self-care for grief

Self-Care For Grief

Update: Check out my workbook on grieving.

It’s been such a long two months for me. I’ve talked about how at the beginning of February, my mom passed away. It feels so weird to talk about it. Part of me is like “God, Dominee, you’ve talked about it so much, stop already.” The other part realizes what a huge part of my year it’s been. There’s a reason that the Death card in Tarot is less about death and more about transformation – because I find myself coming out of this phase a completely different person in so many ways.

This was my first real, hard-hitting, experience with death as an adult. My grandmother died when I was 11 and while I loved her dearly, she’d had several bouts of cancer and all of my memories with her involve her being in less than great health.

My father has also passed away but I’d never even met him and found out about his death through doing a Google search. There was grief there, but it was more one that was about “I wish…” and “What if…”

My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer a few days before Christmas and she died on February 1st. It was quick, unexpected, and brutal. I had 40 days to prepare myself and as with every cancer diagnosis, there’s always that chance that they can beat it.

The part that sucks so much about it, was that she didn’t get that chance. Right after her diagnosis, she went downhill fast. They found cancer in her spine, brain, and pancreas. Her lung function plummeted and before we knew it, the consensus was that she was just too weak for treatment. She lost a ton of weight and in a matter of weeks this woman who had made me Christmas cookies and bought me a Golden Girls poster was on a breathing machine and barely able to speak.

And here I am, still grieving.

There are so many things that go through your mind in times like this. So many worries, so many directions your brain is being pulled. Fear of the future, anger at the universe, deep, unbearable sadness. One thing that kept going through my head was if I was going to be okay. I sometimes suffer from severe depression and anxiety and objectively I kept wondering how I was going to handle this. If the worst happened, if she died, was it going to push me over that all too familiar cliff? My depression has gotten so much better over the years but I still remember the times when I would be in the darkness for months. Talk about a whole other layer of panic.

It didn’t trigger a severe depression and that’s because of self-care.

I felt like I had a 50/50 chance of spiraling out of control and into depression. Preparing for that was what made the difference. I knew myself well enough to know that all of this was a lot for me to handle, and at times, too much for me to handle. It triggered so much anxiety on so many different levels. There was such a deep feeling of helplessness – and if you suffer from anxiety – you know how much we crave the ability to control.

I have spent the last few months being so sad. I miss her so much and for so many different random, small, reasons. But I haven’t fallen into that pit of depression.

Here are a few suggestions for self-care for grief.

It’s okay to talk about it.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with talking about it. I don’t want to be a “downer”, I don’t want to put people in uncomfortable situations where they don’t know what to say. When someone asks me how I’m holding up my automatic response is to say that I’m fine. I’m learning that it’s okay to talk about it.

Talking about it helps. Find someone you can share your feelings with. People who are experiencing the same loss you are can be your life-savers.

If you feel alone in your grief – think again. You are not alone. There is someone in your inner circle or online who knows exactly how you’re feeling and who would be more than happy to listen to you vent and offer hugs. If you need someone to talk to, find someone to talk to. Don’t hold it in. Seek support. It’s all about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and I know how hard and scary that can be. Be vulnerable anyway.

Take your time.

Grief works on its own timetable. Honor that. You are not given a specific timeframe for your grief. If you find yourself being able to laugh and have moments of happiness early in your grief – that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care. If you’re still deeply affected by your loss months later – that’s okay too. Grief is different for everyone and you are not obligated to “get over it”. There’s a book by SARK that’s called Glad No Matter What that helped me years ago to discover that we don’t need to give one feeling a monopoly over our lives. We are allowed to feel more than one feeling at a time.

I think when we accept that our grief is part of us now – it gets easier. We don’t have to fight against it or erase it away. Allow yourself to ride the waves of it without judgment and without trying to “fix” it. What you feel and when you feel it is normal.

It’s okay to be in standby mode.

I noticed that through my grief I kinda went into a sort of standby mode. Everything non-essential just got turned off and I focused on doing the things that I needed to keep myself functioning. I had to make the time and the space to take care of myself, really take care of myself. Part of that meant stepping away from my work here. I relegated work to a few days a week and then only doing the things I had to do.

Grieve your way.

Some people will tell you to stay busy, others will tell you to take time off and take care of yourself, others will tell you to spend time with friends and family. Discover where your own grief is leading you and then follow that path. Like self-care in general, what you need will probably be different from what someone else needs.

I noticed that my own grief manifested itself in an intense period of nesting and spirituality. I had this overwhelming impulse to make my home more cozy and comfortable and magical. Keeping busy in that way but also focusing on something that gave me comfort was a huge help.

Face your feelings- even the uncomfortable ones.

There are always a lot of complicated feelings that come with grieving. It’s not just grief. It’s often combined with anger, resentment, abandonment, disappointment, guilt. Allow yourself to feel and accept all of these things without shying away from them as wrong or as bad.

You will want to judge yourself for your feelings – don’t. Whatever things you’re feeling are things that need to come up so that you can work through them. Acknowledge them so that you can accept them and eventually heal from them.

Look after yourself (or let someone look after you).

I am stubborn, I don’t like asking for help, and I don’t particularly like being vulnerable. I’ve needed to let go of those things. I have learned that there are so many people out there that genuinely care and want to help. Accepting help or comfort from other people is not putting them out, it’s not you being a burden. People want to help. They want to be there for you. Let them.

When someone asks you if you need anything or if there’s anything they can do for you – take them up on it. Let your friends make your life easier, that’s what they’re there for!

At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you give yourself what you need to heal.

Your healing matters.

What is your self-care for grief?