The shock of your loved one’s passing may have sent you reeling emotionally and mentally. There is a physical impact also, and it is common to feel chilled and exhausted. The exhaustion may carry on for a long time. You may be wondering how you can survive your heartbreak, and if there is anything you can do to help yourself.
Too often we judge ourselves harshly. We may feel we’re not coping at all with our loss, or at the other extreme, we may feel guilty that we’re not behaving in a way we think we should be. The reality is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We are each individuals, and the particular circumstances of our loss and our current life are unique to ourselves. It is best not to compare ourselves with others.
The advice you might receive is, “Be kind to yourself.” During the early days of my bereavement, I heard this advice but could not understand what it meant in practice. Then gradually I realised that it meant treating myself with the same care and tolerance that I would offer to a valued friend in a similar situation.
If a dear friend was suffering a similar loss, wouldn’t we offer them our support? Wouldn’t we encourage them to take care of themselves? Wouldn’t we offer them a meal out or another treat that we knew they’d enjoy? A bit of pampering, feeling warm and comfortable, can be immensely comforting. So let’s take care of ourselves, just as we would a friend.
Grief is stressful and this impacts on our body’s defences. Our resistance has been lowered. We might have also developed some poor health habits – such as during the period leading up to our loved one’s death, or in the aftermath, when we might not have felt like eating or over-eaten. The same with exercise. We might have gained or lost weight or otherwise become unfit. It’s time now to try to restore balance by taking small steps. Modifying our diet, going for even a short walk or joining a gym, going to bed a bit earlier can all help us start to feel better.
“Being kind to yourself” goes further than this. It’s “me” time, when we make time to do things that make the road of grief just a bit easier. What works for you might not be the same for everyone else, but here are some ideas you might like to think about. What sounds good to you?
- Having a nice meal.
- Sitting in a quiet room, with your feet up and a good book.
- Walking out in nature.
- Taking a warm bath.
- Watching some light, not-too-serious TV.
- Listening to music.
- Taking some time alone, away from your busy life
- Pursuing hobbies
- Trying a new hobby
- Joining a support group for those who have suffered a similar bereavement. Being in the company of those who understand what you are going through can be very strengthening.
- If you are not going out to work, finding ways to get out of the house and interact with other people, like perhaps joining a club or volunteering.
- Something else?
Remember, being kind to yourself means taking the time to allow yourself to adjust to your loss, at your own pace. You need to recoup your strength as you reorient your life in this new place where you find yourself.
And importantly – give yourself permission to be happy. It is not betraying your loved one to have times when you smile and feel at peace again. You can honour the memory of your loved one, whilst also living your life.
Offering mercy to the person we see in the mirror
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
(Psalm 31:9 NIVUK)
Mercy, according to various dictionaries: “kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.” “Compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
When we’re troubled, we reach out for help – for “mercy” and relief. That is well and good. But sometimes we also need to look in the mirror and extend mercy to the person we see reflected there.
“I need to be merciful to me.” – Can you say that today?
More on life strategies:
- A blaze of glory, cascades of colour — finding your special place
- “You will always hurt, but won’t always feel like this”
(This article is an updated version of an earlier post.)