Grief’s Journey is a member of The Wellbeing Partners who offer free grief services for all ages. They launched several COVID-19 support resources, including a guide for talking to children about COVID-19, a guide for saying goodbye when you can’t hold a funeral, and weekly online education about ambiguous grief, types of loss, supporting grieving youth, and more. Consider donating to them to support continued services during the pandemic.
As a nonprofit organization that provides free grief support services, Grief’s Journey has long recognized and championed the power and importance of self-care. During a time like this, amid the immense change and uncertainty that the pandemic has caused, one of the main reactions we’re seeing is ambiguous grief, which results from a loss (actual or perceived) that lacks closure and understanding. Collectively, we are grieving the loss of normalcy in our lives. Given this, it’s especially vital that everyone is taking the necessary time to care for themselves in order to stay healthy and to avoid the risk of experiencing compassion fatigue, which is characterized by mental, emotional, and/or physical exhaustion that occurs when one focuses only on alleviating other’s suffering and ignores their own needs. Consequently, one’s ability to empathize with and help others is diminished.
As the term ‘self-care’ has surged in popularity over the years, many people tend to picture self-care as a millennial trend that involves indulging in a decadent dessert or a glass of wine, taking a bubble bath, or exercising. While these activities are certainly forms of self-care for some people, what’s important to recognize is that self-care is any deliberate action that one carries out in order to support their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Thus, the key word is deliberate, as self-care is characterized by the intention behind our actions. For this reason, self-care is a deeply individualized process and experience with a wide variety of opportunities and ways to practice it. In other words, there is no “right” or “wrong” way. You have to find out what works best for you.
Therefore, the team members at Grief’s Journey would like to provide examples of their own experiences and forms of self-care, with the hope that it inspires others to be intentional about their self-care practices as well.
By Gabby Doue
I’m sad for so many people – for my son who missed out on having a birthday party and for his friends who won’t finish the school year together, for my elderly neighbor who is isolated from her family, and for my friend who wonders what her mother’s memorial service will look like. I worry – about my colleagues and friends who have lost income and job security, about the impacts of compromised fundraising on our organization’s business model and employees, and about our other area non-profits and the clients who are relying on them to provide critical support services.
I’ve always thrown myself into my work to care for others, because it’s what fills me up, but lately I’ve been aching for some time to myself (the irony of not having alone time during a period of social distancing), so I find myself intentionally getting up in the middle of the night and reading for pleasure or turning on a movie no one else in my family would enjoy. I used to be annoyed by my insomnia, but now I’m embracing it.
During this season of the year, there were so many things that I was looking forward to. Between exciting work events, family gatherings, and friends’ celebrations, these 2020 highlights have suddenly been pushed away. This time of uncertainty has been hard, and I acknowledge I have experienced grief in the past six weeks. It has led me to lose concentration, feel isolated, and experience fatigue. During this time, I’m working on giving myself compassion when I’m feeling unmotivated, anxious, and stressed. I also have been actively meditating, reading, and working out. Something I hope to share with others is to take things as they come and to give yourself compassion when things feel hard. Take care of yourself, find a way to continue connections with your loved ones, and know we are here to support you all during this time.
At Grief’s Journey, we have been talking quite a bit about ambiguous grief. I’ve been experiencing ambiguous grief myself – not being able to see my family or friends in person, not being able to see my co-workers or program participants in person, and not being able to do my normal daily tasks. Life is just different for now. With all this change and uncertainty, it’s important to show ourselves grace and practice self-care. Personally, I have been sitting out on my deck when it is nice out, playing with my pets, and journaling. I think if we give ourselves 10-15 minutes each day, especially when we are feeling a little off, that can help boost our mood and get ourselves refocused and re-energized. I would encourage everyone to think about what they can do for themselves during these stressful times. I also want everyone to remember that they are not alone.
I’ve been grieving the general loss of normalcy in my life. I find myself missing many of the little things that I used to take for granted, such as going out to eat with friends, having family gatherings, chatting with co-workers in the office, or mindlessly meandering around Target. I’ve also been suffering from random bouts of guilt over this sense of grief. I often feel ashamed to be missing these things, while so many people around the globe are facing much more severe concerns. What I’ve learned, however, is that being in a state of grief is never a competition, particularly during a pandemic. Yes, recognizing the struggle of others and practicing gratitude for the things we do have are important. But we do ourselves a great injustice when we invalidate our own feelings of grief by comparing them to those of others. Remember to grant yourself the grace and the space to feel whatever you’re feeling without judgment. Something that has helped me a lot during this strange time is meditation. There are so many great apps and YouTube videos out there to explore! Even just five minutes a day can significantly impact your wellbeing.
I’m definitely experiencing ambiguous grief due to the current lack of certainty. This feeling reminds me of when my own mother died and the sheer helplessness that I had during that time. Even though several decades have passed since her death, I still experience grief bursts and PTSD triggers. Plus, I live by myself and it has been hard being alone at times during this pandemic. Technology is great for keeping “social,” but it doesn’t replace the human-to-human connection. I’m taking my dog, Lola, on longer walks and really just letting her set the pace. She’s a Chihuahua so our walks are pretty interesting and meandering. I talk to my friends and family a lot via the phone and FaceTime. I try to set realistic goals with work projects and housekeeping. I’ve also been reading more. I take “quiet breaks” throughout the day and do mini grounding or meditation practices. I’ve implemented somewhat of a daily routine now that I’m working from home and that has really helped my mindset. I also return to my 2020 goals that I created on a vision board and continue to focus on them. Be gentle, patient, and kind to yourself and others. We’re all experiencing something so new, with lots of emotions attached, at the same time.
Grief during this pandemic has honestly been a bit overwhelming for me, and admitting that is difficult, because I work with grief every day, and I am usually great at compartmentalizing. I feel like there have been many triggers for me, recently, related to the death of my mother, and, with the ambiguous grief that everyone is feeling, I have struggled to not be especially affected by others’ grief. Since this time has been so different, I have really tried to ramp up my self-care. However, for those of us with children at home who need to be schooled while simultaneously working from home, time alone has been difficult. I have found my self-care in reading after the kids are down at night. Another thing I do is take “Mommy Time-outs,” where I just take five minutes to myself when I need it and work on my breathing. The time-outs usually happen by locking myself in the bathroom, because it is the only door in my house that locks. If I could give any piece of advice during this ambiguous time, it would be to feel the feelings you are having, because they are real and valid. Each time those feelings hit you, get up and do the next thing that feels right for you. The world tends to tell us how we need to respond to things, but only you know what is best for you. Trust yourself.
Imagine a slow-mo shot of a pie hitting someone in the face; that is how my grief has felt. I braced myself, yet I’ve never been hit with something like this before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Once the pie hit, I became familiar with its contents: fear, uncertainty, unease, and sadness. The stickiest stuff that’s hard to shake off is worry and anxiety. There have been moments when I taste the sweetness of being home and the slower pace of every day, but those sticky feelings are still there. The number one self-care item for me has been keeping a routine sleep schedule. I’ve also been open to my self-care needs changing each day, because some days it looks different than the day before. My advice is to be curious about yourself and listen to your heart. It is easy to think of all the things you should be doing but pay special attention to how those things make you feel. Do what makes you feel good; it may be different from what you thought.
I have been struggling to keep my emotional head above water most days. It’s been a roller coaster of feelings. The biggest struggles have been the biggest surprise. My normally cooperative, easy-going, and fun-loving kindergartener has been acting out big time, and both her father and I are at a loss with how to get things back to “normal” with her. We have managed to keep a positive outlook and focus on the positive aspects of quarantine outside of this (major) struggle that we’ve never known before. On my best days, I’m taking walks in the neighborhood, and taking great pride when I reach 10K on my (new, pre-owned) FitBit. You are not alone, and we are all doing the best we can, even if it doesn’t seem like it some days. This is unchartered territory for all of us (including our pets). Gratitude journals may help to shift the focus to what is going right.
I’ve experienced grief during this pandemic, because I’m further isolated from my friends and family due to my suppressed immune system. I’m a very social person, so for my self-care I am making sure I reach out to friends and family via Facebook Messenger, text messages, and phone calls. I make it a point to exercise, journal, watch funny movies, and listen to music that brings me joy and happiness. I find eating healthier meals allows me to not feel full and lethargic. I try to go outside daily and get at least 15 minutes of sun and vitamin D to help lift my spirits. If I were to offer words of advice, I would say make it a point to not isolate. Take time to reach out to friends and family, because the reality is we’re all in this together. Call the people you care about as a way of practicing self-care.