Each journey of grief is as unique as the individual who walks its path. That being recognized, an aspect of grief that shares commonality with all who grieve is the need for self-care.
Grief may be experienced in a variety of ways—emotionally, certainly, but also physically, cognitively and even spiritually. The reactions of our minds and bodies to grief can include such symptoms as fatigue, sleep disturbance, appetite changes, mood fluctuations, forgetfulness, loss of concentration and even despair.
Coping with this potential myriad of responses may certainly seem overwhelming, but there are some strategies which can be used to manage grief reactions and continue to function day to day.
1. Accept your feelings. Feelings are neither right or wrong, they just are. Sadness, loneliness, fear, confusion, anger—these are among the many feelings that may occur, and are completely normal. Emotions are often raw early in grief, but it is important to allow for their expression. To attempt to stifle feelings usually leads to their eventually erupting under far less desirable circumstances.
2. Be patient with yourself. Grief is an intensely personal process. Accept that it follows no magical formula or time frame. It will take as long as it takes. Think of the care you would extend to a friend in the same situation of loss, and allow yourself that same grace. Be careful to not take on responsibilities beyond what is realistic—it is better to allow for some flexibility in one’s obligations at this time.
3. Pay attention to physical needs. It can be very easy to neglect one’s personal physical needs during the throes of grief. But this is a time when taking especially good care of oneself is crucial. As difficult as it may seem, making every effort to get adequate sleep, eat nutritionally balanced meals and fit in regular exercise and intentional relaxation can do wonders. Think of it this way: by pursuing a healthful routine, you are actually arming and equipping yourself to take on the new challenges with which you are faced in your time of grief. In addition to these efforts, we always recommend a check-up, and be certain to make your physician aware that you have experienced a loss.
4. Accept the help of others. Understand that grief is hard work—it requires a great deal of energy and can be exhausting. Even though (especially in this part of the country) we place a high regard on self-sufficiency, it is important not to hesitate to ask for/accept help from those close to you. Others care and genuinely want to be of assistance, but usually do not know what to specifically offer. In particular, it is vital to know who has a willing ear and supportive presence, because sharing aloud your story is key to healing. And remember that professional guidance is also available.
If you or someone you know is grieving, we encourage you to take advantage of the groups, classes or individual support we offer through our bereavement department. For more information, please call (800) 237-4629 and ask for the bereavement department, or visit our website.
Connie DeKrey, LBSW, CT, is a grief specialist at Hospice of the Red River Valley. She joined the organization in 1993, working in patient care as a medical social worker for 10 years and now as a grief specialist in the grief support department. She particularly enjoys the opportunity to provide education to individuals and groups about living, dying and grief.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the fundamental belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. Spread across more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.