‘The Absolute Basics of Looking After Yourself After Losing a Parent’ 101
This also applies to losing anyone you love, or indeed taking any hard-hit from life or just feeling really, really (really, really) down or depressed.
Believe me, I know what it’s like when you are at your lowest, particularly when you’ve just lost your mum or dad or someone close to you and people are telling you books you should read, foods you should be juicing, runs and yoga classes you should be doing, meditation you should be trying, and people you should be talking to….and all you are thinking is “Yeah right. I don’t give a damn about any of this right now. Just leave me alone here in bed. Please turn the light out and shut the door as you leave”.
BUT it is so so so so important when you’re feeling like this after losing someone that you do the little things to support yourself. The easy things. Because though while things are feeling really tough, eating and drinking, showering and getting some fresh air might be the last things you care about but not supporting your body is not helping you one bit, and will actually be making you feel worse. Think about when your body is sick with flu or something – it makes you feel rotten. You don’t have energy or drive to do the things you normally do. It’s a fairly simple equation: if you don’t support your body it hasn’t got much chance of supporting you, and at a time like this you really need it to.
So here, from my experience, are the absolute basics of looking after yourself when you’re feeling like this. If all you can do is check these off your list for the day then you’re doing ok. These are things that are self-explanatory and don’t need mentioning usually when you’re ok but when you’re not they can easily go out the window.
1. Eat. That’s right – eat. Don’t skip meals, even if you don’t really feel like them. I’m not
going to give you a long list of what to eat. Try and make sure as much of it is healthy stuff as you can – lots of fruit and veggies. You know what works for your body – what kind of food and how much and how often. A few years ago a friend of mine got some bad news about a family member…and basically stopped eating. She was rapt with all the weight she lost but I can promise you that the half a piece of white toast and one chocolate bar she was consuming daily (I am not kidding) did nothing at all to help her manage her emotions and everything that was happening around her.
2. Drink water. Your body needs it to run and you will feel worse without it. If you aren’t a natural water drinker turn it into a herbal tea or put some ribena in it or something. Just anything to get it into you. A friend told me the other day there is absolutely no excuse for less than 2 litres a day and I think he’s right. Just do your best with it. I’m not saying stop your coffee and tea if you like them. Just don’t try counting these as part of your water intake – that’s kinda cheating.
3. Exercise. Especially if you’re in bed or on the sofa or just generally really sedentary at the moment. I know it can be a push to get out and do anything but your body needs a bit of movement and fresh air, and exercise is well-known for fighting the lowest of the low feelings/moods. Just 15 minutes walk round the block. That’s easy to do and way better than not doing it.
5. Know your quick fix. This is about knowing what will make you feel a little bit better for when things feel really bad. Is there a song that comforts you, a tv show that distracts you, a certain friend who makes you laugh, or a meditation technique, some rescue remedy,etc that brings you up a little bit when you need it? I discovered EFT a few weeks ago and am in love with it – wish I had found it years ago. This is probably not the time to be trying to learn new techniques though so go with something that already works for you.
6. Friends/family/colleagues. Know who to call when you want a laugh. Know who to call when you need a cry. Know who to call when you just want to talk garbage for 5 minutes. Tell them what you need i.e. “please just tell me about your day” or “ can you come over and sit and watch Eastenders with me. I don’t want to talk, I just want the company”. Know not everyone can be there for you, but at the same time don’t turn your back on the people who can. Don’t unplug yourself from the world. People contact helps. A lot.
7. Cry. I mean it. I’ve heard so much rubbish over the years about “crying solves nothing” and crap like that. Crying is healing. It’s whatever is inside of you needing to be expressed. If you feel like crying and you tell yourself something like “be strong” all you do is push all those feelings back down and believe me, your body doesn’t want to hold all that in. I say this from experience. After my dad died I couldn’t cry for ages, I just felt so numb. And I am also in general not a big fan of crying in front of others. Everything was held in my body and I was in physical agony. At my worst I ended up in emergency at the hospital with abdominal pains and spasms more painful than anything I have ever experienced before or since. I could barely speak or stand from the pain and was rushed straight in ahead of about 20 people already in the waiting room….only to be told after a bunch of tests that they couldn’t find any explanation and the pain just faded within a few hours. That was really scary and a wake-up though. Sorry for this analogy but it’s like being constipated – your body doesn’t want to hold all this, you need to let it out. To keep it in is poisonous and can be dangerous.
If you can’t cry then try watching a sad movie or listening to a sad song. This isn’t about forcing yourself to cry – it’s about finding a way to let it out when you’re trying so hard to hold it in. Not long after my little trip to emergency I went to watch an Aussie movie called ‘Look Both Ways’ which had a lot of death and tragedy in it and I cried the entire way through. It really helped.
8. Watch your alcohol intake. I’m careful what I say here. After my dad died I steadily worked my way through every bottle of wine in my parents liquor cabinet, almost single-handedly. No-one tried to stopped me – which is good as they would’ve had a hell of an argument on their hands had they tried. I’m not saying don’t drink at all. I am saying just to be aware that alcohol is a very well-known depressant, and if you are drinking a lot it is going to be playing a bit of extra havoc with your emotions and moods, which you really don’t need right now.
7. Be kind to yourself. More than anything else be kind to yourself. You deserve to be looked after right now so put yourself first. It can be so difficult when you are expected to be helping others, particularly your family after a family death, but just like they tell you on the airplane – you’ve got to get your own oxygen mask on before you can help anyone else. Make sure you’re ok first. Otherwise you’re wearing yourself too thin and might not be half as helpful as you’d like to be for anyone else either.
That’s it. Those are my 7 absolute basics. When you feel a bit better there are lots of other things you can do to help yourself but just to have these bases covered when you can’t handle anything more will really help. And I am always here if you need me.