“Grief is hard work, so be gentle with yourself. “ If I had a dime for every time I have said this to a bereaved person, I would never have to play the lottery. People I have helped through the early days of grief often tell me how useful this advice was. But finding myself in the midst of personal loss, I realize it is easier said than done. Being gentle with yourself is one of the tougher tasks of griefwork.
Grief is a powerful experience with complicated and often conflicting feelings. Added to the powerful pull of emotions is the change in schedule that results in long days, unexpected waves of sadness, and insomnia. Grief can be especially harsh on an aging body which is optimized by routine. Just when we need additional self-care, it becomes a challenge to eat well, keep a normal schedule, get regular sleep, or rest between physically exhausting tasks. Being gentle with yourself requires listening to your body and caring well for it.
Guilt is common during grief, even when there is nothing to be guilty about. Most of us want to know that we have done the best for those we love while they were alive, and it is natural to second guess how well we treated them, sometimes chastising ourselves when there is nothing to be guilty about. Let’s not forget how much our beloved deceased ones loved us and how human they were. Making a saint of the deceased adds to false guilt and doesn’t honor them for who they were. A wise man once taught me that there is false guilt and real guilt. He said, “The difference is that false guilt doesn’t go away, real guilt is something easily handled by forgiving yourself and moving on.” Most of us are good people, faults and all, so be gentle with your memories, this can help avoid false and unnecessary guilt.
The heart slows down when it is in pain, often feeling as if life is in slow motion. We cannot move faster than our heart, especially when it is broken. Being gentle with yourself involves acknowledging your pain and pacing it appropriately. Feeling the sorrow of grief is hard, accepting feelings of grief in small doses is being gentle with yourself. Some people move faster than their heart to avoid the discomfort. Others may slow down the grief process because they believe if their grief ends, their loved one is gone, so they become lifelong grievers in a desperate attempt to keep their loved one alive. Being gentle with yourself means avoiding these extremes.
The grief journey is unique for each person and with each loss. But the need to be gentle with yourself is necessary for everyone. When grieving a loss, find yourself a grief partner, perhaps a friend or family member or even a professional grief counselor. This companion will be your “go to person” who willingly chooses to share the depth of your loss. One of the most important duties of your grief partner is to remind you to be gentle with yourself.
“Consistent gentleness is a display of massive inner strength and maturity.”
― Drishti Bablani