Grief And Self Care


Looking back I’m shocked at how much I allowed societal norms and expectations to determine how I grieved Dominic’s death.

I withheld grace from myself that I would have gladly and freely given to another heart who just buried a child. Somehow I thought I had to soldier on in spite of the unbearable sorrow, pain, horror and worldview shattering loss I was enduring.

And the further I got from the date of his accident, the more I expected from myself.

Read the rest here: Self Care in Grief

Grieving As A Family

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here: Grief is a Family Affair

New Year Goals Revisited: When Blank Slate Meets Full Plate

Oh, how I love a fresh new calendar!

It’s full of promise and lots of space for all the wonderful ideas I jot down when sitting in my chair fantasizing about how much time, energy and strength I’ll have in the coming weeks.

And then comes reality.

So even though THIS year I only publicly shared self care goals for 2020, I’m here to tell you-it ain’t lookin’ good.

I admit that many kind readers pointed out that twenty goals for anything (self care or not!) was a little ambitious.

They were right.

I got about a week into the new year when three commitments for February were added to the list. One is a scripture study conference which I will absolutely love and doesn’t require anything but my presence. One is a speaking engagement at a local church’s women ministry event (I’m working on the notes now) and another is a three day retreat for bereaved moms in Mississippi.

While that might not seem like much, in addition to daily writing, feeding critters, work in and outside our house plus administration of a closed Facebook group for bereaved parents, it adds up.

So some of those lofty goals are being laid aside or modified.

I promised accountability so here’s an update.

I’ve been much better at reading Scripture every day. Not as much as I had hoped, but more than I had toward the end of last year.

I’m walking every single day that the weather allows. I’m up to 1.4 miles in about 30 minutes and my hips have gone from screaming to only whispering their objections. I hope to make it to 2 miles most days at a pace of 15 minutes per mile. (We’ll see how that goes!)

I am limiting the number of times I automatically say “yes” to every request for my attention. I’ve even (gasp!)let the phone go to voicemail when it’s someone I know but it’s simply not convenient to talk right now. I call back later when it works better for me.

I’m decluttering and establishing a daily rhythm that supports some of my goals and learning to let go of others that apparently just aren’t going to happen right now.

I’m reading more.

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I’ve watched many sunsets and even caught January’s full moon!

I’m making lists of “Things to Do on Rainy Days” and “Things to Do on Sunny Days” and work from whichever is most appropriate on a given day. Slowly, slowly I’m whittling down my outdoor work. I’ll never be finished but I’ve stopped accusing myself as I walk the property and enjoy the fresh air.

I don’t know what, exactly, I expected from middle age and an empty nest, but I think I thought it might be a little less hectic than those years of raising and educating a household of kids.

It is, in many respects, less hectic. Most of the demands placed on me are not time sensitive to the minute or hour.

But there is just as much to do.

And perhaps that’s how it should be.

I’ve always said that, like Amy Carmichael, “I want to burn out, not rust out”.

I’ve got a new grandbaby who is going to be one in March!

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I might not accomplish all the goals I set for myself earlier this year but I hope to accomplish every single thing God has for me to do as long as I have breath.

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20 In 2020: Self-Care Goals For The New Year

I used to do this every December 31st-sit down with my journal and write out goals for the coming year.

I’d spend an hour or two jotting down areas that needed attention and then formulate a plan for addressing them.

I grouped the goals under five headings: Spiritual, Personal, Family, Community, Farm/Home.

That was Day One in the journal and the rest was filled with successes, failures, reminders, prayers, lists of actions taken or revised goals based on a more realistic understanding of how the year was playing out.

I haven’t done that since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I tried last year but quickly realized I was still in day-to-day survival mode and unable to look past the next week, much less a year!

So I resorted to my scraps of paper here and there with lists for the morning-happy to cross off regular chores and maybe churn out a small project or two.

I’m going to TRY again this year.

And I’m making it public so perhaps I’ll be a bit more committed to completion of these goals. But instead of all those old categories I’m focusing only on one: Self-care. I haven’t been especially good at that for most of my life and have been downright awful at it for the past six years.

My mind, body and soul are weary.

My ability to rebound is next to nothing.

So I’m going to take the advice I’d give anyone in my position and focus on what will rebuild and restore my strength, my passion and my reserves.

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TWENTY SELF-CARE GOALS FOR 2020:

Spend 15 minutes each morning writing in my journal. Include something for which I’m grateful, something I need to get off my chest and something to look forward to that day. This will help me begin the day with a good attitude and without carry over from the day before. I sometimes spin my wheels trying to right something that went wrong yesterday instead of thinking about how to make today better.

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Spend 15 minutes each morning doing gentle stretches. I need to get some range-of-motion back in the joints most affected by RA. I’ve always known consistency is key but I usually have something I HAVE to do and don’t take the time.

Drink 16 ounces of water along with my cup of coffee. We all probably need more water.

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Light a candle. Both the act of lighting one and the gentle glow remind my heart that darkness doesn’t win.

Laugh every day. (Find a comic strip if I need to or watch a funny video.) Laughter is good medicine (not just a proverb, a scientific fact!). I know that on days when someone or something makes me laugh, endorphins flood my body and shift my mood for hours.

Copy Scripture daily. I’ve piddled at this in the past couple years. It used to be a daily (read NEVER missed a day no matter what) habit. Joint pain in my hands made it increasingly difficult and grief gave me the added excuse to drop it. But I miss it. Even when the particular verses don’t speak volumes to my heart, they never return void.

Reestablish a prayer journal. I kept a prayer journal for decades. And then Dominic left for Heaven. Along with other aspects of my faith, I reexamined what prayer is, why I should pray and how I wanted to pray. I’m ready to plunge back in with a new and slightly different understanding of what it will look like.

Complete one creative project each month. I’m a maker (from way back) and really need to have a creative outlet. It’s been hard to find the time (or set aside the time) for many years. Add to that ordinary life stuff and a shortened attention span since Dom left and I really haven’t made much in a long time. Creating beautiful things feeds my soul.

Walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Again, walked nearly every day for decades. All the physical and emotional difficulties of the past few years made it too easy to excuse one day and then another until I have fallen out of the habit. NO excuses in the coming year! Every day unless it’s pouring rain. (Somebody out there keep me accountable!).

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Read for 30 minutes each night before bed. With screens everywhere it’s so easy to just scroll through “one more time” before drifting off to sleep. I used to read every single night but grief made focusing difficult and tiresome. I want to get back in that habit. I need the encouragement, mind-stretching exercise and relaxation of reading again.

Start a Grandmama journal for Ryker. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t purpose to write some things down NOW, I’ll never do it. So I think I’ll start a journal just for him (and any other grandchildren that might come along). I’m going to set an appointment with myself every two weeks to add to it. I want to include family activities, family lore, photos and funny stories.

Organize and preserve family photos and make copies for each child. Again-something I’ve learned the hard way-is that the longer I wait, the more enormous the task will be. And while this may not seem like self-care, it is. This has been hanging over my head since Dominic left us.

Gather family recipes. I think family food and the stories behind it is a beautiful and unique way to pass on family history. I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but this year I’m at least going to get all the recipes copied and in one place.

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Make birthdays and holidays special. We’ve limped along long enough. I was the mom (way before Pinterest) that created themed birthday parties and set out hourly activities for New Year’s Eve. With grown children, the celebrations won’t look the same (no one wants a plastic sheriff badge!) but they can be celebrations just the same.

Watch the sunset. I see every sunrise because my chair faces the giant eastern window in my living room and I’m up before the sun each morning. But sunset takes effort. I want to stop at the end of each day and recognize I made it through with God’s strength and Presence. Practice the pause.

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Spend time with my horses, start riding again. Another thing I enjoy that I’ve simply not pursued because there are always, always, always things that seem more important. But brushing the horses, working with them, smelling them and riding them bring joy. I need more joy.

Write old-fashioned letters once a week. I love writing letters but tend to forget that I love it. Old-fashioned mail is just as exciting to get in these digital days as it ever was. I want to send somebody some sunshine.

Pause for deep breathing three times a day. Resetting my body, mind and spirit gives me the opportunity to shake off any less than happy or satisfying moments earlier in the day and go forward from a new starting place. Many days can be redeemed. I don’t want to waste the days I’ve got left.

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Say, “I’ll think about it” when asked to take on another responsibility instead of always answering, “yes”. Each new activity, responsibility or promise means that something else will have to go or be delayed. I need to learn to consider whether or not I have the capacity to add and/or the willingness to take away. I will not allow these self-care goals to be set aside for more busy work.

Have at least one day per week at home, without a long to-do list, and be lazy. I don’t do lazy well. Part personality, part upbringing and a whole lot of experience while raising children predisposes me to make the most of every moment. But everything doesn’t have to be done “now”.

Some of my goals may be so personal they aren’t helpful to anyone else. But I hope some of them spur you on to writing a list of your own.

Either way, I hope my readers will help hold me accountable. My plan is to write a monthly update on how I’m doing and what adjustments I might have made to the original goals.

I firmly believe that failure to plan is planning to fail.

And in spite of my very personal, very painful experience that plans don’t always make a difference, I refuse to give in to hopelessness.

So grab a pen, grab a notebook and decide for yourself where you will set your aim for 2020.

I promise that if you do, it’ll be a better year than if you don’t.

Self Care in Grief

Looking back I’m shocked at how much I allowed societal norms and expectations to determine how I grieved Dominic’s death.

I withheld grace from myself that I would have gladly and freely given to another heart who just buried a child. Somehow I thought I had to soldier on in spite of the unbearable sorrow, pain, horror and worldview shattering loss I was enduring.

And the further I got from the date of his accident, the more I expected from myself.

I wrote lists of things I needed to do and surprisingly often I actually got them done.

But I crawled into bed each night exhausted, physically and emotionally drained and often unable to sleep for all the pent up feelings I still needed to process.

It was a dangerous cycle.

Eventually, through contact with other bereaved parents I learned that I absolutely, positively HAD to take care of myself. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be a me to take care of.

And my family would be plunged beneath a new tsunami of loss.

I wasn’t going to do that to them if I could help it. So I committed to practicing better self-care on this grief journey.

I’m still not always good at it, but I’m better at it than I was.

If you are sucking it up, pushing it down, soldiering on, refusing to admit that grief takes a toll no one can ignore or deny, may I suggest you consider taking a step back and thinking about the ultimate outcome of ignoring your own needs?

Here’s a graphic to get you started.

It’s not an exhaustive list and the examples given may not suit your personality or circumstances but they should give you some ideas to find the activities and habits that will help strengthen you to do the work grief requires.

A Rest Is Not Defeat

There’s a lot of wisdom in this little poem.  

Let the words sink in.  

If you are having a hard day or hard week or even a hard month, don’t give up.  

Learn to rest, not quit.  ❤

 

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Worn Slap Out

The best remedy for my heart on the days when grief rolls in like morning fog and refuses to burn off with sunshine is hard work.

If weather permits I go outside and move hay bales, pick up limbs, cut weeds or do anything that requires large muscles to accomplish the task.  The goal is exhaustion so I can sleep.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’ll try to tackle jobs inside that I otherwise tend to ignore.  If you ever see me cleaning the bathroom or kitchen sink fixtures with a toothbrush, just leave me alone-I’m working something out.

So these past days leading up to Dominic’s birthday, that’s what I’ve done.

I sheared sheep, raked out a hay shed, moved hay, medicated horses, dogs and goats, picked up limbs brought down by rain and high winds, vacuumed, washed clothes, cleaned bathrooms and organized (sort of) my closet.

The ungrateful sheep and the silly cat kneading his paws while I’m bent over shearing her. 

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Skinks are some of the happier surprises when moving hay.  Snakes and ants not so much.

 

The good thing about so many critters that eat grass is that I rarely cut it.

Now I’m worn slap out!

I think I’ll hit the sack.

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Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! PART TWO: Coping Strategies

So now that you know you aren’t going crazy, what to do?

Give yourself grace-understand that the old you is not the new you.

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You will not be able to overcome these very real changes by sheer force of will. No matter how talented or together you used to be, it’s unlikely you can operate on that high plane right now. If you try, you will only exhaust the resources you have left.  

So slow down and make room for how grief has impacted your mind.

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There are some basic self-care techniques that bear fruit in every area, not only mental acuity:

  • Eat balanced meals or snacks-It doesn’t matter if you WANT to eat.  Consider that you are fueling your body so that it can feed your mind.  Find a protein bar you like or eat easy-to-make salads or sandwiches.  When blood sugar levels are stable, your mind works better.
  • Get as much quality sleep/rest as possible-This is very hard, I know, when the setting sun brings memories and thoughts that make sleep almost impossible.  But research “sleep hygiene” and apply the techniques that might work for you.  Herbal supplements and teas can help as well as prescription medications.
  • Drink enough water-hydration is so very important and easy to ignore.
  • Limit alcohol and/or other stimulants/depressants -any of which can interfere with your ability to think and remember. (Do NOT stop medication unless you do so in concert with your doctor)
  • Exercise-There’s no need to run a 5K. Just a walk around the block or even around your house can get your blood pumping and providing more oxygen to your brain.
  • Get a physical exam to rule out hypothyrodism, diabetes, heart disease, or any other physical cause for your symptoms.  If prescribed treatment, follow the protocol.

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Develop work arounds:

  • I simply admit to people I’m meeting for the first time that I will not remember their name unless and until I use it multiple times, and even then I might forget.  It takes the pressure off so I don’t have to pretend when I see them again.
  • I write down EVERYTHING.  If I put something “someplace safe” I jot down the location in my calendar.  If I make an appointment or need to make a phone call, I write it where I can see it.  If I commit to bring something to a potluck meal, I put down what I promised and when it needs to be there.
  • I ask for help.  Like I said before, if I make lunch plans with friends, I ask that they text me the day before to remind me.  If I need extra time to fill out a form, I speak out-I’ve never had anyone refuse.  If I can’t remember something important, I admit it and look it up.  I have given my family permission to tell me when I’m repeating myself.
  • I maintain routines and habits.  Keys-same place,always. I have a carabiner on my purse to attach them when I leave my truck.  Glasses-same place, always.  Medicines in those little seven-day sorted containers.
  • I use the Internet, mail and telephone calls to expedite things and minimize stressful interactions with people.  If I am going out to a restaurant, I look up the menu online so I’m not forced to make a decision on the spot.  I look up and print directions even though my phone can navigate on the fly.  I call ahead to learn how long a repair will take, if items are available and if my prescriptions are actually ready.  I send letters and cards instead of visiting when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

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Lifestyle choices:

  • I aim for balance:  Harder tasks with easier ones; stressful outings with quiet moments; reading with sewing; outside and inside; work and play.  Switching up seems to help keep me sharper somehow.
  • I don’t overcommit.  When someone asks me to do something, unless it is truly an emergency requiring an immediate answer, I consult my calendar.  If I already have a couple commitments for a week, I beg off or reschedule for another time.  I realize that those working outside the home have far less control over these things but perhaps you might ask your boss for some leeway.
  • I group similar tasks and do one thing at a time.  I find that doing things that require the same skillset on a single day increases my ability to do them well.  Shopping, writing notes, cleaning house are things I schedule for one day at a time.  I am absolutely NO GOOD at multitasking anymore.
  • I’m realistic about what I can and can’t do.  It is humbling to admit that I’m no longer tolerant of small children and large crowds.  I used to be able to handle both.  But I just can’t do it, so I limit my exposure.  I won’t serve in the nursery at church and I don’t attend concerts.  That’s just the way it is now.
  • I plan for laughter.  If it doesn’t happen organically, I seek something uplifting and funny to tickle me into laughing out loud at least once a day.  Laughter helps me cope and releases all kinds of feel-good hormones.  With the world of memes at your fingertips, this is an easy thing to do.
  • I refuse to apologize.  Yes, I might say, “I’m sorry” when I forget someone’s name, but I don’t make it a habit to make excuses for my inability to live up to others’ expectations.  I learned early on that anyone who has not walked this Valley can’t really understand anyway.  It frustrates me, adds to stress and does no good.  So I let my “yes” be “yes” and my “no” be “no”.  I’m beyond being embarrassed.

I do the best I can as long as I can.

And when I reach my limit, I admit it without being shamed.

 

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Can’t Fake It Forever

There’s a common bit of advice in grief circles:  Fake it until you make it.

It’s not bad as far as it goes and can be pretty useful-especially just after the initial loss and activity surrounding it.

Like when I met the acquaintance in the grocery store a month after burying Dominic and she grabbed me with a giant smile on her face, “How ARE you?!!! It’s SO good to see you out!!!”

I just smiled and stood there as if I appreciated her interest, a deer caught in headlights, silently praying she’d live up to her talkative past and soon move on to another target.

Faked it.

Boom!

BUT there comes a time when faking it is not helpful.  In fact, it’s downright dangerous.

Because if I fake it long enough and get good enough at it, I can convince myself that I have done the work grief requires.

Grief will not be ignored forever.

It bubbles up in physical symptoms and sleepless nights. It boils over in anger and impatience and anxiety and nervous habits.

There is no way through but through.  It has to be faced head on.

Life circumstances kept me distracted and busy for the first four or five months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

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I cried, screamed and was heartbroken-I definitely had my moments. But for the most part I functioned at a pretty high level.

It wasn’t until things slowed down that I had my come apart. And it caught me by surprise.

I was forced to sit in silence and face the feelings.  I was compelled to hear my heart shatter-over and over again.

I’ve now had 33 months of this burden of sorrow.  Almost three years to think about, work on and pray through the pain.  

I’m learning to pay attention to my own heartbeat, to my body, to my triggers, to my joy-bringers, my joy-stealers and my limitations.  I’m beginning to accept the bellycrawl progress through this tunnel of darkness by focusing on the bright light at the end.  

I still fake it sometimes-it’s not worth it to me to get into a long conversation with that person I only see every year or so.  Too much time, too much energy and too little reward.

But I’m learning to be more genuine with the people that matter most.  I’m learning to be honest about how I feel, what I need and how much I can do.

And I refuse to allow busyness to creep up on me so that I don’t have the time and energy to continue doing the work grief requires.  

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HALTing a Grief Spiral

If you’ve ever been in any kind of counseling or recovery group , you have probably seen or heard this acronym and advice: HALT  before you speak.

It’s a great reminder that I should take a moment to consider my frame of mind before I blurt out something that might damage a relationship or wound someone else’s heart.

I had never thought about it until recently, but it is also a great reminder to us who grieve that what we interpret solely as grief (which we cannot control) might be compounded greatly by other things  (some of which we can control).

So I am learning to apply the HALT acronym to a grief spiral in my own life.

When I feel absolutely overwhelmed and the grief wave is dragging me under I ask myself, “Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired?”

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H-Am I hungry?

  • Have I eaten something within the past 4-6 hours?
  • Have I had enough water in the past 2 hours?
  • Have I eaten too much sugary food today (this can impact blood sugar even if I’m not “hungry”)?
  • Am I eating a balanced diet overall?
  • Am I grazing and eating too much?
  • Do I have an underlying physical condition such as hypoglycemia or diabetes which may impact my ability to think clearly?

Some of us eat our feelings and some of us avoid food when we are stressed.  Either can be terrible for health and for mental well-being.

If you have ever been diagnosed as borderline diabetic in the past, intense grief can send you over the edge-request that your primary health provider do an A1-c test, not just measure fasting glucose.

If you don’t feel like eating, make it a non-option.  Set an alarm on your phone if you have to and consider food as medicine.  If you aren’t fueling your body appropriately, you just simply don’t have the energy to do all the things grief requires.

If you find you are overeating, try to portion out healthy and lower calorie snacks that can help you feel full but are lower in sugar and empty calories. Or instead of eating, try taking a walk or doing a few minutes of impromptu exercise.

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A-Am I angry?

Somewhere in life I embraced the idea that anger is “bad”.   When I am angry, I feel the anger and also feel guilty for being angry.

  • Has someone said something that upset me?
  • Has someone done/not done something that frustrates me?
  • Am I angry at God?
  • Am I angry at my missing child for leaving/for choices they made/for not saying “good-bye”?
  • Am I angry at myself for not protecting my child (even if it was not in my power to do so)?
  • Am I angry with my spouse or other close family members because they are not grieving in the same way as me?
  • Am I angry that the world goes on without my child?
  • Am I angry at friends that haven’t “been there” for me?

Acknowledge your anger.

If it is toward a person, ask yourself if you can bring it to them and mend the relationship. If that’s not an option, think about how you can construct boundaries to limit that person’s impact on your life, at least while you are experiencing the most intense feelings of grief.

If it’s toward God, express it in a journal or aloud or to a safe friend.  The Psalms are full of “Why God?”;  “Where are You?”;  “Why have You abandoned me?”

If your anger is toward your missing child, consider writing your thoughts in a journal or a letter to him or her.  Often I find that really all I need is an opportunity to express myself. It doesn’t “fix” things, but it makes them bearable.

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L-Am I lonely?

Grief is an isolating experience.  

Once the funeral and first few days or weeks pass by, most people around us either don’t think about our loss or don’t recognize its ongoing impact on our daily lives.  There have been many days when I have felt very, very alone.

  • Do I feel isolated in grief?
  • How long has it been since I was with other people?
  • Have I called/texted/messaged anyone today?
  • Has anyone called/texted/messaged me today?
  • Do I feel like nobody understands me?
  • Do I feel like God has abandoned me?
  • Do I feel like I just can’t talk to anyone anymore because of the differences in our experiences?

I have been blessed with some amazing friends who continue to seek fellowship even though it’s been  2 1/2 years since my son left us.  And I also joined several online communities of bereaved parents where I can vent my feelings any time and be assured that I am received, affirmed and understood.

I think anyone who hopes to heal after the loss of a child must have a safe someone to talk to.  If you don’t have friends or family that can fill that need, consider counseling.  There are just some things you have to speak aloud to be able to work out.

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T-Am I tired?

  • Did I sleep last night?
  • Am I going to bed too late or waking too early?
  • Am I staying overly busy and running myself down?
  • Am I getting adequate and appropriate exercise?
  • Am I taking medication that makes me sleepy/tired?

I know that for many bereaved parents, sleep is elusive.  And once asleep, staying asleep is a whole other issue.  But without proper rest, you cannot have the resources to do the work grief requires.

If you are consistently struggling with sleeplessness, consider asking your healthcare provider for help.  There are a number of natural sleep remedies (melatonin, valerian root, etc.) that may be appropriate.  And if necessary, prescription medicine can help break the cycle of insomnia.

None of these things-hunger, anger, loneliness or feeling tired-are the root cause of my grief.

I grieve because my son is gone.

BUTany of them, or a combination of them-can make me more vulnerable to feeling worse IN my grief.

I cannot control the fact that I am grieving.

I cannot remove the burden of sorrow and pain that losing a child has placed upon me.

But I can make adjustments in my lifestyle or life choices to make it easier to bear that burden.