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I want to share with you the following piece which the bereavement group I co-facilitate used in discussion yesterday. The piece presents thoughts on healing in grief as one begins the process of confronting the major life changes surrounding loss.
Here are some suggestions for practical things you can do to promote healing and help yourself through grief at the same time:
- Take time to heal. This is another way of saying take time to mourn because when you mourn, you heal. Carve out some time in your schedule for quiet, alone time. Retreat to a place (mentally and physically) where you can reflect on your feelings and your progress in grief without being distracted. Turn your cell phone off and let the voice mail screen your calls.
Spend time privately writing your experiences and observations to allow yourself emotional release and understanding. A journal can serve later as a record of your grief walk and a reminder of how the journey has changed you. But while you are doing this alone time and me time in grief, don’t use this as an excuse to isolate because you still need the help, support and encouragement of others as you mourn.
- Confide in someone. Burdens shared with others are not as heavy. Accept the caring gestures and listening ears of others graciously, recognizing that your turn to listen and comfort someone else will come later. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SEEK OUT PROFESSIONAL HELP IF YOUR GRIEF STRUGGLE BECOMES OVERWHELMING.
- Perform rituals that help you through the loss in a personally significant way. Find creative ways to memorialize your loved one—ways that honor the deceased, fit the person you are and are a reminder of the transition you are undergoing. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and special days are often easier to endure when you plan to remember your loved one in a special way.
- Allow yourself to change. Losses of people and the important roles they fulfilled in our lives change us. Don’t resist change, but see it as a way of adapting to your new relationship with your loved one. Embrace the changes caused by grief in your loved one’s honor. Find opportunities that help you enjoy life and that exist for your own personal growth and success, however bittersweet those opportunities may be.
- Maintain a daily routine. Consistency becomes important in relieving the stresses of grief. You may have no control over your life, but you can exercise some control over your schedule. Get enough sleep – six to eight hours a night. On the days you can’t sleep, at least rest. Take cat naps whenever possible.
Eat three meals a day. On days that food doesn’t seem appealing, try to eat at least a little something. At the same time, don’t overeat and use food as a comfort measure. Watch your health and your weight. In addition, drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated and healthy.
When physical problems occur, see your physician. Don’t take for granted that your pain or discomfort may be totally related to your grief. Grieving people are more susceptible to real and very dangerous illnesses especially during the first year after the death. A good rule is to see your physician for a full physical exam during the first six months after the loss.
- Exercise and stay active. Exercise is a powerful antidote for depression. As we exercise, our bodies release endorphins. These proteins can help give us a feeling of well-being, without the need for medications. You don’t have to join a gym or start a rigorous exercise routine. Just be active and don’t become a couch potato or a desk jockey.
- If professionals suggest medications, take them only as prescribed. Prescriptions drugs used to take the edge off for overwhelming depression, anxiety, or stress need to be taken under the direction and supervision of a physician.
- Take time off, short breaks or “vacations” from your grief. No mourner can grieve 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year straight without burning out physically, emotionally,mentally and spiritually. When grief becomes too intense and overwhelming, become involved in activities that will cause your mind to be occupied with other tasks. Volunteer work is a good way to be thinking of others to take a break from dwelling on your life situation.
- Pamper yourself occasionally. Reward yourself when you have worked hard in your grief. Treat yourself with an activity that you enjoy without overdoing. Do retail therapy and buy something special for yourself or someone close to you. Go see the newest movie. Go to a spa and get a manicure or pedicure. You get the idea…reward yourself and take a break from the fatiguing job of mourning. You deserve it.
- Release anger. Venting anger can be done in either constructive or destructive ways. Remember, scripture says “be angry and sin not.” Vent your anger in appropriate ways that will help you and not hurt you or others. Writing an angry letter that you never intend to mail and other creative measures can be used to cope with your anger in healthy ways.
- Help the mind and body work together. Find ways to break a task down into easy to achieve parts so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Breathe deeply. Take walks. Watch the sunset. Go out for dinner alone or with others. Sit and stare at the walls if that is all you have energy to do at that time. Ask for help from God and others…and don’t feel guilty for asking.
- Avoid chemicals. Do not try to drown out the pain with alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs are only a temporary relief. In some cases, alcohol and drug use or abuse can only compound the problems of grief. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and sugar. These can add to the feelings of shakiness.
- Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time and energy. We must give ourselves time to grieve and to move toward healing. We must resist the temptation to try to measure up to expectations that others have for us that may not be reasonable. All in all, the most important thing we can learn to do is be gentle with ourselves.
- Connect with the beautiful & inspirational. Music, art, poetry and other ways to reconnect with beauty and creativity can help lift the cloud of despair that often hovers over us in grief.
- Remember your belief system. Faith resources include prayer, scripture reading and the support of your church family. God and faith provide consolation and can help in finding reason and purpose in life in the middle of a crisis.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT, author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” Available on http://grief-works.org/book.php. Also available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookstore. Available now for Nook and Kindle.
Watch the Love Never Dies YouTube video http://youtu.be/-T0zt0ZSsNE. Follow me on Twitter @griefminister01.