Thoughts on taking care of yourself when you’re grieving, with links to further readings. (Site Guide No. 6)
So much changes when you lose a loved one. Practical things, like the loss of companionship. Emotional impacts, like deep sadness. And so on. There is a lot to cope with and adjust to. In this context, we often here the words, be kind to yourself.
What being kind to ourself means in practice can be different for each of us, but generally includes aspects of physical, emotional, mental, practical and spiritual care. In other words, self-care. Rather like someone who has been involved in a physical accident, in order to ‘get on our feet’ we might need more self-care following our bereavement, than we would if nothing traumatic had happened in our lives. This takes some thought and effort on our part.
But from what I’ve seen, many people who are in the midst of darkest grief struggle with taking care of themselves.
Someone might ask, “what did you do to take care of yourself before your bereavement – why not try that again now?” It might be helpful to think about this, but it might not; many people who have suffered a profound loss find that what worked in the past doesn’t work now.
One of the issues is motivation. Often it’s hard to find the energy to think about anything much, much less do anything about it.
Besides the lack of energy or motivation, lack of self-care can also be related to survivor’s guilt – like, “what am I doing taking care of myself when I couldn’t prevent what happened to xox”…
At its extreme, lack of self-care can be a type of self-harm. When I first lost my daughter Catherine and was so utterly shattered and wrecked, at one point I decided to stop taking the blood pressure medication that had been prescribed for me. It was a stupid decision and I’m glad to say one that I did not stick with for long. But at the time I didn’t feel particularly like continuing my life anyway, so why do something to prolong it? That’s a very dark sentiment and sadly one that other people might relate to, particularly those who have lost children or someone else who was central to their life.
If you’re someone who is struggling in this way, there is no single solution, but here are some thoughts you might like to ponder.
Self-care isn’t necessarily always enjoyable. Here’s a practical example: After I had my knee replaced, self-care involved exercises that were extremely painful at the beginning. I was tired, I was in pain, and it was very difficult to bend the knee, and then to get myself to a standing position and take a few steps across the room before eventually venturing outside. All of this was necessary and now I can enjoy pain-free walking. But it wasn’t like that at the start. The fact that self-care might not appeal to you doesn’t change your needs.
On the other hand, self-care hopefully does include what you enjoy. It could be a glass of wine, a good book or film, a visit to somewhere beautiful, some favourite music, or whatever appeals to you. There’s a great quote on this (I’m not sure of the author):
“Kindness to yourself begins with the intention to change your old beliefs that you can’t enjoy yourself at any time when grieving. Your natural inclinations will be to fight changing these beliefs. But give yourself a break; you are not betraying your loved one. Each day plan a time, or if you prefer, when you feel the need, excuse yourself for self-nurturance. Refuse to deny yourself.”
Love can be a great motivator. Self-care might simply be a ‘necessary evil’ in order to carry on living a life that honours and respects the memories of our loved ones.
Another thought: Picture someone who really cares for you, whether they’re still living or not. If they were sitting next to you at this moment, what would they be wishing for you? Maybe it is their love that will be your motivation until you can find your own energy.
We each find our own way through grief, each plot our own path, day by day. I do believe that making more effort to take care of ourselves, in whatever form that takes, is a sign of progress in our grief journey.
P.S. If you are stuck and really can’t manage, please do ask for help. There are many helplines that are ready to take your call, and your GP can be another helpful resource. See here: Links
The exact care you need to give yourself will be as unique as you are. Here are some articles that look at different aspects of self-care.
- Some thoughts on what this means and ideas for how to put kindness to yourself into practice
- Many people find following bereavement that their self-confidence has taken a big tumble and they feel quite vulnerable. This article looks at how you can help yourself if this is part of your experience.
- On the importance of giving yourself a break from grieving, at least on occasion, and developing other sides of who you are.
- Finding moments of peace and beauty, whether in the great outdoors or in a quiet corner of home: An idea for a simple reflect that just requires your concentration and a bit of imagination.
- Thoughts on finding safe harbours when your boat is tossed on the seas of grief
- Self-care also includes physical care, and this link takes you to a page of articles on health issues and grief.
ENGAGING OUR SENSES AND TRYING NEW THINGS
These last few short articles are based on my own experiences, covering topics such as trying new things, especially activities that engage our senses:
For those who identify themselves as people of faith, Christians or others, then self-care also has a spiritual side. It is not uncommon for someone who is grieving to find their faith moves to a different place – it could be a crisis of faith or a deepening – and is unlikely to stay the same as you journey onwards in your grief. This is a subject I’ll explore more in another post, but for now, you might want to read:
For more reading on various aspects of grief, see: Subject index
Rather like someone who has been involved in a physical accident, in order to ‘get on our feet’ following a bereavement, we might need more self-care than we would if nothing traumatic had happened in our lives. This takes some thought and effort on our part.”