Have you forgotten all about your physical needs since the death of your loved one? Perhaps you have lost all interest in life. Are you afraid to focus your attention on anything other than the deceased, because you believe to do so means you are being disrespectful?
Forgetting the self and thinking that any form of enjoyment when grieving is wrong, causes millions of mourners unnecessary suffering. The beliefs that fuel these behaviors exist and are reinforced based on a lack of information about the nature of the grief process.
Grieving is arduous mental and physical work; it affects every organ and system in the body. Most important to understand is that what you think about, and the way you perceive the death of your loved one, is a major stressor. Early on stress is overlooked. As the days wear on, constant stress begins to take its toll in confusion, lack of sleep, colds, headaches, and digestive disturbances.
If you fail to take systematic breaks from your grief, eventually the stress of mourning will force you to the sidelines. Here are some ways to be kind to yourself, maintain your health, and minimize the chances of extending your grief work.
1. 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. What can you do?
2. Go to your private place. Choose a place in your home where you can be free of the noise of others talking and the telephone ringing. Too much time with others during the day can limit the time you need alone to consider certain aspects of the death and your grief without interruptions.
Here is where restoration through meditation, music, solitude, or rest will replenish the severe energy drain associated with grieving (fear, anger, guilt, and depression consume enormous amounts of energy). If you are unable to be alone early on, for whatever reason, then ask a friend to be with you as you take your respite.
3. Be kind to yourself with the benefits of beauty. Go to a beautiful area near your home. Whenever the opportunity arises, and you see a beautiful picture, tree, body of water, or scene, use it as a signal that a power greater than the self is saying, pause and enjoy. Beauty is a powerful stress reducer and healer. Focus all of your attention on it. Your body will benefit greatly from this mental relaxation and it is perfectly okay to redirect your attention in this way.
4. At appropriate times — whatever you deem appropriate is appropriate — immerse yourself in loving memories that include (or may not) your loved one. Think of times when you felt loved. Go over the details of the place, people involved, what was said, and what was given or received. Think of what was learned at those times and how you might be able to give to others the insights you received. Love will get you through your great loss.
5. Be kind to yourself by putting off major decisions. Immediately selling your home, car, or getting away from the reminders of life with your loved one, can add to your burden, if they are done too soon. They can easily turn into additional losses for you as time goes on and you look back on what was given up. If possible, give yourself a year to consider big moves or decisions. Be sure to consult friends, experts, and family for input. Then make a decision based on what you want.
6. Take some time to read, not only books by others who have dealt with loss, but well thought of authors like Thomas Moore, Henri Nouwen, Wayne Dyer, and others who can give you new ideas and help in the important search for meaning. You may not be able to read anything early in your grief. However, as the weeks go on, ask friends, clergy, and librarians for recommendations. You will be surprised at the wealth of material that will help you to heal.
7. Give your self-compassion and nurturing time a name because it is a big deal. It is part of healthy adjustment to major loss. Call it “My Time” or “Be Kind to Me Hour” (or for 30 minutes). Find a catchy name and look forward to it as something you deserve, as you do.
Then make it a habit to take a stroll to your favorite coffee shop, whether a Mobil station or a Starbucks. The exercise alone can be very useful as an outlet for tension and anxiety. Give a warm hello to the person behind the counter. Human contact is a must.
In summary, starting a new routine like those recommended above, or making up one of your own, is a critical factor in readjustment. Remember it is a big deal — part of your new life to start little routines that bring you enjoyment and contact with others. Self-nurturance is your right and obligation when doing your grief work.
Dr. Lou LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, the popular Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His free monthly ezine website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com.