We humans love to be doing. Fortunately for us, some form of doing is often what will help us during difficult times.
So many people walk into my consulting room asking for something to do to help with their grief. After exploring what they normally do to cope with life’s ups and downs we arrive at a suggested activity they love doing. In future sessions we review how that action helped. Today I am writing a blog on the ten things people tell me help most with their grief.
- Take a Walk
Life is often referred to as a “journey”. That may seem annoying at times, but it is true that we are constantly moving forward through time from birth to death.
Grief is part of that moving forward through time. So the grief “journey” is one of movement, both symbolically and physically. Many people in the early stages of grief will report a need to keep moving and I have observed many people over the years who paced backwards and forwards and sat and fidgeted constantly. This is a normal body reaction to the trauma of grief. The movement actually helps you to regulate your feelings.
Emotional movement is also part of that moving forward in grief. In the early days it seems to be a constant moving from devastation one moment, disbelief and numbness the next and then a need to just get on with the practical aspects of life. It is like being on a see-saw with emotions constantly moving.
Taking a walk is a really helpful thing both from a physical, symbolic and emotional perspective.
So take that walk. As you walk think about the loved one you have lost. Cry if you need to (sunglasses are handy if you don’t want people to notice). Look around you. Notice the structures, the trees and plants, the birds, the insects, the sky. Touch surfaces. Smell the air. Feel the breeze on your cheek. All these things help to satisfy your need to move as well as give your space to be in the present moment.
If you can walk every day, even for a short time. You may want to walk alone or walk with another person.
- Note what you do in a positive way
As your grief consumes you and you attempt to complete all the many tasks that confront you after the death of a loved one, it can seem that you have not achieved anything in a day. The truth is, you achieve far more than you realise.
At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, write down three things you did today. You are allowed to say you got out of bed. That of itself is an achievement. Note those things and feel good at being able to do them.
As time goes on you will notice what you achieve in a day will get bigger. That is great too, but never put down the simple actions you complete in those early days. Keeping these things written down is a great way to see how you have progressed over time. Wonderful encouragement for those days when you feel overwhelmed by your grief.
- Engage in the world around you
There are many ways to engage in the world around you. It may be something as simple as reading your local newsletter, or watching the news on television. Hard as it is to see the world continuing it is helpful in the long term to remember there is a world out there. It might not feel like it in the early days of your grief, but later on it will help you to reconnect to life.
Try doing these activities for as long as you can cope up to 30 minutes a day.
- Send Love to the one you love.
Yes, the person you love is dead, but your love for them is not and they died still loving you. So tell your loved one you love them. It may be what you do last thing at night, or first thing in the morning. You may say it when you come home from work. One person told me they would say “I love you so much and am sending you all my love.” Another person told me they would tell their loved one they were “sending them love and surrounding them with love”. They repeat these words throughout the day, especially when they were feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of their loss. They found switching that overwhelm to expressions of love helped them cope.
For those who were frightened they would forget their loved one, this practice was a great way for them to demonstrate they were not and would not forget them.
- Distract Yourself
Much as you may want to, life goes on after the one you love is dead. And part of life going on is that you have to do the mundane things of life. These are often referred to as the “tasks of living”. Your grief is a combination of experiencing the loss of your loved one and engaging in the tasks of living.
There are also times when you are overwhelmed with feeling that grief. When you just want a break from it. At those times many people distract themselves from their grief. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the one you lost, it just means your brain needs space to rest and recuperate. So if you want to watch a movie, or a television series, or read a book, or engage in an activity that takes your mind off them for a while then do it. You will come back to being okay to be with your grief once you have had the rest you need.
- Share Your Story with others
It can be hard to do this because not everyone is willing to listen, but see if you can find those friends who will be willing to listen. If you can’t find friends then a support group can be helpful. Sometimes people tell me the support group does not allow them to completely share because they need to be mindful of others in the group. At those times you can speak to a counsellor about your grief.
Let people hear about your pain. Let them know you just want them to listen and not try to solve their problem. Your story needs to be heard. Having your pain witnessed by at least one other person is crucial to your loss journey.
- Find and Acknowledge the things in your life that are continuing
After the loss of your love one it can seem that everything has stopped, but there will always be things in your life that are not stopped by your loved one’s death. This continuing thing may be your job, or the continued growth of your children. Even such basic things as your hair and fingernails growing are proof that things continue. Another thing many people realise continues is their love for the person they lost. The biggest revelation often comes when a person will tell me they realised their life is continuing! These are things you can acknowledge as proof that life goes one and can help you to ground yourself in the continuation of your life when so much seems to have ended.
- Do Something Nice for Yourself
It is important to remember to stop and give yourself a treat every so often. It might be something as simple as ordering a take away meal. It might involve a walk on the beach. You may go and get your hair styled, or visit the beautician. Maybe you will go to see a favourite game. Maybe you will go out with special friends.
Whatever you decide to do, do not neglect your own self care during this difficult time.
- Think of three things you wanted to do in your life before your loved one died
These things may have had nothing to do with your loved one. They may be your own bucket list items, or they may be something you planned to do together. Write a list of those things, at least three. The things don’t have to be hard. It may be that you had planned to go on a particular walk, or visit a particular place. You may have dreamed of taking up Salsa Dancing.
These things help to remind you that life goes on and that you can honour your loved one with the things you do as your life progresses. In all your grief do not forget about you. When you first lose someone you love, your loss can feel so overwhelming you forget about yourself for a while. You can also wonder who you are without that person to help define you. Now is the time to remember who you are and do that things that allow you to be you. Reminding yourself of the plans and wishes you had is a really good way to reconnect with yourself and honour the one you loved.
- Do Something for Someone Else
Most of the people who do this one have been bereaved for a long time. In the first year or so of your grief it is a struggle to just get through and having the ability or capacity to do something for someone else is just not there. And that is absolutely okay.
Doing something for someone else may be as simple as holding the door open for another person, helping a woman with a pram up some stairs, saying hello to an elderly neighbour who can’t get out much, giving a donation to a charity. You may find you are able to reach other to someone else who is struggling with life. This is the part of your grief where you find you are able to commit to the world again.
My clients tell me these 10 things are really helpful. They feel like they are doing something when they often feel so weighed down with grief and unable to do anything. Being able to do these simple things feels like they are able to at least do something. In a place of such disempowerment, doing something feels empowering.
They also feel they are able to honour their loved one by doing these things.
If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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