To Your Health
Author: LaRita Archibald
"Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self neglecting." ~ William Shakespeare, Henry V
Grieving is very hard work. It depletes energy and robs one of rest, of joy, and of the wish to care properly for oneself. For a time, most bereaved don't care whether they reestablish routine or restore structure in their lives. Some may not care about maintaining their health. Each is obsessed with the death and the loss that has occurred. Nothing seems more important than what has happened.
Yet maintaining good health is critical to healthy grieving, progressing on our grief journey, establishing the necessary "new normal" that eventually allows us to love life again. As a self-care reminder, I include an acronym shared with me by a friend shortly after my son's death. My friend, a recovering alcoholic, told me this tool is used by persons with addictive disorders to help them maintain sobriety from day to day, hour to hour. With adaptation it contains some good advice for nurturing ourselves as we mourn our loss.
Don't allow yourself to become too:
During acute grief we may not feel like eating, but it is a time our bodies most need good nutrition to function well, to endure the stress of grief, and to sustain us without the betrayal of a health breakdown when we are least able to cope with health problems. Some bereaved will experience the opposite feeling of being deprived and empty, a gnawing in the stomach that seems to signal hunger. This false appetite encourages eating too much, too "junky," too often. The long-term risk is weight gain without benefit of good nutrition.
Eat wisely. It may help to eat several smaller meals a day of an easily digestible balance of food that will fuel your body, satisfy hunger, and keep you from feeling bloated or lethargic. Avoid heavy, spicy food that can cause indigestion, heartburn, or gas. You have no time or energy to waste on an upset digestive system. If you feel the need for a snack, nibble on fruit rather than brownies, ice cream, or chips.
Keep hydrated. Water is the best hydrant. Sodas, artificially sweetened or caffeinated drinks, coffee, or tea may not be as effective. Alcoholic drinks are depressants and should be ingested sparingly or avoided altogether during acute grief. Excessive stimulants such as chocolate and caffeinated drinks late in the day may disrupt sleep or contribute to restlessness.
See your physician for a complete physical in the early weeks of your mourning. Review with your doctor dosages of medication you are presently taking and discuss unusual or lingering physical distress you have noticed since your loss. During acute grief, when our minds are on overload, we can become confused or negligent about medication necessary to sustaining good health. You may wish to ask the physician to recommend a well-balanced diet and supplementary multivitamins. Discuss with your physician any stress-related illnesses or conditions you have that could worsen during acute grief, such as asthma, ulcers, hypertension, heart disease, colitis, or a history of stroke.
Feed your spiritual self. Our wound reaches to the depth or our soul. Talk with your Divine Source about your loss, your fears for the future, your anger, or whatever weighs heaviest on your heart at that moment. It is not unusual for survivors to question their faith, declare they no longer believe in God, or express their anger at God for allowing the death to occur. It's okay to scream and rage at God. He understands our pain. God makes this journey with us; comforting us, loving us, healing us.
Not every bereaved person feels anger when a loved one dies, and that's normal. But to be angry after the death of someone we love is also normal. Anger is our protest against being deprived of the presence of our loved one. It may be directed toward ourselves for not having foreseen and prevented the death. It may be directed toward God for allowing the death to occur. There may be times that anger is displaced upon another family member. It is not uncommon for anger to be directed toward the person who died. While anger is a normal emotion following a loved one's death, it is not normal or healthy to harbor it, to use it as a shield, to cling to it, or to fuel it until it grows into bitterness. Anger becomes unhealthy when the bereaved person's thoughts are consumed by it and the words and actions of the bereaved reflect rage or thoughts of retribution.
Anger is energy. Channeled inward, anger can cause sleeplessness, irritability, depression, and irrational thoughts that have negative effects upon our physical and emotional well-being as well as upon those close to us. Our challenge is to transform anger into reconciliation to the death and reshape our life around the void left by the death. We can transform anger by becoming informed. We can manage anger by talking with clergy or therapists, or by taking anger management classes. We can exorcise anger through exercise: walking, running, hiking, biking, aerobics, tennis, racquetball, swimming, golf, or boxing. Exercise releases endorphins that enhance one's sense of well-being.
A loved one has died. What was once part of our own life is now part of our past, our life in memory. The tremendous void can be overwhelming, causing us to feel isolated, to believe that no one could possibly understand our loss. There are times of deep despair and hopelessness. Learning that everyone who has grieved the death of a loved one has felt desperate, hopeless, and alone means little.
During times of acute loneliness, call a friend, talk with your clergy, ask someone to be with you for awhile, visit a neighbor, or write a letter to the one who has died. In your message tell them the things you would say if you could speak face to face-your hurt, your loneliness, your fears, and your love. Many find great solace in journaling, which provides sort of a mourning calendar. In months ahead, when you feel you have made little progress, you can review the journal to recognize and appreciate the growth and healing that has taken place.
We cannot change what has happened, but we can make choices that will help us live without the one who died. We can accept the offer of friends and family to visit, take us for a drive, or invite us for a meal. We can attend grief classes or support groups. We can read to gain some understanding of the grief process and how others coped. We can reach out to others who have experienced a deep grief and use our experience, growth, and understanding to help them and, thus, help ourselves.
Mourning is the hardest work we are ever called upon to do. We didn't seek it. We don't want it. We rebel against it. But the death of our loved one makes it ours. Mourning is exhausting, depleting our energy. During acute mourning we focus on our pain, our loss, and the past, often oblivious to what is taking place around us in the present and distorting our vision of the future. We must learn to pace ourselves in our grief work by becoming tired enough to rest well but without becoming overly tired and unable to gain restorative rest. It is prudent to postpone major decision-making when we are tired. We may need to take short naps. Good sleep revitalizes us and is imperative to our emotional and physical well-being.
[Excerpted from Finding Peace Without All the Pieces: After a Loved One's Suicide, reprinted with permission.]