Dear ESME Sisters,
There is no good time to experience bereavement, and there is no set time frame for when one will begin to feel better. Unfortunately, grief can be an extremely isolating experience. You may feel like you are going through an identity crisis, as if you don’t even recognize the person in the mirror.
As a licensed master’s-level social worker, I can tell you with certainty that nothing prepared me at age 33 for the death of my husband and the grief that followed. And although I was no stranger to loss, having experienced the death of my father in 1978 when I was two weeks shy of turning five, I can also tell you that each loss is unique. The level and intensity of emotional pain can vary, and the death of a loved one shapes your perspective on nearly everything.
The death of a beloved can become the breaking point for many. Here are seven suggestions, in no particular order, from my book, A Widow’s Guide to Healing (Sourcebooks, 2015), that can be applied to anyone’s situation, regardless of the type of loss:
1. Don’t try to be a people pleaser. Be polite, but say no when you need to save yourself unnecessary stress, worry, or responsibility. Setting these boundaries creates freedom for you, and you can usually choose to opt in to a situation later.
2. Don’t speak negatively about yourself. Grief can cause your self-esteem to plummet. Stop the inner critic. Treat yourself as you would a best friend in a similar situation—that means being kind to yourself.
3. Trust your gut. After your loss, you may second-guess yourself. Stop and listen to your instincts. Trust yourself to know what’s best for you. This may mean waiting to make decisions or saying no to things you did before the loss.
4. Breathe. It may sound cliché, but this simple action will help ground you. This is your therapy for now. The one thing that I knew I could control is my breath. Pausing to take slow, deliberate breaths really helped me. I still practice this from time to time when I feel overwhelmed.
5. Get a notebook. Each day, write down what you did to the best of your recollection. Your memory may be a bit foggy, and chances are you are doing tasks that you didn’t have to do before the death. For example, there will be unusual phone calls and conversations that you may need to reference later. You can easily go back to the page and recall the date and conversation.
6. Accept help. You may feel that you want to remain independent and strong, but it is OK to rely on others for assistance. Go ahead, say yes to that free haircut or the friend who wants to take you to dinner. You need the companionship, and it keeps valuable relationships intact.
7. Give yourself grace. There is no perfect way to grieve. Nourishing yourself with kind words of understanding and compassion is not only healthy but also wise.
As you well know, your life hit a brick wall when your loved one died. Death does damage, but it is possible to live a prosperous and healthy life. Self-care is important, so do not be afraid to make it a priority. We can’t give to others what we don’t provide for ourselves. Please take advantage of the ESME community for support and connection in Sister Chat, Tribes, and our closed Facebook group ESME Bereavement.