This article first appeared in the January 17, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper
After the recent loss of a family member just prior to the New Year, I’ve experienced numerous changes ranging from lack of motivation, social isolation, and physical ailments. The sayings “broken heart,” “sick with grief,” and “hole inside” have become increasingly relevant to my daily struggles. As the days roll on, whether it’s denial or inexperience, I wage an inner battle to feel normal again.
What I failed to do, and still have trouble accepting, is allowing myself to heal. Grief takes numerous forms and no two people handle it the same. Once I understood this, my viewpoint shifted.
Like breaking a bone or falling ill, bereavement is an injury with a recovery process. I wouldn’t expect to hit the gym after spraining an ankle or eat a tremendous meal after having the stomach flu, so why did I expect to live a normal life so soon after the death of a loved one?
The facts are that grief causes physical changes in the body. Hair thinning, weight loss, irregular heartbeat, increase blood pressure, weakness, and headaches. In my case, also acute anxiety attacks. Emotionally, grief tires us out, causes us to become more critical, along with lack of motivation, social anxiety, and a sense of isolation. Spiritually, we question our faith, our motives, and what life is all about.
But how can we cope with grief?
Surround ourselves with positive people. Reaching out to others during times of loss can seem debilitating. We expect an outpouring of consolation but the reality is that loss affects the few, and the world for the rest goes on.
Think of those who bring joy, sympathy, and even a distraction to everyday life. Family and close friends are first, but don’t be shy to reach out to a new acquaintance with an optimistic attitude as well. Call them, see them, ask for their help in guiding you back to a place of positivity. In order to change our outlook, we have to seek those who are understanding and capable of assisting. It’s okay to ask for help.
Find a new routine, similar to our old one. Death is irreversible and life after loss will never be the same as it once was. If the person lost was a part of your daily life, such as mine was, their physical absence becomes a black hole. No more morning coffee, phone calls, car rides to the grocery store, greetings upon entering the door.
With that said, we need to switch up the old routine to find comfort in what’s ahead. Try a new workout class at the existing gym, test a new cooking recipe, wake up a few minutes earlier, explore a new coffee shop, change the traditional commute. Little, seemingly insignificant, alterations to our existing routine provide comfort that life does indeed go on. Yet it still acknowledges the memories we’ve made.
Practice mindfulness. We get so wrapped up in the past during the coping process that we lose sight of the present moment. Amid the chaos of “what ifs” and “back whens” is what’s happening right now, this present instant.
Numerous times I’ve become so dizzy from all the head spinning that I’ve started a new mantra. “I am present. I am here. This is real.” I’ve become aware of my breathing, deepening each breath. By rooting ourselves in the present we start to take life as it comes to us and look forward, not backward.
I’m learning as I go that there is no such thing as normal for me right now. I go from optimistic extrovert to isolated introvert in a minute’s time. One day I’m my old self and the next I feel guilty for living when someone else is not.
But I’m realizing that’s okay. The silver lining is that I get to experience this and the chance to continue on. I carry my loved one’s memory with me every step of the way and, in that, they never truly die. Rather than see their loss as a darkness they have become an ever-guiding light, the strength within me.
This article is dedicated to Gloria.
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