The phone rang around midnight in March 1995, jarring me out of a sound sleep. On the other end was my apologetic uncle in New York – “I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but your mother has died.” My world stopped – I let out a sound only dying animals make and the floor fell away beneath my feet. It was a long night of panic and phone calls that I barely remember. Very quickly, I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs – I probably should have been in the ER being treated for shock.
In the following weeks, I couldn’t eat well, but I sure could drink. I couldn’t sleep at night because of trauma dreams and night terrors, so I tried sleeping during the day. My body got mad at me pretty quickly over that, so I stopped, but I still couldn’t cope, so I watched TV all day – for 17 hours – every day – and drank. Cheap brandy….ugh.
So I learned the hard way about the importance of Self-Care in the wake of a loss and in the grief that follows. And this is not only following a death, but also the loss of a job, a home, a friendship or anything that requires a recalculation of our lives and choices.
Part of what makes this easy to miss is that we can go numb. We feel every emotion on the planet and yet we are totally shut down. That is your Being trying to protect you from the avalanche of feelings – but it can also cut you off from being aware that you need to take care of yourself.
Here are the most important things you can do to practice Self-Care following a loss:
Food & Water
It is so easy to forget to eat, it is one of the first things that goes out the window! But you need fuel for what lies ahead, to combat the stress and to give you focus. I would also suggest you eat good food, not fast food, laden with salt, fat and sugar – not because I am preaching at you, but too much of this will give your body more to fight in terms of dehydration, sugar crashes and feeling full. I encourage you to protect and support your body, rather than giving it more to combat.
And speaking of hydration, water! Given the story I just told above, you know I am no stranger to using alcohol in times of stress. Taking one shot to steady your nerves is one thing – using it as a consistent coping mechanism is not going to work. Stress and drinking can be deadly on so many levels. Not to mention that you need to be as clear-headed as possible for making decisions and organizing things. Plus, dehydration tightens muscles, upsets your stomach, fuzzies your thinking and disturbs your rest.
There is simply no substitute for sleep – it is so basic for overall health. There are so many ways we can quiet the mind to allow it to rest. Meditation, certain sounds, breathing exercises – all can aid in your quiet time. Quick naps are also great to pick you up in the middle of a stressful period.
Anything that you normally take for health must be continued. Blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin, anti-anxiety or anti-depression meds – all of it needs to go uninterrupted. Any supplements that you take should be continued, too. You can set timers or reminders in your phone or you can ask a friend to remind you. If you need other recommendations for new things to take temporarily during this stressful period, speak to your healthcare professional.
You might cry endlessly – you might rage – you might laugh and not know why – you may shut down and feel like a stone. I give you permission to FEEL – even if it hurts. Burying it is unwise and will lengthen the time you need to recover. Have trusted friends, counselors, teachers, therapists and spiritual advisors who encourage you to express everything. Fully feeling all your true emotions will allow you to process them. You’re going to be okay….
You may experience times when your focus is all over the place and you cannot remember names, places, basic things – I always tell the story about how I forgot how to drive for weeks after Mom died. No idea how to coordinate my hands and feet. Also forgot where everything was. So I asked friends to drive me around for a while. It really can make you feel like you’re going crazy…but memory loss is common for Grievers, so have no worries. You’re going to be okay….
Those around you can also help you keep organized, help you make lists, and so much more.
Gather Your Allies
This brings me to my last point – having kind, supportive friends around you is key to your health and to your healing. The kind of friends who will listen and not judge. The kind who will notice that your sink is full of dishes and wash them for you. The kind who will offer to go pick up dinner. There are many such angels in the world and they are priceless. They are eager to help and you can enlist them to support all your health needs – not just with reminders, but by taking some of the burden off your spirit of mundane tasks so that you can make important decisions in this challenging time.
Profound grief can wreak havoc on your mind, body and spirit and do long-term damage. I encourage you to ask for help and accept it. You are not broken, you are suffering – don’t let your health suffer, too. It will make your healing easier.
About the Author
Claire M. Schwartz, BA, is a Grief Relief Expert, Certified Professional Coach, Reiki Master Teacher, Spiritual Counselor and Interfaith Minister. She practices out of both The Tree of Health Center in Newton, NJ and her office at 460 Bloomfield Ave, Montclair, NJ.