“The word ‘bereaved,’ which to our modern-day ears can sound like an old-fashioned term that only a funeral director might use, means ‘to be torn apart’ and ‘to have special needs.’ So, despite its obsolescence, the word is still accurate and useful. Perhaps your most important ‘special need’ right now is to be compassionate with yourself. In fact, the word ‘compassion’ means ‘with passion.’ Caring for and about yourself with passion is self-compassion.
” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt
Grief is hard. It’s unpredictable and grueling. It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. It is almost like a fog descends around you, and everything looks somewhat gray and dim. Depending on the nature of your loss, these feelings may persist for quite some time. That’s why self-care is so important. Every person’s grief journey is different, encompassing a range of emotions and an unknown time span, but in the midst of it all, taking care of yourself is important
. You may not feel
like making the effort, but self-care may be one of the most beneficial things you do for yourself.
When you think about self-care, personal fitness may first come to mind, but really, it’s a much broader term. It does mean taking care of yourself physically
, but it also encompasses your emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and even social health. So, what can you do to take care of yourself while you’re grieving?
1. Don’t be afraid of your feelings.
You feel what you feel. It is what it is, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the emotions that may be coursing through you
. We all feel loss differently, and every loss is different because every person and individual relationship is unique. Try not to stifle or ignore your feelings; don’t stuff everything down. Instead, accept that you feel what you feel and that it’s okay.
2. Give yourself time.
Grief is a journey, not an event. You will need time to come to grips with what life looks like without your loved one. You aren’t necessarily going to spring back into life the way it was. It’s okay to give yourself a little space and to take more breaks. Grief is hard work, and you need time to work through it.
3. Find ways to express your grief.
What you do is going to depend on your personality. For some, it’s helpful to go out into the backyard and chop wood or go to the batting cages and just whack the balls over and over again. For others, creative expression is helpful. Many times, journaling, creative writing, painting, drawing, arts & crafts, or other types of self-expression help us make sense of the seemingly senseless feelings going on inside. And if you are a person of faith, prayer, meditation, worship, or traditional rituals
can help you express your grief.
4. Don’t neglect your health.
Most people feel more tired and less energetic when they are grieving. For this reason, it’s important to get plenty of sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, try to stay hydrated, limit your caffeine intake, and make sure that your bedroom is dark and relaxing. Additionally, you should make sure that you are eating healthy foods and taking time to participate in some kind of physical activity on a regular basis. One thing to watch out for is numbing activities. It may start out as a coping mechanism but beware of allowing numbing activities
to distract you from dealing with your grief. Common numbing activities are: food, alcohol or drugs, anger, excessive exercise, TV or movies, books, isolating yourself, shopping, or losing yourself in work. While these may help you cope, they don’t help you move toward reconciling your grief and moving into what life looks like after a loss.
5. Allow others to walk alongside you.
You don’t have to walk this road alone. In fact, it will be much less stressful if you do accept help from others
. There’s an incredible scene in The Return of the King
, the third installment of The Lord of the Rings.
Throughout all three movies, Samwise Gamgee has faithfully walked alongside his dearest friend, Frodo Baggins. Together, as they seek to destroy a powerful ring and save all of Middle Earth, they face danger and hardships, feel lost and hopeless, and at one point, Sam even fears that Frodo has died. And then, the moment comes. Frodo is so near the end of this incredibly taxing quest – this journey that has sapped him physically, mentally, and emotionally – and he says, “I can’t do this, Sam.” After some fortifying words, Sam says, “I can’t carry it [the ring] for you, but I can carry you!” This is why we need friends along the hard journeys in life. They can’t carry our burdens for us, but they can help carry us along; they can provide the support we need
to move forward and find new life and new meaning.
Self-Care vs. Keeping Busy
It’s important to remember that self-care is not about “keeping busy.” It’s about taking care of yourself as you grieve. Nationally respected grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way: “Remember—self-care fortifies your long and challenging grief journey, a journey which leaves you profoundly affected and deeply changed. To be self-nurturing is to have the courage to pay attention to your needs. Above all, self-nurturing is about self-acceptance. When we recognize that self-care begins with ourselves, we no longer think of those around us as being totally responsible for our well-being. Healthy self-care forces us to mourn in ways that help us heal, and that is nurturing indeed.
Taking care of yourself will contribute to giving you the strength to face each day of your grief journey. There are so many ways
to care for yourself, and it will vary from person to person. Some will find bubble baths relaxing. Others will care for themselves by exercising, talking with friends, taking walks, sticking to a daily schedule, or enjoying a daily smoothie. No matter what you decide is best for you, be kind to yourself. It’s okay to have a bad day for no apparent reason, and you don’t need to feel guilty when you have a good day or enjoy an activity. The grief journey is not about the pain disappearing; it’s about you learning to reconcile with your loss
and finding your “new normal.” You may always deeply feel the loss of your loved one, but you discover what life looks like after a loss and find new meaning in it.
In my dual profession as an educator and health care provider, I have worked with numerous children infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The relationships that I have had with these special kids have been gifts in my life. They have taught me so many things, but I have especially learned that great courage can be found in the smallest of packages. Let me tell you about Tyler.
Tyler was born infected with HIV; his mother was also infected. From the very beginning of his life, he was dependent on medications to enable him to survive. When he was five, he had a tube surgically inserted in a vein in his chest. This tube was connected to a pump, which he carried in a small backpack on his back. Medications were hooked up to this pump and were continuously supplied through this tube to his blood stream. At this time, he also needed supplemental oxygen to support his breathing.
Tyler wasn’t willing to give up one single moment of his childhood to this deadly disease. It was not unusual to find him playing and racing around his backyard, wearing his medicine-laden backpack and dragging his tank of oxygen behind him in his little wagon. All of us who knew Tyler marveled at his pure joy in being alive and the energy it gave him. Tyler’s mom often teased him by telling him that he moved so fast she needed to dress him in red. That way, when she peered out the window to check on him playing in the yard, she could quickly spot him.
This dreaded disease eventually wore down even the likes of a little dynamo like Tyler. He grew quite ill and, unfortunately, so did his HIV-infected mother. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to survive, Tyler’s mom talked to him about death. She comforted him by telling Tyler that she was dying too, and that she would be with him soon in heaven.
A few days before his death, Tyler beckoned me over to his hospital bed and whispered, “I might die soon. I’m not scared. When I die, please dress me in red. Mom promised she’s coming to heaven, too. I’ll be playing when she gets there and I want to make sure she can find me.”
From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Reprinted by permission of Health Communications, Inc., Copyright © 1996 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
Making a Difference
We all want to leave our fingerprints on the world. When we reflect on our mortality, we inevitably find ourselves wondering how we want to be remembered and what we want to accomplish before passing away. In other words, what legacy will we leave? In such times, we often find that the things that occupy our time are trivial and unsatisfying. Acknowledging the reality that we will die allows us to put things in perspective and to focus our energies on the things that are really important.
When you pass away, how do you want people to remember you? What are you passionate about? Answering these questions will help you to make your life a model for those you leave behind. Each of us has a unique opportunity to live a meaningful life
and create a legacy that will inspire people. Here are some tips for building a legacy that will make a difference in the lives of others.
Identify the things that are most important to you
Before you start to build your legacy, spend some time in reflection so that you know what direction to take off in
. As respected author James Cabell once said, “While it is well enough to leave footprints on the sands of time, it is even more important to make sure that they point in a commendable direction.” Determine your direction. What do you care the most about? What are your strongest beliefs and convictions? You may want to make a list of the values that mean the most to you.
Consider the avenues for communicating these values
Once you have these values laid out, you can begin thinking about how you want to achieve them and communicate them to others. Now’s the time to start planning some personal projects. You may want to write a book about something that is important to you or a letter that contains life lessons that you have discovered. You may decide to get active in community service or donate to charities that you find meaningful. Invest time or money in causes that you really want to support. By taking action
and investing in the things that you care about, you inspire others to do the same.
Ask how your decisions could potentially impact others
When considering what projects to invest in, try to envision how your different options could affect people. While it is obviously impossible to predict with absolute certainty how your actions will be interpreted after you are gone, putting some real thought into the end results of your actions is beneficial. On close examination, you may see that some of your projects are more practical and more beneficial than others. Since the activities that you engage in represent an important part of who you are, make sure that you are spending your time in the best possible ways.
Live your legacy in everyday life
In the rush to create an inspiring and exciting legacy, it can be tempting to let ourselves be consumed by big projects. But it’s also important to remember the small things
: a kind word, a smile, an opportunity to laugh. Stop periodically to evaluate your intentions. Building a legacy is a great way to inspire others, but don’t let your desire to be remembered turn into an obsession that keeps you from living out your values. People will remember you for the way that you lived your life daily, for the small ways in which you embodied your values and treated others.
Learn from your loved ones
There’s no inspiration like that which comes from the people that you love. If you are trying to live your life as an example for others to follow, you may want some help from those you trust the most. Talk to your family and close friends to get feedback. Your loved ones know you better than anyone, and they can give you some ideas regarding the activities that could contribute to your legacy. If you don’t want to talk openly about your legacy, that’s also fair. But be sure to listen to those around you. They can inspire you without even knowing it. Paying attention to the people who motivate you will remind you of what is important as you work to build a meaningful legacy.