My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May. Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.
If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.
But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the nearly four years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.
Here are ten ways I survive hard grief days:
1. I make lists of things to do. I’ve found that if I don’t make a plan for each day it’s far too easy to just lie around and feel sorry for myself. I use index cards but whatever works for you is fine. I list household chores, phone calls to make or notes to write, exercise, errands or whatever. And then I consider them non-negotiable. These are my marching orders and after my morning coffee I start down the list.
2. I do something creative. I crochet or arrange flowers or sew a little. Taking just five or ten minutes to make something beautiful changes my perspective. I have a can opener that takes the lids off without sharp edges and I make magnets for friends and family members or just to have on hand for a little gift.
3. I take a walk. I am thankful I can go outside on my own property and enjoy fresh air and country sunshine. I know not everyone has that option. But even a walk inside your office building or up and down a couple flights of stairs gets the blood pumping and releases endorphins. If I can’t walk, then I at least change my physical position-from sitting to standing, from standing to moving. Body position impacts my emotions.
4. I find something to make me smile. There is scientific evidence to back our common sense experience that smiling lightens our mood and helps our hearts. I read jokes or check out some of my Facebook friends that tend to post funny memes or stories. Sometimes I just “practice” a smile and even that can send feel-good hormones surging through my system.
5. I call or text a friend. Sometimes I just need to know that someone else is aware of my hard day. No one can undo my grief but when I feel there is a witness, it lightens the load somehow.6. I stay off Facebook and other social media platforms. I love that I’m able to keep in touch with friends and family via social media. But it can be full of drama and negativity as well. So if I’m having a tough day, I remove the potential for it to be made harder due to random comments, posts or photographs.
7. I pet my cats. I have always been an animal lover. But I truly do not know how I could have survived these past four years without the companionship of my cats and other furry friends. Study after study confirms that being in the presence of pets lowers blood pressure and calms nerves.
8. I go with my feelings. There is no rule book that says I have to be tough and hide my tears. If I’m having a hard grief day it is perfectly acceptable to let the sorrow wash over me and let the tears fall. Sometimes fighting the feelings only prolongs my pain. Often a good cry is cleansing and I am much better afterwards.
9. I journal. There are things I need to “say” that are better kept between me, God and my notebook. I have kept a journal for nearly three decades. Many times just writing out my feelings, my fears, my thoughts and my frustrations is enough to take the sting out. There’s something about not keeping it all bottled up inside-even if no other soul reads it-that acts as a catharsis.
10. I copy encouraging quotes or Scripture and hang them prominent places throughout the house. I have notes tacked to my bed post, on my bathroom mirror, taped to the cabinet next to my stove, stuck on the fridge, slid into my wallet in my purse-absolutely everywhere. Because when my heart is hanging on by a thread, the smallest bit of encouragement is often enough to help me hold onto hope.
None of these things undo my grief in the most basic sense.
Dominic is gone, gone, gone and I will not see him or hear his voice until we are reunited in the Presence of our Savior.
But they DO help.
One of the most devastating aspects of child loss is the overwhelming sense that NOTHING makes sense anymore and that I have absolutely NO control.
Choosing helpful habits and actions gives me a way to regain dominion over a tiny corner of my world.
And that little bit of action strengthens my spirit and helps my heart hold on.