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.
1. 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.
3. 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.
5. 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.
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.
10. 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?