I don’t often share much from a mental health perspective on this space. Probably because this was supposed to be my creative space, my outlet, my happy place if you will. But as time has passed I’ve found comfort and peace sharing the not-so-happy events that are a necessary part of life. As a mental health professional (I’ve been a licensed mental health counselor since 1997) I am also cautious not to dole out advice to anyone without knowing their specific circumstances. So what I am sharing today is what has helped me with my grief. If you are new around here you can get caught up quickly by seeing this post and this post. Basically I lost my dad in February of this year and then my precious 33 year old niece in November. I delivered her eulogy on Saturday.
For a number of years I worked in oncology. It was the most rewarding work I’ve ever done in my life. Dealing day in and day out with people facing their own mortality gave me a new perspective. So, when my dad was put on hospice in the fall of 2018 I made sure to make every day count. The truth is we are all terminal but when we face the fact that death is coming sooner rather than later we have an opportunity. We can choose to live those days or wait them out. Despite my broken heart and tears that just wouldn’t stop, I told my parents that we had to focus on living. That’s what we did.
How did I do this? Well, each day when I woke up and my dad was still alive I literally thanked God. I thanked God that I slept through the night without getting a phone call that would forever change my life. I made sure that each time I said goodbye to my dad I held on a little tighter, trying to commit to memory what that embrace felt like.
When it came time for the holidays I packed it all in. I decorated, I listened to Christmas music, watched all the Hallmark movies. We made sure my dad was present at every single event we could get him to. His grandsons (my sons) picked him up in our van and drove him wherever he needed to go – making sure his wheelchair and oxygen were all in place.
I arranged a shopping trip for my dad with the guys in our family. My dad, brother, husband, brother in law, and the 4 grandsons took him shopping for a gift for my mom and then had lunch out. It would be the last time they’d get that opportunity. The special gift for my mom was a locket that would hold his ashes.
Spending time with my dad was easy since I work from home. I loaded up my laptop and worked from my childhood home. My dad and I had the same taste in television so much of the time we just sat together watching, no words were needed.
I let my friends love on my parents and on me. I ugly cried when I needed to and let them hold me. While I hated what was happening I was grateful for the opportunity to say what needed to be said and to do what needed to be done. When my dad peacefully went home to the Lord I had no regrets. Of course I wished we had more time together and I was (and still am) heartbroken. But there was solace in the fact that this was the way life is supposed to happen; our parents are meant to die before us.
Then in November I found myself receiving a call I never expected. This time death came completely unexpected. Hearing my brother’s voice telling me that our 33 year old niece was dead shocked and stunned me. I was in a daze, my mind feverishly trying to process this information. It didn’t seem real and I felt like a web page trying to load – you know that circle you see spinning? After two days the tears came and I feared they’d never stop.
Having to share the devastating news with friends was difficult and exhausting. It helped to speak to friends who loved and cared for my niece as well as me. I was overwhelmed by the offers of bringing me dinner, the cards that arrived, and of course the prayers. The loss of a child, regardless of the age, is the worst. It goes against what we expect from life, children bury their parents not the other way around.
This season of grief in my life is still relatively new. Here’s what I have noticed about myself in the face of crises: I desperately try to regain a sense equilibrium, some state of normalcy or homeostasis. So as crazy as it may sound I continued to work and go the gym. I did take a few mornings off from my workout just from the sheer exhaustion of grief. If I wasn’t working from home I probably would have taken a few days off but since my schedule is flexible I found that keeping my schedule as normal as possible was good for me.
So, if like me, you or someone you know is dealing with grief, here are a few things I suggest:
- talk about it, share it with others and let them know what you are dealing with
- let go of any guilt you may have about “ruining” someone’s day with sad news and allow them to care for and support you
- cry when you feel like it
- give yourself time, there is nothing wrong with you if you feel numb initially – we all grieve differently and at our own pace
- if you feel like taking some time off from your normal routine go ahead but try to get back to your normal routine when possible
- avoid overindulging in alcohol – it may feel good for the moment but will leave you feeling worse. Same thing with junk food!
- as silly as it may sound, take your vitamins, get some exercise and try to get some rest – you will need it to maintain your strength to deal with the tough days ahead
- spend time with people who care about you – one the best things we did was to go to dinner at my best friend Melodie’s house. A best friend knows your comfort food (Mexican for me!) and lets you talk and talk and talk. The next day I went shopping with another best friend Windy. We shopped, had lunch and again she let me talk, and talk, and talk. Both of these outings were so good for my soul!
These are some basic behavioral techniques that helped me and continue to help me. I am also allowing myself to say no to things that seem to overwhelming to me this holiday season. I am blessed with dear friends, best friends, who love and support me. They dropped everything and came to my niece’s service and for that I am grateful. Understand that many weeks ago when I shared how I had prayed for a tribe of good friends I did not mean I had no friends. I have many friends and have known these ladies for YEARS. They are friends with me but not necessarily friends with one another. Some have moved away and others are busy pursuing career goals not possible when the kids were little. But they show up for me and they’re there when I need them most! The bottom line – we need old friends as well as new friends!
In happier times, 4 years ago at my niece’s baby shower!
Lorie sent me this last week and it is so beautiful!
Thank you for stopping by today and indulging me. In my attempt to share my experience I hope to help someone else!