A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Body

Trout Lily in Spring

Trout Lily in Spring

This is the first of three Survival Guides. I’ll post “Soul” and “Spirit” in coming weeks.

During my husband’s illness and after his death, grief exhausted me. Who cared about staying healthy? Some part of me did, but it was hard to get it together. I knew vitality and strength would help restart my demolished life. Poor self-care added depression to my sorrow. As a nutritionist and personal trainer, I had a weight lifter’s discipline before my husband’s illness, but I needed a nurturing, gentle attitude toward my wounded grieving self. Here’s what worked.

DSC021601. Go outside every day. Breathe fresh air and look at the sky. Walk with friends or, when you’re alone, watch for wildflowers or follow animal tracks in the snow. Buy wool socks, warm boots, and snow pants for cold weather. When it’s hot, walk in the morning or evening or visit a nearby lake for a swim. The changing seasons remind us we are part of the natural cycle of death and renewal. Nature normalizes our loss.

2. Cook pots of soup and other wholesome food. Freeze portions for the hard days and share the rest with others. Use nourishing recipes, such as my recipes for soups and other simple meals. Feed yourself well and purposefully to avoid living on chocolate and granola or nothing at all.

DSC027363. Exercise more intensely—when you’re ready. Uphill walking, yoga, tai chi, dance, and Pilates are gentle choices. If you need strength, lift weights slowly and carefully. Hire a knowledgeable trainer or take a class. Exercise is an anti-depressant and helps us feel focused and sturdy. It takes strength to endure grief and build a new life.

4. Get a massage from a loving person you trust with your pain. Find a massage therapist who creates a space of beauty and gentle serenity. Allow yourself to feel and weep as you are touched. Encourage pleasure. Our body needs joy.

DSC044535. Invite animals into your life. Adopt a dog or cat. Volunteer to walk dogs or cuddle other abandoned animals at the SPCA. My dog Willow sits close by when I weep and is always ready for a walk. Feed birds and watch for signs of life.

6. Reach out to others in need. Share your soup, offer rides, volunteer (experiment until you find the right place), donate time or money, send a card, or call someone who is lonely or sick. Check in with a neighbor who struggles. Helping others gives our life purpose.

Dancing

Dancing with my brother

7. Listen to music that inspires you. Move with your grief. Clap your hands. Tap your toes. Dance or sway with friends or dance alone. You’ll find you can cry and laugh at the same time. Read more about dancing through grief in “We’re Still Standing, So We May As Well Dance.”

8. Sort. Give away. Throw out. Label. Recycle. Since grief often feels immovable and stuck, move and organize furniture and books. Rearrange. Paint the walls. Glue what is broken. Give away what you don’t need. Create beauty and open a space for your new life.

9. Lament. Make noise. Sob. Wail, if you dare. If you’re afraid to release emotion alone, find a therapist who can help you unload repressed grief. Our bodies suffer when we stuff down pain.

DSC0418910. Tend plants. Grow houseplants in winter. Remember green will return to the earth and to you. Buy yourself flowers when the world feels bleak. Grow flowers or vegetables in season. Plants teach us acceptance as they quietly cycle through loss and new growth. Plants remind us we are not alone.

***

What helps your body survive and stay healthy during the hard times?

22 thoughts on “A Survival Guide for Life After Loss: Body

  1. Self Care is something we’re not taught in this culture. Or we’re told it’s about very surface pleasures. Your list is wonderful, Elaine! I’m particularly fond of LAMENT. A great word, and an absolutely necessary ingredient in a healthy life. After that, yes, a pot of hot soup!!!

    • Thank you, Kirsten. I love hearing from you. I can never imagine what you’ll send from LA. We all have loss and we all need healing. I vote for lament, soup, and many walks–oh, but Willow says I have to vote for dogs. They all worked for me.

  2. A wonderful guide Elaine, for so many who can get so lost in the abyss of darkness. You a such a pillar of strength and hope and I hope your wisdoms can bring light to those who may lose their way during a time of grief.

    • How kind, Debby. I hope this helps a few others, too. I wrote the first draft of this a long time ago, soon after Vic died, for our hospice newsletter–and I still find the points essential for me. And it’s time to go for a walk, even if it is bitter cold. Once I get all the layers on, I’m fine.

  3. I love your article on self care. There is an element of gentleness in your guide which serves us well at all times. During times of grief we need this wholehearted approach that supports us fully. I will be sharing your writing with others. Thank you.

    • Your words warm my heart, Shobhna, and it’s bitter cold in the northeast, so it’s good to be warm inside. Thank you for sharing my writing with others. Most writer’s don’t make any money from what they write, and I lead hospice bereavement support groups for free. The “payment” is in helping others and feeling a sense of meaning and value in my new life. Blessings your way.

  4. Elaine, this is such a wonderful and thorough list. I know I feel better whenever I follow these. One of the most meaningful grieving exercises for me was the “Singing Grieving” series I went to at Hospicare after my husband died. Singing, crying, laughing–all helped express the grief. I also took up strength training, dance in the kitchen to the Rolling Stones, and try to walk outside whenever I can (still not every day as you do–the best).

    Lynne

    • So do I, Lynne. I pay a price when I don’t bother to eat well or go outside even on the coldest days. Since my hearing is lousy, I’ve never been to “Singing Grieving,” but I’m good friends with Jayne and know her groups and her private work help so many. I’m sure you build community there. Look at all you’ve done. If you dance to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (my son and his wife sang that one for me with the band at their wedding), then maybe you don’t need to face the cold these days. Thanks for your support, Lynne.

  5. Melatonin, 5 MGs at bedtime. It’s just a dietary supplement found in health food store or Wegmans. It was just enough to relax me when I couldn’t fall asleep.
    What a great list for taking care of yourself after loss. Can’t wait to see the next 2 installments for “Soul” and “Spirit.” Perfectly timed for me to share as I just did a post on carrying grief and talking about loss.
    Cheers, Elaine.

    • I forget about Melatonin because I sleep well most of the time, but thanks for adding this idea to the conversation. Good sleep isn’t on my list. Thanks so much for commenting and, of course, for sharing. We are both writers, and I appreciate you and hope your book is coming along. Your story needs to be out there.

  6. Once again a very nice read Elaine………
    For me it was art that saved me from being swallowed up by my grief…
    Creativity in whatever form …you yourself write and the creative urge is life in search of itself so it is so vital.
    I also go walking in nature just about everyday no matter the weather…nature is life and resonates at a specific frequency…I don’t feel my best unless I get out there in the woods and breathe the fresh air.
    I don’t belong to any organized form of religion..
    I go to Nature as my cathedral and look up at the trees and feel the strength of their quiet stillness.
    PEACE, LOVE, LIGHT & LAUGHTER, Randi

    • You’re ahead of me, Randi. I’ll talk about art and creativity next week in the section on Soul, and then in another way in Spirit. My kitchen counters and dining room table were covered with water colors, oil pastels, and good quality paper during the year after my husband died. I’m not a skilled painter, but I painted anyway–often my dreams, but sometimes just color and pattern or an abstract tree or an image that grabbed me. Yesterday, communicating with a Hospice Chaplain in Boston, I called myself a Nature Mystic. I have studied and found solace in many religious traditions. I was brought up loosely Presbyterian, but became interested in Eastern religions and Greek philosophy in the 60s. I’m extremely drawn to the teachings of Buddhism (not technically a religion), but when times are tough, I turn for solace to Nature and the Mysterious Being that created all this beauty and life.

      Thank you for your wisdom and experience, Randi.

    • Thank you, Susan. I agree with your comment elsewhere that this list is good for anyone, any time. I focused on my hard times, but it’s also difficult to be the caregiver of an aging parent in failing health or to worry about marriage or financial problems.

    • I’m so glad you find my suggestions helpful. They are personal and various things work for different people, but usually quite a few of these ring a bell. Makes me happy to think you will use them with clients. Thanks for reading my piece and for taking the time to send a comment.
      Best,
      Elaine

  7. Perfect post! I am sharing your work on my Facebook wall and on Twitter. We are in the same wonderful ministry of helping others travel through grief and back to the light. I love promoting others in the same field. We are all in this together!
    Have a beautiful day! Laura

    • Thank you so much, Laura. I know we’re connected on twitter and I just made a connection on FB. This world of social media brings us in contact with amazing people, I find, including the women who commented before and after you. I’m glad to be in touch and look forward to knowing more about your work. I’ll visit your website first. Warmly, Elaine

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