machine. Their estimated call out charge was frightening. I could buy a new washing machine if I tripled the quoted amount. I concluded that I wasn’t prepared to pay that much for a call out charge.
My siblings, sister-in-law, and close friends observed how sentimental I had become over the washing machine. My sister-in-law and siblings compromised by resolving to hand-wash the children’s clothes. Something they probably had never done in a long time. (Ps. If at all they had ever even done it, please don’t tell them I wrote this bit).
We negotiated a deal. That I would attempt fixing the washing machine and if I failed to fix it, we would order a new one on express delivery. We also agreed on a time frame. I desperately needed something to help me cope with my grief, I was still in disbelief. Since Chidinma’s death, I couldn’t take anything else remotely close to not working.
Please let me say it loud and clear that fixing and repairing things are not, I repeat, fixing and repairing things are not and have never been my strength!
Let me take you on a quick detour to share what I mean by this recent event.
Some young guys in the neighbourhood we lived in randomly decided to splatter our emerald green front door with small white paint across the door and door viewer narrowly missing the glass viewer. This happened about five months before Chidinma and I were due to relocate from Coventry in 2017.
Chidinma and I agreed to repaint the front door closer to the time we were due to move.
Fast forward, Ghen! Ghen! It was time to repaint. By this time, Chidinma was 8 months heavily pregnant with Anisa. We agreed to paint the front door with a darker shade of green to cover the white paint splash. I had gone to B&Q, bought the things needed, and began to repaint.
My task was to repaint the outer part of the door only. The task took me nearly 5 hours!
I began at 11 am, I had done two coat layers and decided to take a break at 3 pm. Guess what I did? I didn’t cover the paint when I went in for a break. I got back to painting at 3:30 pm, stirred the paint bucket, and thought the colour now looked funny. Instead of dark green, it looked more like a yellow-green colour!
What should I have done?
I should have stopped right, knowing that something didn’t feel right. I know. But yes, you guessed it right. I carried on painting over the door. By now, I was flustered and called on my 8 months pregnant wife to rescue me. Let’s just say, I went back to B&Q, bought a new bucket of paint, and Chidinma, my 8 months heavily pregnant wife rescued me by painting the door.
So, you get the gist now when I say that DIY isn’t one of my strengths and here II was, suggesting fixing a broken washing machine which I had never attempted before.
Each night, I would escape momentarily from the grief directors’ meeting to find potential solutions online. It felt that I had a new mission. I was in ‘operation fix the washing machine’ mode. You would find me at 4 am by the washing machine with my laptop attempting to reset the programs.
At times, I would catch myself humming “bob the builder, can we fix it…….” and occasionally replace bob with “Tolu the builder, can we fit…..”.
Did I fix the washing machine?
I tried the various suggested solutions 3 times which failed. I signed up to a virtual company who were going to virtually diagnose. They collected my money and stopped responding to my messages. I had one more card in play, which was the last option.
This involved taking the washing machine apart and replacing some mechanical parts. Do you remember my door painting experience? I had to give it a go. I had the need to try to fix this washing machine. I felt it necessary to fix it.
I ordered the new parts, I ordered new tools. Tools that I had never used before. One thing I remembered at the point of writing about ‘fixing the washing machine day’ was that I interrupted my brother’s meeting several times to ask for help.
Help to turn the water supply off and to remove hoses connected to the washing machine. Let’s fast-forward. It turns out that I didn’t order one of the components which delayed the work and eventually I had all the parts.
I took the washing machine apart, replaced the components, put it back together. I switched it on and guess what? It worked! It washes. It rinses. It drains the water. It spins the drum. It ends the wash and unlocks its door. It does the complete cycle of wash, rinse, drain, spin, and end.
Well, let’s just say that I can now add fixing and servicing washing machines to my CV. Maybe I should print a business card “Tolu the washing machine fixer!” You are too generous with your praise of me right now. okay okay, just joking.
Looking back now from the time of this writing to when this event occurred, I can say that attempting this mission was one of the turning points of my grief journey. It gave me a slight breather. It helped shift some of my attention away from grief.
It didn’t matter that it was brief. I now know that it wasn’t about the outcome. It’s easier to say that I felt this way because I fixed the washing machine. Whilst that may be true, As I see it, it was more about moving forward.
With my newfound confidence in repairing and servicing the washing machine, guess what my next fixing projects were?
I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.
I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story?
I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below. Thank you.