Self-Care Sunday: Simple Ways to Keep Grief at Bay

My grandmother's recent death is something that's been a little challenging for me to deal with - I had a lot of mixed emotions about her, and over the years there was a lot that went left unsaid between us. It meant a lot to me to be able to see her before she died and spend some time talking to her in the quiet of her hospital room.

For short periods of time during the last four days of her life, I was alone with her, holding her hand in the silence. She couldn't talk, and would only occasionally nod understanding of what was said to her. There was no noisy blood pressure cuff to take vitals every 15-30 minutes, no beeping IV machine - she was beyond those things and everyone knew it, including her.

She looked funny to me, without her glasses on - the cat-eye frames she always wore. And in that bed, as she lay dying without nearly as much pride or dignity as she would have wanted, I saw her bare feet for maybe the first time. My grandmother never walked around barefooted; she always wore slippers, if not full socks and shoes. A sharp contrast to her barefooted hillbilly of a grand-daughter.

I wish we had had time to clear the air, to talk things through. I wish I was the kind of person who could have handled it fresh-faced and calmly - I wish she was the kind of person who would have gone for it.

Death leaves so much regret behind.

But even if you've had the chance to clear the air - even if you were in love, even if you had time to talk things through, to plan out the details, to speak those last words of compassion or understanding ... death leaves a certain fog behind. The mist of grief creep has crept into my life in little ways:
  • the inability to eat a peanut butter cookie without thinking of hers, crisscrossed by the tines of a dinner fork.
  • the sudden longing for a box of Lincoln Logs, like the ones I played with as a kid when she ran a daycare.
  • the echo of her voice in my memories.
  • the return of the re-occurring nightmare I always used to have - but only at her house.
  • sadness over the secrets she never felt safe or secure enough to share.
These were things always there for me, always under the surface but rarely breaking through - and yet now that she's gone, these things are back to remind me of her and what she meant in my life, a strange mix of security and fear and pride and shame and curiosity unmet.

But death can touch anyone. A husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a brother. A sister, a cousin, a friend. And we? Those left behind? We must face each new day, resilient against the grief, strong against the struggling mix of emotion.

It Isn't Always Death, Though
When I first wrote about my Grandmother's passing, I linked to an article I had found - an article addressing the existence and impact of various kinds of grief. Because grief isn't always caused by death-centered loss. You grieve a failed marriage, a lost pregnancy, the end of a friendship. You grieve when you get laid off unexpectedly. Any great change in life can cause this deep cycle of feelings of loss and sadness ... and sometimes, not enough change can cause it too.

I have grieved failed relationships, broken hearts. I've grieved over the loss of a child, a cousin, a friend. I've experienced the deaths of loved ones.

But my deepest moments of grief have often been from other causes - from ongoing crisis, from my mother's chronically tragic health. Things I can't escape or change, or couldn't for long periods of time. I couldn't heal from something I was stuck in, and I couldn't get unstuck for years. I just had to adapt and keep moving from moment to moment, giving everything I had to coping and surviving. But I grieved. I grieved the loss of the life I was promised, the connection I expected, the truth I eventually had to accept never knowing. I lived in grief, mourning what never was, what wasn't true - shattered belief, smothered faith.

But How Do You Keep It From Taking Over?
Sometimes, particularly when hope is too far away to reach out for and emotional pain is too heavy to carry anymore, it becomes all too easy to cower in the darkness of grief and believe, even if just for a second, that this depth of loss and sadness is the new norm. That we just need to get used to it, because this is what is now, because this is life now.

But it isn't, and even in the darkest moments of grief (like in the darkest moments of depression), there is hope - there is the very faintest sliver of light. And if only we can find it and focus on it ... that focus alone is enough to make it grow.

Here's where I look for light in my darkness:

  • Music: The music industry is full of strength and passion, the ability to keep moving, and the beautiful humanity that powers our spirits. In the lyrics of a song that moves us, we find compassion and understanding, love and friendship, hope and encouragement. In the notes of simple instrumentals, we find intensity and movement, a range of sound and feeling that warms the soul and powers the will to live. Music revives our memories, jolts us back to life again, reminds us that even in pain, there is continuity. In my deepest grief, classical music soothes me best - from the mournful notes of Andre Rieu's violin to the inspiring melody of Jim Brickman's piano. Music gives us time and permission to feel what we're feeling, to experience the depth of our emotion without hiding from it - and it's only in seeing and experiencing our emotions for what they are that we can learn to let them go.

  • Books: Sometimes though, what you really need most is to distract yourself from your grief so you'll have the strength of spirit to get to the next moment, and the next, and the next. When I need distraction and freedom from loss and sadness, I tend to turn to books - I find that books help me feel something other than my own internal pain. Through characters in the novels I read (or even the memoir stories that I connect to personally), I can allow myself to feel and remember love and passion and joy - without the twinge of guilt that often comes with positive emotion in the midst of grief. We often feel that when we're in a place of grief there should be no room for laughter, and it's easy to believe that any sense of happiness in the midst of grief is born of some betrayal. But it's only human nature to feel and experience a range of emotions - just as it's normal to feel a twinge of sadness during a happy time (such as missing a deceased grandparent during a wedding or other similar happy occasion), it's equally normal to laugh at a joke or enjoy the company of a child during the low points in our lives.

  • Self-Care: Taking care of yourself is the best way to battle grief-induced depression, and sometimes that extra gesture of self-care is what you need in order to make it through the day. Take a little longer to enjoy the cascade of water in the shower, breathe in the steam of an extra cup of coffee, revel in the sweet tartness of a piece of apple pie. Take note of the moments and how rich each one is - soak in the warmth of a friend or loved one's hug, close your eyes and appreciate the soft security of curling up under a blanket at the end of the day. Stop to really smell the perfume of a flower. Give yourself permission to need nurturing, and then give yourself permission to meet that need, whether that's through a layer of nail polish, a slick of lipstick, or a good sweaty run.

  • Positive Affirmation & Encouraging Self-Talk: Acknowledging the truth and depth of what you're feeling is important, but giving yourself time, understanding, and compassion is essential. You must allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever you feel (in a constructive way, of course), give yourself the space to truly acknowledge those feelings, and comfort yourself with the time it might take to move on. Grief isn't a race, and it looks different for every person experiencing it, every time. Kicking yourself for feeling it won't make it go away; it's much more effective to take charge and coach yourself instead. Remind yourself that it's normal to feel what you feel, that it's perfectly acceptable - and most importantly, that this is temporary. Grief is an emotion much like all the others, and it will come and go like the others too. Give yourself kindness and patience ... and time.

Because as bittersweet as this concept is, "this too shall pass."

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is a book I've mentioned before here on the blog - and it's the book currently reading through. This isn't my first experience with Max Lucado's books, but this book is most likely to be the one with the most lasting impact for me. You'll Get Through This walks you through the biblical story of Joseph, taking the worst moments of Joseph's life and bringing them into the present in ways we can relate to now - and then it offers biblical understanding, counsel, and perspective on how you can take encouragement even in the worst moments. I acknowledge that as it's a Christian-themed read, it may not be for everyone ... but I can personally vouch for the impact this book has had on me already, and I think that if you're a Christian (or just a person with an open heart) there's a wealth of perspective to be found in these pages.

It's pretty likely that after I read You'll Get Through This, I'll be looking for God Will Use This for Good next. And there's another one that's caught my eye, too - called He Fights for You. These two books have been added to my personal book wishlist on Amazon, too!

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links here, remember that if you choose to click product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)
How do you deal with grief? Have you experienced grief before, and if so, what triggered it? Please know that you are not alone, and that as cold as the world can be, there are people out there willing to lend an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, or even a hand to hold. Never be afraid or ashamed to reach out - whether it be to a friend or relative, a support or crisis hotline, or even to me through a comment or private email.

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  1. Every Sunday I make a point to take some time for myself and unwind, even if I can only commit an hour or so. This usually involves a hot bath with some calm tunes, wine, watching a carefree, no thought netflix comedy, getting my nails done or just enjoying a cup of tea and coloring. It is good to take time to recharge yourself not only when grieving but in your everyday life. When I am upset I find cleaning is my go to distraction, it's productive, burns calories and gets my mind off what is bugging me interim.

    1. Yes!! I do that too - there is no time when my space is cleaner than when I'm upset about something. That's when I don't just sweep - I also scrub the floors with a bucket and rag, Cinderella style, to make sure I get in all the corners. And depending on how upset I am, I scrub the baseboards, weed the yard, everything. I usually pay for it for a few days after in back pain, but it helps deal with the emotion and gives me time to let things work themselves out in the back of my mind.


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