While everyone around you sees the outside of you—the “normal” looking part of you—you know that your grief and loneliness have started on the inside, deep within your gut and soul. Your mourning starts internally and progresses outwardly, forcing itself through the heart, nerves and tissues like magma in a volcano heats and churns, boils, and erupts. Although you might not explode or spew rocks, ash and debris like a volcano, (although that does happen when you’ve reached your breaking point), your internal self feels the violence of the rupture, and your heart and soul bleed red. You are mourning from the inside out.
And, like a volcano, you need to let the pressure release, without trying to stop it up with a plug to quiet it down or stop it, or pretend it’s not happening. That only worsens the pressure and causes a more cataclysmic event in the future.
And that is why self-care is so critical in grief. But, unfortunately, self-care is often shunned, negated, belittled and considered selfish and unnecessary. As Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. writes in his article “Healing Your Grieving Body: Physical Practices for Mourners”, it is not always easy to care for yourself in our society, which tends to be a “mourning-avoidant culture.”
Self-care is not about having or doing it your way because you deserve it, or partaking in something frivolous or self-indulgent. This is about caring for yourself because you need it and because you probably won’t heal sufficiently or completely without it. As Wolfert says, “Without doubt, physical self-care takes time, mindfulness, and discernment.”
The first mental obstacle recovering grievers need to overcome is to feeling guilty because they have been taught, or are frequently told by others, that self-care means you are feeling sorry for yourself. There is a big difference between practicing mindful, purposeful self-care and having a pity party. It means paying special attention to your particular—special—needs.
Let me give you an example. A family member recently sprained his ankle playing soccer. Sprained it quite severely, in fact. Sprained it so badly that it immediately puffed up to the size of a baseball and left him disabled and in tremendous physical pain, and discolored from the internal bleeding showing up as bruising on the skin. No one would deny by just looking at the ankle that it had been severely damaged. And it needed care. Even though there were no broken bones, the injury was severe enough to require an air splint and crutches, with no weight bearing on it for at least seven to ten days, with a total healing time of at least six weeks. Unfortunately, he tried walking on it within seven days and had to return to the sports medicine doctor because he reinjured it by walking on it. The doctor told him it was probably more damaged now than it had been in the original injury, and his recovery time has been lengthened and the recovery jeopardized due to his early-return-to-normal-activity attempt.
I think everyone reading this understands the wisdom of keeping the ankle iced (he was), and keeping it elevated (he was), keeping it bandaged and protected (checked off on that one, too), and not putting any pressure on it (he also did that, at least for a week), in order to allow it to heal completely.
So why is it that when we’re talking about damage that occurs to the feeling heart, soul and mind that we ignore the obvious and necessary healing required for that kind of injury? And if, as doctors tell us—and we grievers can certainly attest to—the grieving causes so many physical ailments and symptoms, why do we not pay more heed to the resting, the protecting, and the activity avoidance that needs to occur in order to recover from the damage loss and grieving do to us?
Maybe it’s because the pain is something that we really can’t see, and others can’t detect. And we think that if we can’t see it, then it can’t possibly be there.
We feel loneliness in grief because we’re lonely due to the loss. We feel loneliness in grief, because, so often, few understand the grief process we’re slugging through and don’t give us the space or the encouragement to enter completely into the grieving that’s so necessary for healing and future a return to living.
Can you not imagine God drawing us aside and saying, “It is too much for you. It’s time for you to come away with me and rest. Just be still and rest. Be nourished by me, be refreshed, be protected under my wings and within my shadow.”
Or do you instead imagine Him commanding you like a petulant old man to “Pull yourself together! Put on your boots, lace them up and stop sniveling! What’s the big deal? Carry on! Everybody suffers.” I hope not, because that is so unlike God.
Self-care is about listening to Him guide you through your loss, listening to your body as it tells you about what’s going on with it internally, what its status is. You may move haltingly forward and then take some steps backwards in the process. That’s okay. That’s the way the body heals, inside and out. It requires daily, thoughtful care—rather than dismissal, avoidance or neglect it often receives. And premature return to “normal” activity. As Wolfert states, “…a lack of self-care represents an internal disregard for your being. So, as difficult as it may be for you right now, caring for your body is vital to your temporary surviving and long-term thriving.”
Self-care is a prescription for grief and loneliness recovery. It’s about taking responsibility for your health.
And for your sake, and for the sakes of your family and friends, do you not want to survive and then thrive? I know if you are in the acute stages of grief and loneliness, it might take you a few minutes to really answer “Yes” to that question. I do know that not caring about whether you survive, let alone thrive, may cross your mind more than once. That’s normal too.
But if you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that you have a tiny speck of hope—or you’re trying desperately to hang onto one—or you want to understand or help someone who is grieving or struggling in grief-driven loneliness.
Having emerged on the other side of the valley of grief, I can verify that the self-care works, and the fight to keep hope alive is worth it.
Next week we’ll look at how we can carve out some self-care tips and strategies. (Some of these will be good for those just struggling through the chaos of life that also causes loneliness!)
So, until next week,
Thanks for joining me!
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/49000266@N05/13991696508">Grief</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>