Self-Care During Grief

Finding strength in vulnerability.

Posted Jun 29, 2020

Image by Sofie Zborilova from Pixabay
Source: Image by Sofie Zborilova from Pixabay

I have always believed myself to be a strong individual. Place a challenge before me, and I will rise to the occasion. In fact, if life becomes somewhat predictable or a little too “calm,” I intentionally shake things up—I actively pursue change.

The day my mom died, I shattered. My heart. My spirit. My psyche. Devastated. Obliterated. Destroyed.

I was in shock. I knew that, but I was also terrified. I hadn’t realized how fragile I was. I sat in the middle of the bed, clutching my stomach in a makeshift bear hug. It was as if I were literally attempting to hold myself together.

Those early days were horrible. The grief was unbearable. Tears streamed down my face, often without my knowledge. The loss—the void—was excruciating. I didn’t know how I’d put the shattered pieces together again. Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to find them.

It took a while, but I finally realized that to be able to move forward, I had to do something that I have never really been very good at doing. I had to reach outside of my comfort zone. I had to ask for help.

My family and friends were my lifelines. One step. One moment. One day at a time. They held me, they listened, they helped me function. They gave me time to cry, space to heal, and energy to seek out ways to grow—to find myself again.

There is no “right” way to grieve, and there is no universal timeline for grief. I know that. I’ve said that... in every grief group I’ve ever facilitated. But this time, I was the one in the grief group. This time, I was the one who needed to hear the words.

I often wear something that belonged to my mom—a special piece of jewelry, a snuggly sweater, her brilliant red coat. It helps me to feel closer to her. As I was preparing to leave the grief group one chilly afternoon, I picked up the coat and began slipping my arms into the sleeves.

Knowing the history of the garment, the woman next to me smiled and said, “Every time you put that on, it’s like a hug from your mom.” That statement, that idea, gave me tremendous comfort. Even now, during these hot and humid summer days, I still smile whenever I open the closet door and see that magnificent splash of red.

I returned to teaching the week after her death. Part of me thought it would be good to have a distraction—something to get me out of my own head. Another part of me wondered how I’d get through a three-hour class.

As I placed my hands on the campus doors, I breathed deeply, squared my shoulders, and entered the building. With my heart pounding wildly, I looked down the long hall and saw one of my dearest friends waiting for me. We hugged. We sat. We talked and cried.

She gave me the strength I needed to get through that night. After several weeks of faithful visits, I asked her how long she’d be meeting me before class. She lovingly replied, “Until you get your sparkle back.”

As the weeks and months passed, I worked at being patient with myself (another one of my challenges). As I attempted to excavate the shattered remains, I found that many of the pieces no longer fit together. I had changed. It became clear that I had to give myself permission to take the time to reassess my life and to rest—my body, my mind, and my spirit.

Instead of pushing ahead and striving for perfection, I made it a point to remain open, to be vulnerable, and to explore activities I thought could help me heal. I listened to my inner voice—not the academic. I made time to sit in silence, to engage in prayer, and to walk in nature. I streamed grief yoga sessions, explored energy healing, and engaged in massage therapy (until COVID-19 disrupted our world). I spent more time with my family, with my brothers and their families, and I realized just how strong we all are when we work together.

If you are working your way through grief, my heart is with yours. Be kind to yourself, take the time you need to heal, and know that you are not alone.

Copyright Linda Seiford, Ph.D.