Baby steps in grief and loss: Go take a shower

Dr Aoife Earls Oakville Naturopathic Doctor discusses grief and loss

My first exper­i­ence with grief was the loss of a ser­i­ous rela­tion­ship. While for the best, I was com­pletely dev­ast­ated. I couldn’t stop cry­ing, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I wanted to crawl up and die. It was my first exper­i­ence with the body and mind con­nec­tion being intim­ately con­nec­ted, and it was excru­ci­at­ingly pain­ful. This was not some­thing I could just talk myself out of, and it was eye-open­ing.

Advice I was giv­en at the time was admit­tedly pretty ter­rible. Lessons in empathy train­ing required? Yes, it’s my mis­sion and I’m here to help.

Here’s what not to say when a person experiences grief and loss

  1. It’s for the best
  2. You think this is bad? When I had _​_​_​_​_​hap­pen, I had to go back to work the next day.
  3. You can’t just give up.
  4. You’ll get over this.
  5. Life goes on
  6. You’re not the only per­son in the world that feels like this; buck up
  7. Don’t let them see you cry

So, what do you think I actu­ally heard in those state­ments?

Grief isn’t pleas­ant, it’s not here, suck it up, move on, don’t feel, my pain is worse, your pain is noth­ing, don’t be weak…as a res­ult, the pain pro­longed and I also felt ashamed.

I don’t think the inten­tion was to min­im­ize or dis­miss my pain, but because many of us are not equipped on how to sit in com­pas­sion with suf­fer­ing, we have a tend­ency to want to brush it off or just rush through it. The body and mind know…and they will not be rushed.

To add to this, rush­ing through my grief as a deeply empath­ic and sens­it­ive per­son; I can’t actu­ally do that. Telling me not to feel deeply is like say­ing, “Aoife, don’t have curly hair. It’s incon­veni­ent”. Well, tell that to the curls on the side of my head that refuse to straight­en. Not going to hap­pen!

The best (first) advice on coping with grief and loss

I was giv­en a piece of won­der­ful advice by a kind under­stand­ing soul who just got it. Years my seni­or, we had met for lunch, and she was wor­ried, but moreover, had exper­i­enced the deep phys­ic­al pain in grief that I also had (and more things, as she had life hap­pen to her). She had an oppor­tun­ity to prac­tice griev­ing in her every­day life a bit more than I had to that point. The one piece of advice that changed the course of my future in my rela­tion­ship with grief (which was a very import­ant thing for my years to come) was this:

Get out of bed every­day and take a shower.

~AH

A shower? I remem­ber think­ing — huh, okay. You’ve got my atten­tion.

Why a shower?

A shower helps you to clear your head”, she explained. “Then you can go out­side in the fresh air. Take even a small walk and it will help you clear your head. Things will feel a bit easi­er.”

So for the next 3 months, I did just that. I got out of bed, took a shower and left the house. It helped that I had respons­ib­il­it­ies, but on the days I didn’t and could stay in, I just stayed with that little ritu­al. It did help. It didn’t remove my pain. I didn’t feel less heavy, but the heav­i­ness eased. It allowed my ration­al brain to have a focus when my emo­tion­al self was drown­ing.

Five years later when my moth­er died, guess what I star­ted doing?

What is okay to feel when you’re grieving?

Absolutely everything. Your timeline and your feel­ings are nor­mal, whatever they are. In fact there is so much indi­vidu­al­ity in grief and its pro­cess that it is dif­fi­cult for research­ers to find a “tem­plate” or a “pro­cess”. So, whenev­er unne­ces­sary advice is giv­en, just give your­self a little hug and remem­ber that your pro­cess is your pro­cess. It’s all okay. What IS import­ant is find­ing the right sup­port you need at the moments you know you need con­nec­tion, com­pas­sion, and val­id­a­tion.

Why do simple rituals help?

Simple rituals do a few things. They make the brain feel safe. It’s a struc­ture they know and under­stand. The body likes routine, rhythm and sim­pli­city. It makes a world feel safe when it has turned upside down.

It also gives a small amount of con­trol to the left brain that wants to order and sort through this stress­ful exper­i­ence. A simple ritu­al cre­ates this con­trol that “yes, this part is okay, and there­fore the next step is also okay”.

I know to those of you in deep early grief this might sound crazy. It’s a simple thing. It doesn’t make everything go away. Nothing gets bet­ter.

You’re right, but it’s a start.

Today my heart offers this to loved ones close to my heart that are exper­i­en­cing their own major grief and loss. You are loved, and when the days are hard to come, get up, take a shower, and go out­side.

I’ll be shar­ing more basic sup­ports for grief in the upcom­ing months as I am work­ing on a pro­gram called Resilient: Moving through Grief. It’s a heart pro­ject that’s been nag­ging at me for years, and 2020 is my year to share it.

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