During the 1970s, a number of my close family members died over six summers. The last of them was my two-day-old baby. It was a long time ago, but it’s been the hardest thing life has ever dealt me. I believe that this loss allowed me to develop true empathy for others.

The loss I’m now experiencing has come in stages, as my elderly mother deteriorates slowly from Alzheimer’s disease. Each year she seems to go to a new stage, plateauing there for quite a while, eventually shifting mentally and physically into a different phase. Then we have to learn how to meet her in that place.

Sometimes our loved ones leave us quite quickly, and some go slowly over many years as my mom has done. However they leave, it’s hard for those of us left behind to come to terms with their passing.

When we’re grieving, our own needs must be a priority on all levels. In the first days and weeks, we’re in shock, going through our days automatically. Often, we forget to look after ourselves in the most basic of ways, particularly when we’ve been caregivers who have put our parent or other relative’s needs first for a long time. The numbness gradually gives way to a realisation that our lives have changed. We may wonder who we will become and what we will do with ourselves now that our loved one has died.

It’s important to boost our self-care, looking after those important basics that feed us in body, mind and spirit. Simple things like eating small amounts of food regularly, drinking plenty of water, getting some fresh air and gentle exercise, reading our favourite uplifting books or poems make a significant difference.

Check in with yourself often to see what you need. Every 15 minutes is a schedule that works well. Take tiny turtle steps such as dressing neatly, walking down the block, having a friend in for a cup of tea or going out for a short visit.

There is no fixed timetable or method for grieving, and don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise. We will find our own unique way of healing when we give ourselves the gift of time. In the peace and quiet the answers will come to us.

Strong personal boundaries are crucial right now and we have the right to set them. It’s not possible or reasonable to go out of our way to help others during this time.  While we may not be able to put our own needs first all the time, it’s a good goal to aim for. A small group of safe, trusted friends, family, and perhaps a counsellor or coach will give us the support we need and honest feedback from time to time if necessary.

Care for and honour yourself and you will slowly begin to come out of the dark and into the brightness of day again.

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Ellen Besso

Ellen Besso holds a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology, is a Martha Beck Certified Coach and a Registered Clinical Counselor. She specializes in helping women access their joy and passion as they navigate the challenges of midlife, including caring for their elders. a href=https://www.opentohope.com/2009/09/17/ellen-besso-helping-others-after-loss/>To Listen to Ellen on Open to Hope Radio

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