In my last post, I shared about how grief sometimes comes out of nowhere and sidelines us. Yet, despite the unwelcome intrusion, there are lessons to be learned in the midst of it. The discussion continues here in Part 2.
How Can I Take Care of Myself?
Another fact about grief is that it moves on in its own time. I can’t evict it at will. So, while I am in the midst of grief, I have been revisiting what I can do to look after myself until I feel back to normal.
- Give yourself permission to grieve. Too often, we feel in a hurry to “get better.” But grief is a sign that something is hurting deep inside of us, and we need to listen to that. We know the body takes weeks or months to recover from a broken bone or torn ligament. As with our bodies, we need to give space for emotional healing to occur.
- Eliminate unnecessary activity. This is a hard one for me, as I have a very busy life. I can’t just pull out of everything I am responsible for, but I can take small steps to pull back from things that aren’t essential or that take too much energy. Sometimes we can be tempted to get busy to numb our feelings. While everyday activities can be helpful distractions, getting too busy will only add stress and prolong recovery.
- Don’t make any important decisions. This week I almost made two big decisions in the midst of intense emotions. While we are grieving, making snap decisions can feel so right. This is mainly because our decision-making centers around eliminating pain. The internal dialogue goes something like, “I am tired of hurting, so I am going to do (this).” Please don’t succumb to that urge, strong as it may be. For now, acknowledge what you are thinking about, but don’t act on it until you have some distance from the intensity of the grief you are feeling and can think more clearly.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Do you know what I hate more than grieving? The quivering pool of Jell-O that I turn into when grief hits me. The disempowering feeling that follows, the time spent licking wounds instead of making things happen. I hate how my family walks carefully around me. It’s hard enough hurting so much, and I don’t want to hurt them too. But when I think about it, I show compassion to my family members when they are hurting. It’s okay for me to be hurting too. It will pass. I am strong, and I will be stronger, but it doesn’t have to be right now.
- Breathe. It surprises me how hard it is to actually breathe when I am experiencing grief. Spending time just breathing deeply and intentionally is important.
- Practice self-care – hot baths, naps, wearing comfy clothes, piling on some extra blankets, listening to music. I also find that taking really good care of my body is important, as the body is really impacted by intense grief. I especially find that therapeutic massage, which connects me to another human being and puts me in a position of receiving hands-on care, really helps.
- Reach out for support. Grief makes you want to hide in a dark hole, but resist this. Reach out to your loved ones, the safe people in your life. We only heal emotionally when we connect with other human beings. Don’t hesitate to get support from professionals, like a counselor, psychologist, or family physician. Sometimes we need the wisdom of others to move us forward.
- Acknowledge old losses that may have been resurrected by this latest trigger. Today’s grief may be opening up painful memories from the past, whether we realize it or not. Like old injuries, old wounds of the heart will unexpectedly flare up from time-to-time. Our brains recognize that this current grief feels familiar, and suddenly we will find ourselves thinking back to old situations that had similar elements. When my current grief seems disproportionate to the situation that triggered it, this is a sign that I may need to re-process old grief.
- Don’t expect others to fully understand. Grief is deeply personal. Unless someone has walked through your specific circumstances, it is impossible for them to know exactly how you feel. Sometimes people will say the wrong things in an attempt to comfort you, and that can hurt. Try to focus instead on the fact that they are trying to care for you. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Eat the chicken and spit out the bones.” Receive the caring words, and discard the ones that don’t help. You may also need to be very selective as to who you share your deepest pain with.
- Dig deep spiritually. Grief can pull us away from God and from our spiritual practices. We need to lean into these instead, especially in the midst of questions and crisis. Grief has been the source of my deepest spiritual growth in life, because it has made me get face-to-face with what I really believe. Pray out your anger, journal about your frustration, read books written by others who have walked through a grief journey. Ask others for prayer. Talk to your pastor.
I know this will not be my last brush with grief, and that I will have to return to these steps again and again. But listing these steps helps me embrace where I am today and take steps toward recovering from my grief. If you are grieving today, let’s join hands, friend. You are not in this alone. We will get through this.
Your turn: What have you found helpful when dealing with grief?