I've talked in my previous Blog post about how my emergency fund helped me have peace of mind when we were faced with my son's sudden death. I also mentioned how comfort eating and taking up smoking again have acted like temporary stop-gaps as I have been navigating the emotional roller coaster of grief. But these are only two of the ways I have managed to find some comfort in the last three months, and I would like to share some healthier, more balanced, and more frugal strategies that have supported me during this time.
I think I will break this down into a short "series" of posts - as I started to list everything I realised that it is quite a long list, and I hope that others will feel free to add things that have helped them too. Crisis, grief, trauma - however we name it, the feeling of life not being "ordinary" is one that requires great energy and effort if we are to navigate it in a way that is meaningful to us - and this is individual. My list of helpful actions may not be what others would choose, but hopefully will give some ideas and some sense of the scope of strategies that can be available to us, depending of course on our particular circumstances.
It has been, and continues to be, important to me to handle my grief in ways that are consistent with my values. To continue to act with kindness and dignity as far as possible, having compassion for myself and others, has been a practical way of knowing how to deal with a stressful and unwelcome situation. This limits my opportunities for regret, and protects and builds my self-esteem at a time when "who I am" in this changed landscape seems unfamiliar and questionable.
Knowing and naming my feelings and needs, taking time to check in with myself, asking What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What am I needing? How can I get that need met? Is what I am thinking true? - questions like these have proved helpful and grounding, as I remind myself that although I am the person I once was, some of my feelings and needs have changed. Some things that were very important to me have shifted in significance, and other things have become more urgent.. Knowing that I have been changed has helped me to make wise choices, to actively work to protect my boundaries, and to be gentle in my expectations.
Knowing what to share, and with whom, has been invaluable. Knowing which of my friends are able to help me navigate my stormy emotions, and which ones leave me feeling fragile or invaded, has helped me to look for comfort from people who are actually able to give it - people who are wise, accepting, stable - people who "get me" and have a healthy understanding of the nuances of grief, and who are able to give in a generosity of spirit that isn't expecting much of anything in return - these people have given me more than I could ever have put into words. This is not to say that I like my other friends less, it is about recognising my level of need as well as their capacity to give right now.
There is value too, in being open, honest and real. Not feeling like I have to "put a brave face on it" or pretending it is "business as usual" helps my relationships to have integrity. Making sure I have the safety to express what is really going on for me, the depths of despair, the fearful thoughts (was I a good enough mother?) that pass through, the guilt about having moments of happiness or not thinking about my loved one, the strangeness of his absence - all the little and big thoughts that go through my mind, day after day. Grief is so tiring, repetitive, exhausting, consuming. It is confusing (why am I so tired when I haven't been doing anything? why dont I know what to buy in the supermarket? what am I meant to do with all these things?) and distressing (why am I so angry? why do I want to yell at people? what's wrong with me?) Whether my honesty flows through my pen onto the page, or in my prayers, or to my family and friends, I am helped by knowing that I am staying as true to myself as I can.
I am encouraged knowing that there is no right way to grieve. Also, my dear friends have reminded me that grief our is not measured by how many tears we cry. Being happy in one particular moment does not mean that we don't care, and we can actively participate in our processing of grief in many different ways (thank you to Dr Lucy Hone for her work around resilience and grieving).
I should say something here about context. I am a middle-aged woman with many years of mental health recovery and sobriety behind me. Many of the skills I have learnt over the years to keep me well and sober have stood me in good stead, and I am drawing on these even more now. I am also privileged in terms of where I live - a quiet, middle class suburb, in secure Public Housing, with my own space. I am financially secure, thanks to DSP and savings, and I don't carry any debt. Although this has a lot to do with the choices I've made, it is also greatly helped by my access to community resources and support. I am fortunate in that I have a good social network, and I am a big reader, so turning to books and my friends comes easily to me. I like being at home, partly because I am a homebody, but also because home is safe and secure. I am also fairly assertive, and articulate, so this has helped me immensely in the aftermath of my son's death. I recognise that not everyone's situation is as privileged as mine - Not everyone will have trustworthy friends, stable housing, or the luxury of time to themselves to process. I acknowledge that I come to this situation with a large kit of tools to help me, and I know that this has made a phenomenal difference in how I have been able to work through grief.
So, having laid out a bit of context, I will turn to some specific strategies that I have found useful. I will start in my next post with self-care and then move on from there.