The first week after my husband passed away, I showered, brushed my teeth, did my hair, and wore clean clothes every day. My house was overrun with friends and family and every five minutes another delivery of flowers or food arrived on my doorstep. With all these people around, peering with concern at me over the top of the glasses, I had no choice but to maintain appearances and keep myself together. In truth, I had never had so much time to brush my hair or put on make-up. My endless to-do list kept me busy enough, but lying awake all night long gave me plenty of time to spare.
As soon as the funeral was over, however, all bets were off.
I went from daily showers to one every other day. Then every third day. Then… well, you get the idea. Doing laundry meant looking at my husband’s clothes lying on the laundry room floor. So I just didn’t do the laundry. Problem solved.
The very thought of food made me nauseous and I couldn’t bear the idea of cooking a meal for just me. Besides, groceries required leaving the house and interacting with other humans. Most days I opted for cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When the milk ran out, dry cereal tasted just fine. One day when I inadvertently knocked an entire box off the counter, scattering cheerios cross the kitchen floor, I crumpled into a sobbing pile on top of them. I spent over a week with them crunching under foot before I swept them up.
I refused to wash the sheets, sick over the thought of washing my husband’s smell out of his pillowcase or blanket. In fact, I refused to even lie on his side of the bed for months, desperate to preserve the indent where he slept as long as I possibly could.
Not having to go to work for a couple weeks made it easy to avoid leaving the house (except to dash out to the mailbox) and a trip to the gym seemed downright ludicrous. My days were filled with endless grief work – crying, filling out paperwork, returning phone calls, and crying some more.
I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself and I didn’t care.
Eventually I had to return to work and things like brushing my teeth resumed out of necessity (and what little spark of vanity I had left). However it wasn’t until I joined a local grief group that I began to understand the importance of self-care. That being gentle with myself, and making sure I was physically okay, actually made me feel better.
So I began to explore ways that I could take care of myself. Outside of the obvious hygiene care like showering and washing the dishes, I found a perfect avenue for working out my thoughts. I began slipping on headphones and pounding the pavement, taking longer and longer walks every evening when I came home from work. This helped me physically vent my frustration and gave me some much-needed quiet time where I could be alone. Often these walks turned into silent conversations between me and my husband that lasted for hours. When the walking wasn’t enough for me anymore, I began seeing a personal trainer, rollerblading, and eventually took up hot yoga.
With an increase in my activity level, I was also forced to smarten up about how I was eating and how much water I was drinking. While my love for cooking had taken a bit of a downturn, I found throwing together a salad was so little work, it was almost like not cooking at all. Of course I still enjoyed cereal for dinner from time to time. I think even my husband would have understood.
I also began seeking outlets for my grief. I started writing and playing music again. I took up my clarinet again and even sourced out a new saxophone that I could play to my heart’s content. While I played I imagined my husband sitting across from me, eyes closed, enjoying the music as much as I was.
I got serious about improving my sleep situation and visited my doctor to get some medication to help me out. Instead of lying awake anxiously thinking about my husband’s accident, I could drift off to sleep with the hopes of dreaming about him instead.
As time went on, the more I took care of myself, the more manageable I found my grief. If I was rested and content, the grief somehow didn’t feel so big. It gave me the strength I needed to tackle my grief each day and create lasting changes in my life. Eventually my itch to change things inspired me to try out new adventures as often as I could – I travelled to places I had never been, made new friends, and even took up archery.
Now self-care has almost become second nature to me. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my mental and physical health – whether it be through mediation, a massage, or just curling up with a good book. I’ve had to learn to make myself my own priority and, as a result, have found a better way of living with my grief.
Our thanks to guest author Emily Clark for sharing her story here with us. You can read more of Emily’s journey through young widowhood on her blog.