Busyness

You may be surprised at our next topic: busyness. Surely busyness is not wrong. Scriptures say we should be busy; Titus 2:5, “[women] should be busy at home…” And all of us are instructed in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands...” There is nothing wrong with being busy while industrious or productive. The difficulty comes when we are OVERLY busy. Busyness can be a way of escaping emotional pain or of compensating for some perceived shortcoming or failure. It may make people feel better in the short term, but (like any drug) it masks the true problem and avoids solving anything. When you quit being overly busy, your problems are still there waiting for you. So in grief, when we quit our frenetic pace, our sorrow is still there waiting for us.

No discussion on depression would be complete without mentioning busyness. Busyness is what some people do instead of getting depressed. They don’t get down in the dumps – they get busy. Men tend to do this more than women, although there are some women who tend toward busyness instead of depression. But we mostly think of busyness as a man’s way of coping. That’s because infant loss strikes at the very heart of a man’s ability to protect and provide for his family.

When a baby dies, a man feels a sense of failure. He may have been, and probably was, powerless to prevent the loss, but he still feels like he ‘should have’ been able to. This ‘failure’ to protect his wife and his baby eats at the core of a man’s self-worth and self-esteem. Some men beat themselves up emotionally because they couldn’t “fix” the situation. Yet, in the face of a situation they couldn‘t “fix,” they throw themselves into projects and activities that they can fix. Be it work, home or hobby-related, many men find they only feel good about themselves when they are doing something.

So they tuck away their grief, and get to work. There is only one problem with busyness – it doesn’t cure grief – it merely postpones it. It puts the grieving process on hold indefinitely, but the grief is still waiting to be dealt with. A man, or woman, can’t keep busy forever, and as soon as there is ‘down time,’ that grief comes right back up with a vengeance. People can play the busyness game for years, hoping that eventually the grief will give up and go away. But it doesn’t. The minute they cease their activity, it is right back with them – as fresh as the day they first felt it.

It is worth noting, however, that there may be an additional dynamic at work for a man. A man can feel that he needs to be strong in the face of a family catastrophe, especially if other family members (notably his wife) seem to be devastated by the loss. The man thinks to himself, “I can’t let myself fall apart right now. Everyone is counting on me to be a solid rock in this midst of this disaster. I just gotta hang on until things get better. Then maybe I can allow myself to grieve.”

Immediately after the loss, in the short term, this is probably okay. Men are designed to compartmentalize their emotions, much more than women, and the man can be that temporary Rock of Gibraltar for a season. The problem arises, though, if the man postpones his grief, initially for good reasons, but then never goes back to step through the necessary grief process. Busyness can be just another attempt to bury grief. But, remember, you bury it alive.