I’ve been supporting a close friend whose mother has recently been diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer. I’ve also been supporting her mother.
Many friends come to me when they are experiencing loss.
Including loss of a loved one. Or they know someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one.
Perhaps they assume I could be supportive since I have experienced many forms of loss in my life, including the sudden and complicated losses of each of my parents.
I offer this support, as I continue to navigate the more recent and traumatic loss of my father, who died alone in lock down a year ago.
It’s so very imperative to take good care of yourself while balancing your loss with the daily demands of this life journey.
Grief does not have a timeline. You don’t have to be “strong”. It’s ok to feel shock, disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear. You may feel fatigue, insomnia, heart-palpitations, anxiety, loss of appetite. This is all natural in grief.
Here’s what has supported me in my own journeys of loss:
Get plenty of rest.
Grief is exhausting. It seeps into the cells. You have no control over it. It’s a full body experience that is beyond the mind. It just takes you. Like giant waves that suck you up, have their way with you, and then eventually spit you out. A brief lull – until the next one arrives – out of nowhere. Even if you can’t sleep, just rest on your bed or a mat, or on the earth – with your left hand on your heart centre, and your right on your belly – to ground, to bring stillness, to bring ease. All the while, elongating your out breath.
Sleep can be compromised during early grief, or while navigating multiple losses for instance. Shock can overtake the system. Brain fog is rampant. Trauma shocks the brain, stuns the mind, and freezes the body. Start unwinding two hours before bed. Aka: start your bedtime routine then.
Here are a few ways to navigate that:
– Drink calming and relaxing herbal teas: Nighty Night Extra and Cup of Calm by Traditional Medicinals, Restful Sleep by Yogi Tea, and/or any chamomile tea.
– SleeBD (CBD + melatonin + chamomile + valerian) is a potent sleeping aid.
– Herbs for tea and tinctures that you want to focus on are: chamomile, skullcap, valerian, hisbiscus, rose hip, lavender, passion flower, and lemon balm.
– Consider homeopathic remedies like ignatia, natrium and aconit for grief/ loss/shock.
– Rescue Remedy is also effective for shock.
Other things I tried from a local herbalist that may work for you are:
– Kava kava
– Adrenal formula (ClearHeart Botanicals on Salt Spring Island, BC)
– Sleep Tonic (ClearHeart Botanicals on Salt Spring Island, BC)
– Sleep & Pain Elixir (Island Herb on Salt Spring Island, BC)
– Sleep Tincture (Forest Heart Botanicals on Salt Spring Island, BC)
– Deep Sleep Wellness Balm (Rocky Mountain Soap Company)
Yoga Nidra is another effective modality that supports deep rest. Remember, 20 – 30 minutes of yoga nidra is the equivalent of three to four hours of sleep.
Here is a session from a yoga nidra teacher on Youtube that has helped me a lot:
30 Minute Grounding Yoga Nidra with Ally Boothroyd (Sarovara Yoga)
Anything by her is deeply restful and healing, here’s her full Youtube channel: Sarovara Yoga.
Drink plenty of water.
Grief is dehydrating. It parches you from the cells up. Keep a water bottle with you wherever you go. Consider drinking warm water, which is detoxifying.
Eat nourishing foods.
If you are in early grief and cannot prepare consistent meals, ask friends to organize a meal train for you for a couple of weeks. Or organize meal delivery through a home delivery service. On Salt Spring Island, BC consider WAWEE. Haidee Hart is an amazing chef, and I was so grateful to her for feeding me for the first six weeks following my father’s tragic death. You are bound to locate an equivalent in your community through an online search.
Shed lots of tears, don’t hold it in.
Consider not letting anyone tell you how to feel, and try not to tell yourself how to feel either. Rather, honour the emotions and feelings arising naturally. We must feel to heal. It may seem overwhelming at times, but it will shift eventually. And this is precisely how, by feeling it ALL.
Go for a forest walk every day.
For a minimum of 30 minutes. The green, fresh air and movement does wonders. Since grief is stored in the lungs, the trees will bring fresh oxygen into the system. So healing. This outdoor movement will release endorphins, cortisol, seratonin, dopamine, and oxytocin into the system (all the feel good and calming chemicals that you need right now). The sunshine (if applicable) will also be uplifting.
Practice some indoor movement each morning.
Simply 15 minutes minimum of movement in your living room (on a yoga mat if you have one). This is well worth your time and attention, and you don’t even have to leave your house. You can set a timer. Or put on a movement video for inspiration.
Breathe deeply through the nose, and exhale deeply with an elongated out breath through slightly parted lips, for a somatic breath to calm and relax the nervous system. Try to practice this for 5 – 10 minutes minimum in the morning and evening. If that feels like too much at first, consider three to five breaths each morning and evening, respectively. The elongation is key, as that is where all your stress and tension will be released. If you can, try to practice this breath whenever you can remember to do so, especially in times of particularly high distress.
Reach out for support.
Contact friends and family for walks, phone calls, video calls, tea, and/or share a meal. Choose friends who have the skill of deep listening, holding space, and witnessing you – and can validate your experience. This is deeply healing. These are people who are not going to tell you how to feel, or try to fix you in early grief. Rather, they are those who can be with you if you need to cry or be held. Those that are not going to offer passive support; ie: “let me know if you need anything”. The ones who won’t change the subject. They will support you with your brain fog by bringing you back in a non-judgmental way. They are those who are not going to launch into their own stories to relate to your experience, which most often can unknowingly discredit and dismiss your experience of grief. Choose who you reach out to wisely.
Ask for help.
With groceries and meals; holding space for you just to be; longer hugs; and seek out those who have been through a similar loss, who you can deeply relate to.
Consider grief counselling or a grief support group.
Relating with others who are going through the same experience can be deeply supportive. Because grief can be a very lonely experience after an initial out pour of support during the first couple of weeks.
Engage a creative outlet.
Like journalling, drawing, painting, singing, playing an instrument, and/or movement art. Whatever can move energy and be used as a form of expression for your grief can be extremely healing.
Practice patience with yourself.
And kindness, gentleness, and self love. Consider not being hard on yourself, nor rushing back to life. Give yourself time and space to feel your emotions in order to process them. Otherwise they will get stuck in the system via being pulled to forms of distraction. Only to show up in some other form later on. There’s no way around grief, but through it. For real.
Listen to consoling music.
Make a play list to feel your emotions, to take refuge in, to rest with. Some potent songs from my grief play list include: Diamonds & Demons by Nessi Gomes, Down Deeper by Woven Kin, feat. Leah Song, and the Healing Mantra by Samsara Boulevard.
Like alcohol, etc. for instance. They only numb the pain temporarily because the grief will inevitably surface again, demanding your attention. Consider going deeper to transmutate the grief once and for all.
With epsom salts, aromatherapy, and candles each evening. This will bring calm and relaxation, and soothe your soul.
Rub on some lavender essential oil.
Rub it on your temples and on the nerves behind your neck. Dab some on your wrists and on the front of your neck. Steep in the scent and power of this calm and tranquility.
Stay with your grief process.
Whatever you do, don’t throw yourself into something that is a form of escape/distraction (work/projects, etc.), as the grief will harden inside, become suppressed, and show up in another form later, which may very well be quite uncomfortable. The time is NOW. Truly honour your process as it is happening.
Get some bodywork.
See trusted practitioners in your community. If you’re not sure about who to go to, get a referral from a trusted friend or therapist. What has really worked for me is osteopathy, acupuncture, and massage. Try to go once a month if you have the means.
Sit in front of your altar and practice.
Meditate and/or pray. (Or engage some other form of practice that is deeply sacred to you.) Take refuge in a source that is greater than you. That you can put your faith and trust in. Chant a healing mantra.
Following the death of a loved one, if it resonates, you may set up an altar dedicated to them with their picture, some flowers, candle, incense, other offerings from the earth, and whatever else emanates their spirit. In many traditions the first 40 days their spirit is close by. You can communicate any last sentiments to them, thank them, and give them permission to move on. Specifically, that you (and the family) are ok and they can now go on. Often, they need to hear this as they may feel some attachment to grieving loved ones.
Here are some books and grief practitioners that supported me greatly in the first six months especially. Their podcasts and social media pages can be searched online, as well as online workshops/sessions/talks, etc.
– The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller
– An Intimate Connection with the Soul (Podcast featuring Francis Weller)
– It’s Ok Not to Be Ok: Meeting Grief & Loss In A Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Divine
– Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement
– My Bereavement Companion Counselling & Support
– Grief Temple: A Safe Space for Grief (my page)
Remember, you are so loved. Always supported by Source – whatever you call that form: Spirit, Creator, Divine Mother, Goddess, Gaia, etc. Never a moment not. Take refuge in this knowing.
Grief never really goes away, it just changes over time and becomes different. In the mean time, actively supporting yourself is so very vital in how you can hold yourself effectively during this deeply distressing time, as well as be held by others. Remember, be soft, kind, and gentle with yourself. It’s a lot. Breath by breath, moment to moment – keep it that simple.
Love and peace to your tender heart,