After my husband’s death, I found myself in an ocean of grief. As a nutrition and exercise counselor, I knew self-care would make me strong enough to withstand sorrow and help me love life again. My soul and spirit needed gentle care, too. Self-support is essential when we lose a job, our home, a relationship, or anything we counted on. I share twelve ideas for soothing and nurturing our inner wounds.
1. Go outside. Walk. Look for the moon and sun. Explore and notice your surroundings. Notice flowers, clouds, or tracks in the snow. If you’re in a city, find a park with old trees. Buy wool socks and snow pants for winter. In summer, visit a lake and watch the sunset. Changing seasons remind us we are part of the natural cycle of death and renewal. Nature normalizes loss.
2. Cook pots of soup or other wholesome foods.
Freeze portions for the hardest days and share the rest with friends. Use nourishing recipes, such as my recipes for soups and other simple meals. Feed yourself well to avoid living on chocolate and granola or nothing at all. You need good health to get through this.
3. Get a massage from a loving person you trust with your pain, someone who creates a space of beauty and gentle serenity. Allow yourself to feel and weep as you are touched. We’re going through a hard experience. We need reassurance and comfort.
4. Lament. Make noise. Sob. Wail and howl, if you dare. If you’re afraid to release emotion alone, find a therapist who can help you unload repressed grief. Our bodies and hearts suffer when we stuff down pain.
1. Do something to support others. Look around and notice you are not alone in your loss. Share your soup, offer rides, volunteer at an animal shelter, send a card, or call someone who is lonely or sick. Check in with a neighbor who struggles. Work for social or environmental justice. When we do something to alleviate the suffering of our world, we bring purpose and renewed meaning to life.
2. Share your grief with friends and family—but first notice who welcomes your sorrow. Some friends will pull back from grief. New friends arrive and friendships strengthen when we reach out. I sometimes felt exposed and vulnerable, but I did not feel isolated.
3. Follow the trail of your dreams. If therapy isn’t possible, tell your dreams to a close friend. I wrote my dreams in a notebook I kept by my bed. I painted the powerful ones—even though I’m not much of an artist. Dreams helped me digest the loss of my old life and find a new path.
4. Read what others have done to survive. Find books that speak to your loss. Write a poem, even if you’re not a poet. Make a clay statue inspired by grief even if you don’t feel creative. You may surprise yourself. It helps when we turn the chaos into words and images. Research shows that writing about loss or suffering heals.
1. Pray or meditate—in your own way or according to your tradition. Learn from spiritual teachers or scriptures. Consider spending part of each day in silence rather than seeking constant distraction. In silence, we honor our loss and make space for our future. Breathe deeply and be with what is right now, even if your heart aches.
2. Create personal rituals to honor love and loss. Simple rituals soothe our pain. Build altars with photos, candles, and flowers. Write a message to the person or possibility you’ve lost. Celebrate and grieve on birthdays, first days, last days, and anniversaries by creating small rituals of remembrance.
3. Express gratitude for all that is good in your own life right now. Notice a butterfly or a bird’s song. Be grateful for a phone call from a friend who cares about you. Consciously remember that everyone suffers and you are not alone in your difficulties. Praise what remains.
4. Read poetry that speaks to your grief. Try Mary Oliver’s Thirst or Stephen Levine’s Breaking the Drought. Read poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, and Emily Dickinson. Search for grief poems on the web. I’ll leave you with a poem that helps me. “The Window” by Rumi.
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
Elaine Mansfield leads workshops and bereavement support groups and writes for Hospicare and Palliative Care of Tompkins County in Ithaca, NY. Her writing reflects her forty years as a student of Jungian psychology, mythology, meditation, and nature. Since her husband’s death in 2008, her work has focused on a search for love, meaning, and healing in times of grief.
Elaine’s book Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Larson Publications, October 2014) is a memoir of love, loss, and new beginnings. Elaine writes a weekly blog about life’s adventures and lessons at elainemansfield.com/blog. Her articles can be found in The Healing Muse, Open to Hope, Shambhala Sun Space, caring.com, Alzheimers.net, GriefHealing.com, and elephantjournal.
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