Self-Care and Your Grief Journey

A friend of mine told me “grief is like a roller coaster” when I was mourning my father’s death in July 2018. The advice isn’t new, but it gave voice to the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. One moment I was smiling at the memory of a conversation we had when we discovered we both liked to cook our eggs the exact same way. The next I was crying at the thought I would never see him smile at me again or feel one of his hugs.

Someone close to me lost her husband of 35 years last week and I attended his funeral Saturday. He was a good man who loved his wife and his kids, the kind of man you question “why did he have to go?” He lost his life due to chronic illness, not Coronavirus/Covid-19. The United States death toll from Covid-19 reached a somber milestone by marking over 100,000 lives lost last week. But lives are being lost across the country every day by other causes as well.

George Floyd lost his life on Monday May 25th his story is just one of many, his was tragic makes me angry and it hurts. So many different faces of loss for people we knew well, people we barely knew, people who are just faces on TV or social media. How do you deal with the images, the news, social media posts, the frustration, the grief? Sometimes you need to take a break, turn it off, just stop looking. Sometimes you need to talk it out. Sometimes you need to scream. Sometimes you need advocacy. Sometimes you may need spiritual guidance, or counseling.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages were based on her studies of patients facing terminal illness. Today we use them for other life changes and losses like the death of a loved one or a break-up. Not everyone goes through each stage, and not everyone goes through them in sequential order.

The Five Stages of Grief:

Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”

Anger: Why is this happening? It’s _____ fault.”

Bargaining: “If you do this, I will ______.”

Depression: “I don’t care anymore.”

Acceptance: “I’m okay.”

It is imperative to take care of your emotional and physical needs when you are grieving.

When you are grieving you need to practice self-care more than ever. The following are fundamental self-care needs because grief takes a toll mentally and physically.

1. Be Kind to Yourself – there is no handbook for grief, and it is different for everyone.

2. Eat Healthy and Drink Water – you can experience shortness of breath, muscle aches, dehydration, digestion issues, and a host of other health problems.

3. Sleep – failing to get enough sleep causes problems for healthy people, on a person who is grieving the problems are magnified.

4. Feelings – face them and express them with people you feel comfortable expressing them with when you are ready.

In this post by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. he states “Over many years of walking with people in grief, I have discovered that most of us are hard on ourselves when we are in mourning. We judge ourselves and we shame ourselves and we take care of ourselves last. But good self-care is essential to your survival. To practice good self-care doesn’t mean you are feeling sorry for yourself, or being self-indulgent; rather, it means you are creating conditions that allow you to integrate the death of someone loved into your heart and soul.

When you lose someone close to you, it is natural to feel pain. Grieving is normal, and most people go through it. But when grief takes over your life and you begin to feel hopeless and helpless, then it is likely time to seek out professional help through counseling and talk about the difference between normal grief and depression.

While doing research for this post I found most self-care ideas for grief were similar to things we should do to honor ourselves daily with self-love and self-care. But I believe these four ideas are ways to help grieve and heal:

1. Go away for the weekend – to spend time with your memories, time where you can grieve alone and/or begin to heal. You’ll never be the same, because you lost someone you loved. But you will heal.

2. Write a letter to your loved one – if this appeals to you, say what you would want to say if you had the chance.

3. Plant a tree – something that will grow and be a living memorial.