Taking Care of Yourself Helps You Grieve

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.

Photo credit.

9 Comments:

  1. web mamma said on April 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm ... #

    Thanks for this piece! I have found self-care the cornerstone of my own recovery and, lately, have really started to focus on sleep as an essential ingredient. I reflect how before my husband died, I could never get an exercise routine going. But, afterwards, only truly challenging workouts give me a window of happiness, relief from grief.

    I’m glad you’ve found it too, and written about it.

  2. Nae said on May 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm ... #

    Hello..my son found this site for me to vist in the hopes it would help. To his credit, I truly believe it will since I see myself in her story. My husband passed April 2, 2013 (which happens to be my birthday) which I have yet to grasp the shock of his passing. We thought we were going to bring him home, surgery went as expected & Dr. had said we might get to take him home on the weekend. Well, as you already know things didn’t go that way & I still can’t believe this has happened. I greatly appreciate you sharing your experience, feelings & relate to entirely. I will visit again, I see we will be able to share together & learn from each other. Thank you again for sharing.

  3. Lisa said on June 3, 2013 at 8:00 am ... #

    Wow, reading this makes me not feel so alone with my grief. I’ve done many of the things that you have after losing my husband to cancer at age 45. I don’t feel so alone knowing that others manage grief in various ways. Thank you for sharing, I know it’s not easy to say some of the things out loud. God Bless You.

  4. Kerry N said on June 6, 2013 at 9:32 pm ... #

    I find myself in these spots as well. Before Dave died, I was at the 5:30 am work out classes, could get ready for work in a flash, would get supper started, then head down to our “weight room” to get a little time in.

    I’d make a good supper, spending time making it, often Dave would help. Having something nutritious and all of us sitting down to eat together was important.

    Now, almost 3 years later, all I want to do is sleep. I’m just worn out from having to do all the work/make all the decisions and raise two teenage boys alone.

    I know I’m not taking care of myself – I don’t exercise like I used to, I have absolutely no interest in cooking meals, etc. I did break down and buy a Trek bike – I’m going to force myself to ride it. Hopefully that will help me get going again. I just feel guilty taking time for myself, away from my sons. For whatever reason, this year has seemed harder than the others.

  5. Anonymous said on June 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm ... #

    This is a story I needed to read today. I’m going through similar things. I, too, began to exercise vigorously which has helped me to be able to cope with grief. I was exercising basically three hours a day. Now, I’ve cut down to two hours. I eat lots of salads and oatmeal. Life without my husband is not what I would have ever imagined, but I’m getting better day by day. Thank you so much for sharing your story!!

  6. Angie said on August 1, 2013 at 9:56 am ... #

    This article has been so helpful! Thank you thank you thank you. My dad died 3 years ago. My grandma died in January and now my mom just died before mothers day. I haven’t dealt with the grief of any of them. It all came crashing down on me this week when I learned husband had been having a an affair due to me being out of town taking care of them. I am fighting the over whelming urge to hide from the world like you did. I’ve constantly put on a happy face and forged ahead taking care of everything and everyone. But this morning I made a decision to stop worrying about everyone else and start working on myself. I need to deal with this. I had a long conversation with my husband and we are working on this together. This article made me feel like I’m doing the right things. Next up a long walk in nature

  7. Jerry said on March 21, 2014 at 10:48 am ... #

    I’m a widower 10 months now and you described me to a tee

  8. SW said on April 30, 2014 at 9:32 am ... #

    Although I didn’t lose a spouse, I lost my father under horrible circumstances and I ended up wide awake all night and with PTSD. Only 2 or so years on have I got into the habit of showering regularly at home. I was taking a gym bag to work and escaping to the top floor to shower there at lunchtime, which meant I was maintaining some level of hygiene, but I also began to treat it as a ‘lunchtime spa’ and a time out in some steam and essential oils. Made me feel so much better, and something to look forward to. I also did what I always do, and threw myself into exercise – I got a 3 month gym membership near work and when that finished I enrolled on some adult dance classes where I have fun, learn something new, keep fit and meet lots of new people from different walks of life, all ages. In the middle of all that I started a small craft business on the side…Seems like insanity to people on the outside, but these things have kept me sane. But I can’t recommend counselling enough.

  9. LindaLee said on October 28, 2014 at 11:59 pm ... #

    My Dad just passed on 24 October 2014, I can’t bear to tell the story yet, I just wanted to tell everyone, I am so sorry for all your losses, our loved ones would want us to continue living, I just got out of the hospital two weeks ago, for dehydration, malnutrition and exhaustion, my first ever ambulance ride…. My Dad had been in hospital since 03 Sept but we are 5 hours away and in two different countries and we never told him, my Dad would have been devastated to know I was sick like that…I never got to visit and now after the fact I am going down to help my Mom (this guilt will be here a while) but moving on doesnt mean we forget….we will never forget, and we still have someone or something in our lives that needs us… We cant be there for others if we are broken, I think if we dont take care of ourselves we are creating more regret and more heartbreak for ourselves and others, I am 50 and I have lost all 4 grandparents, my brother and now my Dad… I wish all of you peace and comfort, no matter 5 days or 50 years since your loss, it is not selfish to take care of yourself…what would your loved one tell you??What would they want you to do???

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