When death occurs it is usually accompanied by an onset of activity and emotion. There are decisions that must be made, places to go, and people to comfort. It can be very easy to get so caught up in all the do-ing of things and the supporting of other people that we forget to take care of ourselves as well.
Why is self-care important? First of all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you allow yourself to become depleted you will have nothing left to give to others. Secondly, each of us has value. It is okay to take time to focus on ourselves for no other reason than we need it. This can be a difficult thing when we are so used to constantly being active, or tend to put the needs of others before our own. Or maybe we just finished a season of caring for a loved one as they neared death. After giving so much of ourselves and going through such a painful process it feels alien to do something solely for our own needs. That is why it is all the more important to do so.
When a caregiver loses the person they cared for it can take a concentrated & intentional effort to relearn to focus on self. It can also be challenging to fend off the depression that can set in. Recovering can start with basic things like adjusting to waking up to a day without caring for other people, and finding ways to fill all the new extra time. It may be beneficial to set short-term goals like learning to sleep alone, or just learning to lie down to rest without worrying about someone else’s needs. The next step may be personal hygiene. Force yourself to get up and shower and dress every day . Then leave the house, even if just to go to one store or for a short drive. Find activities that bring you joy or peace. It may even help to join a small group where people don’t know you, because sometimes being around new people helps in your healing. Or join a therapy group and talk about your loss with others. Whatever you do, do not just stay home alone all the time. Alone at home sometimes is good and is important, but all things in moderation.
It is also not selfish to put off some of the busy-work. Give yourself time to breathe after the funeral is over. It’s ok to put aside all of the cards that might have been sent to your loved one in their illness or were sent to you. Reading them, if you are not ready for that, can wait. Thank-you notes can even wait. Some of the bills can wait, too. Place all the paperwork that needs to be completed into a folder so you know where it is.
After the death of a loved one we need time to heal. Time to relax and be still. Time to process our grief. Time to find joy again, even if just for a moment. The ways to achieve this are as different as we are from one another.
Remember to be patient with yourself. Listen to your body & what it needs. Rest when you need to, exercise when you need to. Expect to be irritable at times and let close friends & family know when you just need some time to decompress.
When the memories or the tears come don’t try to shove them away because they will still come back. Learn to let the thought or memory come and go. You don’t have to dwell on it, or you may choose to spend an hour in the memory. Journaling may help. There is no right way to work through the feelings that arise. After a while, the better memories will come up more and more and the hard memories may occur less often.
Go for a walk in nature. Spend time playing with a pet. Laugh. Exercise. Buy yourself flowers. Go to a museum and look at art. Create art. Eat dinner with friends. You may need to be alone, or you may need to be with other people. Whatever it is you need, however, it is not selfish to take that time.
In July of 2019 Disney star Cameron Boyce died unexpectedly at the age of 20. His family, friends, & fans were overwhelmed with grief & shock. Tributes poured in for a young man who was much beloved, and Disney aired a special video montage in Cameron’s honor after the premiere of his final film the next month. At the end of the tribute they posted these words, which seem to be god advice for us all:
“It’s never easy to lose a loved one. It’s never easy to lose a friend. It’s never easy to lose a hero. No one deals with loss, sorrow, & grief the same way. It’s normal to feel confused, sorry, angry, & sad, & it’s important to talk cry, write, or draw all those feelings out.
Reach out to a family member or friend & share happy memories. Get enough rest. Get enough exercise. Get enough sleep.
You’ll feel better with support, hugs, hope, & time.”
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870