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Good Mourning- Twenty Five Ways To Help Yourself Heal From Grief
1. Reach out to friends. "After my wife's death, I had to learn that when the loneliness was overwhelming, I had to act and reach out. I could not simply sit around and wait for someone to call me. I needed to initiate the encounter," recalls one widower. Reaching out to caring, supportive friends can ease greatly the load of grief as well as brighten even the darkest time. 2. Get Physical. Walk, jog, bike, swim or roller blade. Do something physical for 30 to 40 minutes at least five times a week. This will keep you in good physical shape while easing depression and anxiety. 3. Cultivate an appreciation for solitude. Find ways of being alone that bring you some satisfaction and peace of mind. Some suggestions: gardening, painting, reading, listening to music or walking through the woods. 4. Drink more water. "Adequate fluids are needed to carry away the body's toxic waste and maintain appropriate electrolyte balance," says Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Co. "Because mourners have a tendency to override their sense of thirst, they need to drink more fluids than they think they need." Water is the best fluid. Avoid beverages with caffeine, such as coffee and soda. 5. Cultivate the attitude of gratitude. No matter what has happened to you, there still are many things for which you can be thankful. Give thanks every day. Identify areas of your life that are still good and enriching such as friends, family, meaningful employment, health, warm memories, etc. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude is a way of viewing your cup as half full, rather than half empty. 6. Eat Healthy. Although it may be difficult to eat, do your best to maintain adequate nutritional balance. Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables while cutting back on high-fat foods. 7. Tap into will power. "Misfortune is great, but human beings are even greater than misfortune," wrote the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tap into your will power. Repeat these kinds of sentences to yourself: "I will get through this," "I will emerge stronger and better because of this eperience," and "I will overcome." Be encouraged by Helen Keller's observation: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of suffering." 8. Understand that bereavement is a journey. Grief is an emotional journey in which you move from one condition of life to another. This journey takes time and always involves three basic phrases: experiencing the pain of the loss, adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing; and withdrawing emotional energy and reinvesting it in another relationship. 9. Be alert to grief's danger signals. While most people grieve in healthy ways, some people become caught up in unhealthy grief. Here are some signs of that grief has become unhealthy: * Poor self-care such as excessive weight gain or loss * Withdrawal and isolation from family and friends *Unrelenting depression that does not ease up *Frequent suicidal thoughts *Alcohol and/or drug abuse If you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms, seek professional help immediately. 10. Tap into community grief resources. Even the smallest communities across the country provide various grief resources. In addition to family and friends, call on the following people to help guide you through the grieving process: hospital social workers, clergy, hospice workers, funeral directors, nurses, doctors and bereavement counselors. 11. Let your tears flow. "Plainly speaking, cry about it," advises minister and author Norman Vincent Peale. "We Anglo-Saxons are too quick to equate a display of emotion with weakness. Actually, the old phrase, 'to vent ones emotions' is a good one, for this method of relief is nature's safety valve, If you repress grief too sternly, serious emotional maladjustment may result. 12. Be patient with yourself. There is no quick fix for the wound of bereavement. Grief recovery takes much longer than most people assume. Day by day, do the small things you need to in order to cope and manage. Keep in mind this wisdom from Benjamin Franklin: "Little strokes fell great oaks." 13. Join a support group. It is very therapeutic to be with others who have had a similar experience. You will learn from them and receive inspiration from them. Beverly Raphael, an Australian psychiatrist and author of The Anatomy of Bereavement, says that support groups "have proved to be extremely valuable in the provision of counseling and practical support. . . Support groups act as a forum for sharing practical difficulties and resources. They may provide general support and friendship." 14. Listen to music. "Music can express the mystical experience better than language," writes Paul Brunton in his book, Medications For People in Crisis. "It can tell of it's mystery, joy, sadness and peace far better than words can utter. The fatigued intellect finds a tonic and the harassed emotions find comfort in music." 15. Spend time with nature. Get outside and take advantage of the natural beauty and joy in the world. Spend time appreciating wild flowers dancing on a hillside, the gentle flowing waters of a stream, the beauty of a hawk flying over a canyon, or the grace of a deer leaping through the woods. All of these can gently coax you out of a blue mood or a sad day. 16. Learn about the grief process. Bereavement releases a host of confusing and conflicting feelings. Often the journey through grief is like an emotional roller coaster. While all this is normal, many grievers are frightened by their emotions and suspect they may be "going crazy." Visit a library and take out some books on the grief process. Such books will quickly reassure most bereaved people that their response to loss is quite normal. 17. Give yourself simple pleasures. This advice is offered by authors Candy Lightner and Nancy Hathaway in their book, Giving Sorrow Words. "Grief is such a profound emotional state that it may sound ridiculous to recommend taking a bubble bath, going to a ball game or investing in a VCR so you can enjoy movies at home," they write. "Simple pleasures offer no major solution; no one claims otherwise. And yet, they do provide relief. They really can make you feel better, because they carry messages to the interior-messages that say that, even alone, you matter." 18. Learn to wait out the hard times. "The pain of grief is usually the worst right before we make progress in our grief work," writes Dr. Bill Flatt, a counselor and author of Growing Through Grief. "As the old saying goes, 'It's always darkest before the dawn.' So, if you find yourself in a particularly dark time right now, perhaps it means some real progress is right around the corner. Keep looking for that light! The future is bright in spite of the present gloom. Hang on to the truth." 19. Give yourself breaks from grief. Although bereavement can feel all consuming, make the decision to give yourself periods of relief from grief. Block off an hour or two to do something that will distract you from your grief, such as going to a movie, walking through a mall with a friend, or inviting someone to join you for lunch or dinner at a restaurant. 20. Have a telephone confidant. Invite someone you are comfortable with to be your telephone confidant. Explain you would like to be able to call them day or night, when ever the pain of grieving is intense. That way, when grief strikes at it's hardest, you can reach for the phone and share your feelings and experience the support of friends. 21. Sit tight. The temptation to make major changes following a loss is one that many grievers face. Sight tight and avoid creating additional changes unless absolutely necessary. "As a general principle, the recently bereaved should be discouraged from making major life-changing decisions, such as to sell property, change jobs or careers, or adopt children, too soon after a death. Good judgment is difficult to exercise during acute grief when there is a higher risk of maladaptive response," writes J. William Worden, Ph.D., in his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. 22. Plan for special days. Holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and other personal family events can be very difficult, especially during the first year after the loss. Give advance though as to the best ways of celebrating these days. Some of the people decide to maintain the same traditions, while others choose to make changes, Consult with key family members and together, make your decision. 23. Read how others have made the journey through grief. Information is empowering and liberating, You will be greatly inspired and informed by reading how others have overcome their own painful losses to death. Some exceptional books include Widow by Lynn Caine, O Susan! Looking Forward With Hope After the Death of a Child, by James W. Angell, and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. Ask your librarian for other suggestions. 24. Take on a new challenge. As you begin to adjust without your loved one, consider taking on a new challenge. Take up a hobby. Enroll in a sports program. Go back to college. Do something new that will expand your horizons. This will help you focus on who you are becoming rather than who you have been. 25. Help someone else. One of the most effective ways of taking the edge off grief is to reach out and help another person. Offer the gift of time and service. All kinds of civic and religious organizations need volunteers. Do this as a way of honoring your deceased loved one. It will also help you feel better about your life. Victor M. Parchin, Claremont CA, is a NFDA grief educator and minister.