Self-Care Sunday: Self-care in the Midst of Grieving
My friend said he was doing his normal routine Thursday morning. He took the three dogs down two flights of stairs to let them out after a long night. The smallest one, would often get scared for no logical reason and freak out before going outside. My friend would gently coax her out of the corner until she complied. But that morning she yelped in fear before falling over to her side. He tried to revive her, but she had stopped breathing. Twenty minutes later she went completely limp. She was gone. Five going on six years of vibrant life and she was gone. The loss stunned me and caused me to remember my own losses.
Eighteen years ago I remember the phone call that changed my life in an instant. I found out that my sister had been killed in a car accident. I started my first year of high school without a sister. I went to a really dark place for two years. In my senior year I slowly began to smile again after thinking I would never see the joy in life again. Eighteen years later, while it doesn't hurt as much as it did then, there is still a hole in my heart. While you may fully function again after a major loss, it doesn't mean that the pain ever goes away; it can diminish, but may be always there. You can't simply "get over" losing something of infinite value to you. You can learn how to manage your feelings, emotions, and know when to take a break and step away when necessary. And loss doesn't only have to be death; it can be a relationship, divorce, friendship, a career etc.
When I look back on the first five years after losing my sister, I truly wonder how I even made it. I did practice self-care in a variety of ways to help me through the grieving process. Here are some ways that may be useful to you, or may give you ideas to help your through the grieving process, especially when the world has long moved on and stopped calling, texting, and checking in on you.
1. Tell People
My friend who lost his dog a couple of days ago initially didn't tell anyone. He didn't want to "ruin" their day with a sad story. But when he told people he found support and love. After my sister died I was very guarded about who I told, mainly because I knew that there were very few people who could relate to my grief. It took a great deal of time to disclose that to people until we established rapport, and even then I limited it. Although it may be hard to do in the initial stages, try to share your loss with those you have established trust with. Even though someone might not be able to empathize, they might be able to connect you with valuable resources.
2. Get Support/Help
If those around you cannot understand what you're going through (and even when they can), reach out beyond your inner circle. For a few times my mother and I attended a grief group. While it was way too intense for us and didn't seem to help much, I am still glad we attended. Other siblings who experienced loss could relate to my feelings, and it made me feel more "normal." Later in college I sought individual counseling which helped me work through those issues. However you choose to get support, be consistent, and don't feel the need to stick with people or things that are making you feel worse and not better. Please seek professional help, even if you have to go on medication. I personally fought medication for years, but there were some periods of my life where I really needed balancing on a chemical level.
3. Take Time to Grieve
I have experienced subconscious crappy days on my sister's birthday and the anniversary of her death, without even realizing what day it was. After it happened more than once, I told myself that there was nothing wrong with taking a day off on those days if I needed it, even it was something that happened more than a decade ago. Be gentle with yourself. Even people who have had their own major losses in life can be quick to elude to you "getting over it." The fact is, often times you will never be "over it." You will find ways to continue through life, but it is something that may always linger in the background. Find what centers you whether it is reading, art, talking, writing--find ways of staying grounded, centered, as well as ways of working through the pain. And remember that it it is perfectly okay to fall apart, even years later.
4. There Doesn't Have to Be Reason
You don't have to determine a reason why something terrible has happened in your life. People naturally want answers to life's mysteries, but it is okay to accept the fact that you don't know why something happened. Was there a reason my sister died? Was there really? Other than that life can derail you in ways you never thought possible? As humans we always feel the need to have an answer or give an answer. We try to make logic out of the chaos that is often life. Sometimes there is no logic or reason. Sometimes we simply must learn to be present to our pain and to that of others. A few months ago a friend shared the most eloquently stated write up on grief by Tim J Lawrence's "Everything Doesn't Happen for a Reason." Statements like "everything happens for a reason" are often said because people don't know what else to say: which brings me to number five.
5. People will say and do stupid things
It is inevitable. People don't know what to say. People don't realize that what they're saying is insensitive. People think that they are helping when they are doing more damage than good. People try to empathize, but every situation is different. Your grief is as unique as you are. Treat it as such. Correct people when you can, but also know when to just walk away.
I hope this helps you through your journey. Notice how I didn't give you a list of things you can specifically do for yourself during the grieving process because grief is different for everyone. The point is to acknowledge where you are and work toward maintaining your sanity, health, and overall well-being. There is nothing easy about grief, not even tears; which reminds me of an awesome quote: "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love." ~ Washington Irvin.
While I have been through my own grief, and still go through it on occasion, I don't have all of the answers. But what I can tell you is that if you are proactive in maintaining self-care despite the pain, you can get to a place where you can focus more on who you loved, what you had, and what you experienced, rather than the hole that remains.
The Body Buffet creates handmade artisan soap, shampoo, conditioners, spa bars, beard care, body wash and more for Baltimore, the DMV, and beyond. We have been creating conditioning skin-loving, hair-loving, since 2009. Visit our shop at www.thebodybuffet.com. Marquita Johl is the soaper-in-chief and a self-care advocate. She has been crafting soap for eleven years.