On Grief & Self-care

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ” – Colette

Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away. I am in the throws of grief currently, and this Colette quote speaks to me. Since I received the news, I’ve oscillated between functioning at a high level and then completely collapsing. For instance, I went straight to work after finding out. I smiled and helped people and interacted with my colleagues. About half-an-hour into my shift, there was a fire drill. The entire building was evacuated. I stood outside the building thinking okay, this is just a practice. Disaster hasn’t really struck yet. I walked back into the building once we got the okay and I finished off my shift.

After, I called my partner to tell him the news. I was walking on a busy sidewalk but as soon as the words left my lips, I started sobbing and I couldn’t stop. A deep pain settled over me as I walked down the street with no particular direction in mind, and the pain has mostly been crouching inside of me since then, although it lifts occasionally–when I saw my friend’s family, when I hugged our mutual friends, when I think of the hilarious and silly times we had together over our fifteen year friendship.

Another aspect to this death is that it was a death by suicide. There is a particular angle of grief that seems to come with this. I am running through a lot of awful things in my mind. I am running through the old questions of what I could have done differently during the course of our friendship, and what I can do differently as I move forward in this life to be a better version of myself, a more loving and compassionate version of myself, and how I might be able to make more room for the love and healing of those who are suffering.

I am no expert on this. These are just some ways that I am trying to hold both myself and my friend in my heart right now:

1. Approaching my emotions without judgement. Grief truly comes in waves. One moment you are enraptured in wonderful memories, or even distracted by day-to-day events, and the next there is a sense of endless hopelessness and a desperate need to see the deceased love one more time. I am doing my best to observe these emotions as they happen, without trying to push them away. I am an impatient person with type A tendencies. I often struggle with wanting to feel better or feel more comfortable or achieve my desired success immediately, and so part of this point is first accepting that this is going to be a long process, and that it will not be helped by trying to avoid my feelings or feeling defeated by them. They are there, they are valid, and I must accept them and move with them as much as I can.

2. Treat my body/mind as I would someone I love. If my best friend or my partner lost someone, I would want to shower them with as much love and affection as possible. I am trying to do this for myself as well. I am eating foods that I love and that make my body feel good, I am listening to upbeat music, I am reading when I can focus on it. I am trying to do work when I can, although it’s difficult at this point, because I know that this will make me feel accomplished (even in small, ten minute bursts) and relaxed as I continue through taking care of myself.

While I am treating myself right now, I am also trying to focus on not being negligent with the goals I already had set for myself. For instance, financial goals, insofar as right now I have the urge to just eat out every meal, buy myself stupid little things for comfort, go to the movies every night as a distraction, drink more wine…but I know that going off the rails with these kinds of indulgences won’t bring any kind of peace or lasting calm to my life right now, that they are quick fixes, and that my friend wouldn’t have wanted me to lose my shit and spend my savings on fleeting joys now that they’ve passed away.

Along with this, I’m trying to keep writing. I worry that if I stop doing everything right now, I’ll float out into some kind of abyss and lose myself in this grief. This is probably related to my attempts at trying to approach my feelings without judgment right now. In the past, I’ve had a tendency towards compulsive/self-destructive behaviour, so spending all my money and dropping all my writing would really suit that old habit well. I am trying to be good to myself in new ways. I hope that I am honouring my friend in doing this. Taking a bath, hugging my partner, reading my library book, writing down wonderful and sweet and hilarious memories I have of my friend.

3. Thinking of ways to honour my friend. As I mentioned before, I know that my friend will be in my heart always, and that the memory of them will encourage me to continue to improve myself and the way that I treat others in this world. I know that I want to do something to honour my friend’s life. I know that I will find just the right thing to do for them. I am trying to be patient and really think about what could serve others, honour their memory, and utilize my skills in the process. I’ve witnessed people in the past starting scholarships/foundations for deceased loved ones, writing books for them, making other kinds of art for them, volunteering their time at organizations that their loved one cared about or would have/did benefit from. So I’m turning this over in my head right now.

For now, I am burning a candle for my friend. I look at the flame and I think of my friend resting somewhere safe and warm.

4. Being honest with others. I have had to cancel plans and work since receiving the news. I may have to cancel more. I may not. I am terrible at responding to texts or Facebook message or e-mails right now. I make plans and then have to cancel them and hour later. Earlier in the week I covered most of my bases and alerted people I’d be off the grid for a while, and I let them know why. In the past, I probably would have just said I was sick, or having a family emergency. I think we have a tendency as a society to not want to burden others with our sadness (and fair enough), but this time I’m feeling that with honesty I am allowing room for grief to visit, I am allowing room for my life to shift and adjust to this sadness, but also to the immense impact this loved one had on me. I need time to reflect. I need support. I need to be alone. My employers, colleagues, partner, and friends have been understanding, respectful, and caring in response. I feel like this serves to honour my friend as well. The world has changed now that she is no longer here. I am trying to honour, observe, and listen to that change.

If you are in the process of grieving, I am so sorry for your loss. I send a virtual hug, I honour your process.