Making yourself a priority is something everyone can benefit from. Whether dealing with loss, trauma, stress or life in general, it’s important to do something just for you, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Tune into what you need and take a self care break.
None of us knows how long we have, treat every day as a gift, make it count.
Roughly three months after my loss, I was exhausted from thinking about the life that Spence and I had shared and how nothing would ever be the same. I desperately missed our happy life together. I felt incredibly lonely, angry, resentful and hated the word “widow”.
Then I decided that I was going to be happy again. I wanted to lose the “sad Laura” cloak that I’d wrapped around myself. It was Spring 2017, the weather was warm, my garden was coming back to life and I felt the pull toward being in nature with my hands in the dirt, something that’s always brought me joy.
Not every choice I made was successful or well thought out. At times it felt like I was hurling myself forward in my pursuit of happiness without regards to where I was going to land – which accounted for some mental bruises. But I knew Spence would want me to live a full and happy life and on days that felt like a struggle to do it for me, I did it to honor him.
I’m not saying it was easy to change my mindset or imply that I didn’t backslide. Grief took pot-shots at me more than a few times however I was determined to outrun it. It’s like the old adage about how many times you have to repeat a behavior before it becomes a habit – so I behaved as though I was happy. Fake it till you make it, right? And as habits go, this is a good one to have.
There’s no clock on this process nor is it a competition. On the road back to embracing life, take one step at a time.
Even if you stumble, you will get there.
The Self Care series is my personal journey over my first year after losing my husband and reflects both my struggles and successes.
Getting through loss is a one step forward, one more step forward and five steps back process. Sometimes it’s more than five steps backward and it’s part of grief and recovery.
There is no road map that’s laid out for you. Every now and then you step on a land mine. It happens.
I found that the first few times I met friends or family at a restaurant, I’d think “I can handle this” and then suddenly, up bubbled the tears. I’ve always hated for anyone to see me cry (not a pretty crier) and they weren’t full on sob-fests, but I was embarrassed and felt bad for the person with me.
But this is what I learned.
These same people missed Spence and had memories of their own, many of which we shared. Speaking for myself, it’s often hard but inevitably healing to talk about him with those who loved him. He was funny, loving, smart, worldly and larger than life.
You are not alone in your loss and the loss is not yours alone. Share those memories.
Pets provide companionship and entertainment but also unconditional love. They sense when you need them to be close.
During those first months after losing Spence I chose to be alone while working through my pain. My cats, Tipper and Biscotti (aka “The Biscuit”) were a godsend. Already the most lovable cats, they snuggled with me for hours every day. They didn’t expect much beyond food, water and a clean litter box. Caring for them was self care and therapeutic for me; they too had lost Spence. Hospice had set up a bed for him in that last week and Tipper and Biscotti provided him comfort in those final days. Sensing the gravity and sadness, they calmly slept next to him for hours on end and were there when he drew his last breath.
Self care can take many forms; sharing our loss helped me to connect to the nurturing part of myself. It was small but it was a purpose.
Days and weeks went by when one day I caught myself singing and dancing to some song while making a snack. Food, music and dancing in my kitchen had been such a natural thing for me in the past. I don’t recall the song (but I remember the sun was shining brightly that day) and it struck me how long it had been yet how natural it felt. As time moved forward, those moments became more frequent and less noteworthy. The cats and I still had our snuggle time every day but they also returned to their cat tree, their “Cirque du Soleil” antics and play time.
There are multiple definitions of the word selfish and they’re primarily negative but not always:
Selfish: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself
If there’s ever a time that you deserve to be selfish, it’s when you’re trying to cope with a loss. It’s survival and it’s self care.
In those first months, I sought solitude letting everything wash over me without censorship. Most days thoughts ricocheted wildly inside my head and to articulate them was too painful. It was a moment-to-moment way to get through those days but it was what I needed.
When dealing with loss your process might differ from mine. Give yourself permission to be selfish in seeking what you need to heal.
None of us truly knows how we will handle loss. In my case, I was capable of living on my own, handling my finances, getting through the final arrangements and all that follows the loss of a spouse.
I didn’t count on not being able to take a deep breath for what felt like months.
I didn’t expect to completely lose my appetite and my sense of humor.
I didn’t count on the paralyzing loneliness that overwhelmed me.
In the first few months most days I didn’t get dressed or even walk outside to get my mail. Days I spent almost entirely in bed, covers pulled over my head and tried to sleep so I wouldn’t have to think. I took a lot of bubble baths and basically hid out. I desperately missed my husband and our happy life. Every memory, even the good ones, caused me pain. Not surprisingly, I cried a lot during this time. And though, intellectually I knew I wasn’t the only person in the world dealing with loss and sadness, it felt as though I was.
There is no time-table, no book, no one else’s advice that can tell you how to navigate your new normal. This is where self-care comes into play. Being retired, I didn’t have to return to work for which I was grateful. Instead, I allowed myself to just….exist. No judgement, no guilt, no pressure to speed the process along. Losing someone you love is the most intimately personal experience you can have and you’re entitled to feel every emotion that comes at you.
Be as understanding and kind to yourself as you would to others.
If there’s one thing I learned last year, it was the importance of self-care. My awareness came after losing Spence in March 2017. For months, I had no appetite nor desire to cook. I had no interest in music and it was hard to focus on a book let alone a movie. I all but gave up blogging. The idea of traveling by myself after having had the most stellar traveling partner for 26 years, seemed too sad.
After months of being a recluse and hiding from my new reality, the fog started to lift – a little. I knew that Spence would expect me to embrace my life and live it. I had a lot to be grateful for even if I couldn’t acknowledge it. With the unwavering love and support from family and friends, even on my darkest days I knew there was no way they’d let me slip through the cracks.
March 4th marked a year since I lost Spence. By doing this series, it’s my hope that what I share may help someone else. Self-care is not for widows only. It’s about putting yourself first, forgiving yourself, pampering yourself and moving through challenging and stressful times eventually reclaiming your life, your heart and your joy.
Watch for the next installment and in the meantime, stay strong. You are not alone.