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Caring for ourselves: 

waves of grief

Our grief can make us sick. Especially early on, it can take our strength and our health and spiral them downhill. We are often so bereaved early on that we don’t want to eat, we may be sick feeling and food just doesn’t sound good or even possible and cooking is even more difficult. We spend a lot of time sitting and not getting any exercise and maybe the most (besides the grief itself) debilitating part of early grief is not being able to sleep. All of these can drain away our health and even prolong our periods of intense grief because we lack the stamina to do anything other than sit and feel bad and “drown in our grief”.

We need to find ways to deal with these things. I have a brother-in-law who text me every day starting after Andi’s memorial to ask me if I was eating. He did that for months until I had regained the will to start cooking and eating healthy meals again. Thinking back, I believe that maybe the beginning of the pot lucks we had with our Support Group and the need to make food to share was also a big help in getting me to eat and prepare meals again and the leftovers were always great for a few days. 

Also, if you’ve cooked for a family before, learning how to cook for one is a problem you may face. It’s hard to make smaller portions of old recipes and it can be sad as well. I made a recipe for the first time in four and a half years recently that was a favorite of Andi and I that we ate a lot durning her last year. I just wasn’t able to get myself to make it any sooner; the sadness and memories just wouldn’t let me do it. When I finally was able to, I modified it some and I was far enough removed that I could fondly remember us having that dish and it is a golden memory for me now. But it took a long time!

Learning to store food, to make your own “frozen dinners” is a way to avoid throwing stuff away, to avoid making too much or having to try to modify family-sized recipes and to give you something to eat on a day you really don’t want to cook. 

I bought myself a vacuum-sealer food storage appliance sometime during my first year and it has become one of my most important kitchen appliances. I routinely make a large amount of something I like, maybe chili or burritos or grill a number of chicken breasts and then pack them in portion sizes in vacuum-seal bags, put them in the freezer until they get solid if they have liquid in them and then vacuum seal them. Then I have my own frozen dinners that will last for at least a year in the freezer. I usually eat them much sooner than that!  I try to save all my leftovers that way too and so there is always something I can defrost on those “no cook” days. I even wash and reuse the vacuum-seal bags a few times to make them go farther. lol

Being kind to ourselves:

Being kind to ourselves as our journey causes us to look closely at ourselves, our lives and our memories of our loved ones is more subtle but I think it’s something we need to be aware of. As we talked about before, re-thinking, looping and repeatedly revisiting things from the past that we can’t change are pretty common grief experiences but also pretty counter-productive and they definitely aren’t healing behaviors.

Being careful with medications and alcohol:

It’s often a temptation to “drown our sorrow,” to try to make the pain go away by medicating it in some way. We may also need something to help us fall asleep and stay asleep or fall back asleep if we wake during the night. We may need something to help spark our apatite. 

We may even be prescribed medications for these things by our doctors. I personally don’t believe it’s necessarily bad to use some of these things to help ourselves, to dull the pain from time to time, to help us sleep when we can’t stop thinking,  I think a glass of wine or beer with dinner or maybe in the evening (or both) is often relaxing and helps at least take the edge off for a bit. CBD’s seem to be a sleep aid and a mild anxiety reducer. And hey, it’s Colorado; occasionally smoking a little weed is always a possibility if it works for you.

The danger is in over-using and becoming dependent on these things instead of using them as an aid. It’s letting them become a crutch and having them take over your grief journey and your life that becomes dangerous. I used that glass of wine and actually was taking prescription Ativan regularly through the first months of my grief and they both helped me sleep so I liked doing them. When my doctor told me Ativan could be addictive, however, it was time to find more benign ways of finding medication help. I kept up the wine but gradually reduced the dose and then stopped taking the Ativan and eventually started taking CBD’s to help me sleep and take a bit of the anxiety out of my days. That turned out to be a much better solution and it was one glass of wine, two on a special night and it was not to get drunk, nor to stop thinking or feeling, it was just to take some of the edginess away and because I like drinking nice wine with dinner. 

After over a year, I’ve stopped the CBD’s now too, they taught me how to fall asleep again and if I wake, I seem to be able to fall back asleep again too. My careful and intentional use of those gentle medications has allowed me to re-train my body and it seems to remember how to do normal sleep behaviors now.

It’s your reason and intent in doing them that can change these things from positive aids to negative influences and it can happen without you realizing it, especially with medications, often before you know it. Please pay attention and don’t rationalize “just one more time”. When you feel you have to instead of you want to, danger is at your door!

What is healthy and what is not:

Healthy implies things functioning relatively normally without an overwhelming number of negative events in our daily lives. It is also about doing things that are positive and have a positive effect on us and so, things that have negative effects on us are unhealthy. 

I’ve made a couple of lists of behaviors to give you something to think about and perhaps add to:

Healthy Behaviors:

taking care of ourselves both physically and mentally

sleeping and eating well

becoming active and taking on our responsibilities

crying and letting our grief express itself in positive ways

telling our stories 

seeking and accepting help when we feel overwhelmed

carefully and moderately using medications, drugs or alcohol

creating mental and emotional habits of healing


Unhealthy Behaviors:

not sleeping well, 

not eating well 

not being active 

not doing things we are responsible for including taking care of ourselves.

becoming isolated

thinking about doing or actually doing harm to ourselves and/or others. 

abusing medications, drugs or alcohol

expressing uncontrolled anger 

inappropriate behavior towards others

Letting our Grief become habitual