Helping Others When We Can Barely Help Ourselves In Our Grief
The pain of our grief is so massive, so huge and so crippling we are struggling to help ourselves in early grief, let alone be able to help anyone else or cope with the demands of looking after our family. It’s as if we’ve been put in a high speed spinner, churned about and then spat out in tatters and tears. Our heart is fractured and we are broken, no longer whole. We are reeling from the devastating impact of our loss and yet we worry about helping our family through and being there for them – our daughters, our sons, our husbands, and our kin.
As a mother I know what mothers do. We nurture, we care, we carry on and often we’re the backbone of the family. When grief assaults us our backbone crumbles into a pool of pain so deep we feel we’re drowning and yet amidst all that we feel a responsibility to help, to be there, to support our families, to support others. As much as we would want to there is absolutely no way in the midst of early grief that we can be there for them in the way that we were. Our whole world has collapsed leaving us feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Our capacity to function has been crippled. We can’t think straight, can’t sleep well, can’t barely move – we are consumed by our grief and thoughts of our loved one.
When Stuart died my world imploded and I did too. My body parts were moving, my legs seemed to be working but my mind was dense fog and I was consumed by tears and exhaustion. My family arrived for the memorial service and my daughter asked me to look after my then 18month old granddaughter for a few hours. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have any reserves within myself to give to my beautiful girl. I was cleaned out, a void, an empty shell.
I was like that for a long time but not forever. Fast forwards eighteen months and I was able to walk with a friend through the very same circumstances of losing his daughter as I had lost my son. I had something to give. In the intervening months I had done a lot to replenish my void – my heart and my soul. In many ways I was lucky! It was an excruciatingly lonely and painful time but I didn’t have the responsibility of looking after anyone else. I didn’t have to worry about the impact of my grief on my husband – there was just me.
This may not be the case for many of you. You desperately need a break but you can’t say “No”. You have young families to care for, grandchildren, and elderly parents – pressing needs which are there no matter how you feel. There is no stop button, there is no pause. You are on autopilot. You have to do what you have to do. So how do you?
Simplify everything – get groceries delivered. Buy ready-made meals a couple of times a week. If friends ask how they can help – think what would make your day to day easier, could they be a part of that in some way.
Structure some routine – when everything’s totally out of control, carving a structure or routine for ourselves can put a framework back around our lives. It can return to us a sense of control that we’ve lost in our world.
Carve out some space for you – plan a few hours to yourself, Get someone to babysit, take over your role for a little while. Take that small piece of time for you. Make you as much a priority as anyone else.
Be a friend to you – nurture yourself wherever you can. Consider supplements, rest when you can, ask for help, take time for you. Give yourself the grace to not be perfect, to stumble and fall through this difficult time.
Grieve – throughout it all your grief is still there. Let yourself feel and let your pain find its expression. Even if you have to stagger the moments when you do this, don’t hold it and fold it inside of you.
Support – when the going gets tough it’s so very hard to do it all alone. Find those who can be there for you, who will understand and let you be you. Find those who can support you in a practical as well as an emotional way.
Maureen Hunter is an inspirational writer and grief steps mentor giving comfort and hope to many. She is passionate about helping people to step through grief and build a new and different life after loss, one in which their loved one is always a part of.
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