Grief is an interesting thing. It’s something we all go through – it’s no secret we’re all headed that direction – and yet it’s not something we talk about.
Even when we’re prepared to lose someone, it’s still a shock. The ground beneath us buckles, and we’re left noticing the world looks different than it did before.
The truth is, the world will never again look the same. When someone close to us dies, we lose a reality, a part of ourselves, that we will never get back. This realization is both frightening and devastating, and it can also be life-giving and magical.
A quick note to say grief is not only reserved for the death of a person. There are many forms of grief. (1) There’s the grief of an estranged relationship, a breakup, a lost dream, or a big life transition. Anytime we experience change, there is an inherent loss, and from that loss, grief can emerge.
Anything and everything goes when it comes to grief. There’s no real roadmap, and we never quite know how we’ll react until it happens.
There are things we can do to take extra care of ourselves in times of grief. We might be incapacitated by emotions, and it seems unfathomable to do anything, let alone care for ourselves. Still, having some kind of outline can be helpful.
As cliché as it sounds, there’s no “right” way to grieve. Everyone is different, and no two experiences with grief are the same, even with the same person. Having gone through my own tragic loss, there is a list of things I would have liked to know, so that I might have taken better care of myself when my entire world seemed to crumble around me.
May these anchors provide some ease and comfort in your grief, whether you’ve experienced it yet or not. May they bring a little bit more love into your heart, for grief is painful because we love deeply. That same love is there for you, to be present with you as you experience the unfathomable.
How to Love Yourself When Grieving
Grief has no timeline. We use phrases like “get over it,” or “move past it,” but in grief, there is no such thing. (2)
We never get over a loss. Instead, we grow through it, but that place in our heart that was occupied by the person will never be the same.
This is partly why grief is so painful – in a society where we like to “fix” things there is no “fixing” grief – and also why grief can be beautiful, though it might take some time to see the beauty. You are no longer the same person. You will never be the same person again. This opens up a door: who would you like to be in the wake of this loss?
When we grieve, we are not broken. We’re transforming. That transition does not follow a schedule; it has no real rhyme or reason. We cannot plan an end date for grief the way we can plan a due date for inducing birth. It happens on its own timeline, which can be scary, embarrassing, and crippling.
Although it seems insensitive, friends are just trying to help, and they don’t enjoy seeing us in pain. In grief, we’ve all wondered to ourselves “When is this going to end?” Of course, we don’t want to be in pain, and if we could stop it, we would.
Grief dances to the beat of its own drum, and it never really ends, but changes over time. The pain doesn’t go away, but it does shift, becoming less prevalent, less consuming, more like a familiar companion.
Be patient. Have faith in the mysterious process of grief. You might wonder why you still don’t feel like your normal self. Be patient. You might wonder why you can’t maintain the workload you did before. Be patient. You might wonder when you’ll stop bursting into tears without any identifiable trigger. Be patient.
In all things related to grief, be patient. Not all questions have answers, and sometimes the best thing we can do it be present for what’s unfolding, trying our best to be patient with ourselves, with others, and with life. We’re not perfect. We can be patient with that, too.
I wasn’t angry with my brother when he died, but I was furious with myself. I was angry because I wasn’t a better person because I felt weak when I cried and couldn’t operate normally, because I couldn’t “move on” gracefully.
Some of the best advice a friend gave me was to be gentle with myself. I hadn’t even realized I was abusing myself, critical of every way in which I thought I wasn’t perfect. I’m not sure why this tendency came out in grief, but it was clearly exaggerated by the turmoil of emotions I was experiencing.
Be gentle with yourself, my friend said to me. It was like a splash of cold water on my face. My misplaced anger was destructive. I’d dug a hole so deep without even knowing I was digging, and yet the salve was so simple. Be gentle.
The practice of being gentle isn’t always easy. Here’s a trick that helps me: I imagine treating myself the way I would a sweet, beloved child. This little one is frightened and hurting. How would I comfort her? How would I talk to her? How would I hug her so she knows I’m here and I won’t leave her? (3)
Grief, in its mysterious ways, can render us childlike. We want to go to bed and wake up in a completely different reality. We’re willing to make impossible deals with the universe if only we can have back what was lost. It’s a desperate feeling, wanting to break all laws of physics and rewrite history.
Be gentle with this little one. She might be feeling furious, broken, lost, or immense sadness that cannot be contained in her small frame. Accept her, just the way she is. Love her just the way she is. Show her a gentle hand and a steadfast heart.
Instead of ostracizing the one person who will be with you through it all – you – be gentle with yourself. This little one is you, you are she, and right now, you need each other.
Grief is messy. So is life. Life is also short; too short to withhold forgiveness.
And there’s a lot of forgiving to be done. We must forgive ourselves for being human, for making mistakes, and for our blunders induced by grief and everything else we carry.
We must forgive those around us who don’t know how to comfort us, maybe even hurting us in the process. Their actions and comments might seem insensitive, but they’re acting from a place of discomfort. (4) Many people find grief hard to endure, and you become a reminder of that which they try to avoid. Some relationships don’t survive the journey of grief. Forgive them for their inability to be there for you, and forgive yourself, too.
Forgive the one who was lost. No matter the circumstances – a health crisis, suicide, old age, accident – forgive them for being human, for the mistakes they made, for the disruptions in your relationship.
I mean not to trivialize forgiveness, saying it’s as easy as saying, “You’re forgiven!” and life turns a little rosier. No, forgiveness is, like grief, a messy process without a strict timeline. What I do know is, ultimately, forgiveness is for us. When we carry anger or resentment in our hearts, we’re the ones who are poisoned by it. Forgiveness is the greatest act of self-love, even if we’re forgiving other people. (5)
Reality is what it is. As much as we wish we could go back in time and treat someone better, or seek resolution before they passed, we can’t. This is the heartbreaking truth of life: it’s filled with imperfections and impermanence.
The only way to move forward with greater space and a greater opportunity for love is to forgive. Lighten your own load by working towards forgiveness. You’re carrying enough. And continue forgiving yourself and others as life continues, for imperfections continue, too, and life is too short to hold that which does not deserve our precious, limited attention.
Basic Self Care
When we’re in the thick of grief, even the simplest of daily functions seem challenging. Some people find it hard to eat, sleep, move their bodies, follow through on engagements, stay in communication with others, even shower.
It can be helpful to have people in your life to help with the basics, like cooking and cleaning. Although their support is immense, they still can’t do everything.
Gently support your overall well-being. Try and get outside to walk in the sunshine, even if you feel dark and stormy inside. Draw warm baths in the evening and soak in candlelight, even if you feel empty instead of lavished. Take the time to cook for yourself instead of ordering out.
Comfort can be found in the simplest places, and it might sneak up on you when you least expect it. Your body will appreciate your attempts, as will your soul. Sometimes the effort is what counts.
Don’t Stay Silent
Your friends and loved ones might assume talking about your loss will make it worse, so they avoid the subject. For some, talking about their loss is the one thing that brings a bit of peace.
Don’t be shy. Tell your supportive friends you’d like to talk, share stories, or look at pictures together. Create a small daily ritual for honoring your loved one. Lean into that space in your heart they used to occupy and see what it wants. It might just want to be seen and witnessed for a little while, to be reminded by those around you that you’re still here, even if you feel far away.
Find a grief therapist and talk about your loss. Even though it’s a normal part of life, we’re poorly equipped to deal with loss. Find the support you need, professionally and personally, and let your energy naturally be consumed by those outlets.
It’s okay to be consumed. It’s far better than stuffing feelings under the carpet. Just don’t be consumed alone. Surround yourself with the people who will guide you with a compassionate hand, and who will express their concern if your grief has become destructive. Without intending, you might even be giving them a gift by letting them inside your experience of grief. It’s a way to open up conversations where they were previously closed.
Grief is disorienting, filled with both dark and light, like being swirled around just beneath the water’s surface, unable to break through. Find the anchor points that root you in everyday life and provide some stability as you get your barring in this new reality as a different person. It’s okay. All is welcome. And even though someone is gone from your life, you’re never, ever alone.