5 ways to care for yourself after experiencing loss

By Marci Glidden Savage

It’s almost certain that each of us will suffer a significant loss in our lifetime; the loss of someone we love, a job, marriage, health, financial security, a beloved pet, etc. 

The pain and suffering in the wake of loss be it in our personal or professional life is palpable, both mentally and physically. 

Experiencing grief can leave us feeling vulnerable, fearful, helpless and depleted. Investing in self-care plays a critical role in our ability to heal, and ultimately, move forward and past our loss. Healing is such hard, hard work, but it can be done. The following are five of the most impactful and successful investments I made in myself: 

1) Seek professional help
Two weeks after my husband died, I found a psychologist whose expertise was in grief and loss. The countless emotions I felt every day, like fear, sorrow, helplessness and anger ebbed and flowed nonstop. I knew I couldn’t successfully navigate through so many emotions without guidance. Those weekly counseling sessions were a safe haven; the place I felt free to express what I was feeling without judgement. 

2) Invest in self-care
Suffering a loss can be stressful, disorienting and physically painful. Taking care of your mental and physical health is equally important. A few things that helped me were:
• Dedicating one room in my home as my sanctuary and refuge, free from emotional triggers.
• Returning phone calls and emails when I felt I could.
• Buying myself flowers each week and frequently treating myself to a massage.
• Spending time on genealogy research—a hobby I love.

3) Surrender to help from others
My family and friends desperately wanted to help me in some way, so I let them. Collectively and separately, they circled the wagons around me and did the heavy lifting. They fielded phone calls, planned meal schedules, ran errands, and so much more. Each selfless act told me they were leaning into my pain and acknowledging my loss. I now call them my “Lean-In Heroes.”

4) Accept grief as a permanent roommate and teacher
The consequence of losing someone I loved was grief. Some days I could push grief below the surface and keep moving forward. Other days I was swallowed up by pain and the feeling it will never end. The daily balancing act I played in my mind was challenging for me to understand, much less explain. I knew it would be unhealthy to ignore my grief, so I decided to explore this unwelcomed adversary.

I read a fascinating book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK, by psychotherapist, grief advocate and author, Megan Devine. To her students in her Writing Your Grief classes, she suggested that writing about your grief can help. One of the writing prompts she gave her students was to write about how grief was introduced to them by using a writing tool called personification. Basically, grief would become a real entity, not only a myriad of emotions and feelings. This writing prompt was a game changer for me when I was able to see grief as a thing distinct and independent from me. 

5) Give yourself permission to heal
I wanted to heal. I wanted to embrace life again. It’s easy to get stuck in non-productive grief and get trapped between what others think your life should look like after loss vs. your desire to resurrect your life after loss. You will never get over your loss, but you can get past it—if you give yourself permission. Healing doesn’t mean you have forgotten your loved one or that your relationship with them wasn’t important. It means that your life is worthy of living.  

Playwright Walter Anderson once said, “Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.”

Experiencing a loss is painful, both mentally and physically, but the suffering doesn’t have to be permanent. Taking care of yourself is an important first step forward on your journey through and past your loss. Healing is possible. 

After experiencing the catastrophic impact of  suicide twice, Marci Glidden Savage has emerged as a fierce proponent for eliminating social stigma which keeps many battling depression and anxiety from seeking help. Learn about her memoir, And No One Saw It Coming at marcisavage.com.

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