When a family member dies, everyone in your home will experience the pain of loss. How you react will certainly affect your child, but this does not mean you need to hide your feelings. In fact, that will create a rift between you and your child at a time when you need each other the most.
The key to parenting through grief is to take care of yourself first. This will help you replenish the depleted resources you need to care for others, and allow you to serve as a healthy role model during one of life’s greatest stressors. Grief can be disorienting, but here are some helpful tips to help you find some direction in your life after loss:
1. Practice Self-Care: Treat yourself with the same loving-kindness you want to offer your child.
Attend to your body by eating a balanced diet and participating in moderate exercise. Relaxation techniques such as the Relaxation Response, mediation or yoga can help you regulate your emotions, soften tension in your body and calm your mind.
2. Expect The Unexpected: Grief brings with it a myriad of physical, emotional, psychological and behavioral reactions.
You may feel nauseous, develop headaches, sigh a lot and in some cases even take on symptoms of the deceased. Many people experience forgetfulness and are temporarily short-tempered. If you feel out of sorts, this is normal. Consult with a medical professional if you feel there is a cause for concern.
3. Your Grief Journey is Unique: How you react to the loss will depend on your life circumstances, including the nature of the relationship, the manner of death, and available social support.
There is not a “right” or “wrong” way to grieve, but as with any form of stress, there are skillful and unskillful ways to manage reactions to loss. Grief research illustrates that there are no formal “stages” of grief that apply to everyone, so don’t force yourself to feel something you don’t just because someone tells you to.
4. Share Your Feelings: Find a supportive adult that will let you be completely honest about your feelings.
Find help in your own circle of friends, family, or from a grief group through your local church or Hospice. Continue to communicate with your child as well – it is OK to let them know you feel sad, angry, longing, etc. Just be mindful of not imposing a role reversal where the child becomes the parent.
5. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene: Many people experience grief related insomnia, while others sleep all the time.
Engage in good “sleep hygiene,” which includes turning off electronics an hour before bed and avoiding caffeine after 3pm. If you are sleeping too much, reflect on your diet and try moderate exercise. Continued sleep disturbances should be discussed with a medical professional.
6. Dose Yourself With Grief: Schedule time alone to fully experience the pain of loss – also known as “dosing” yourself with grief.
Embrace the pain rather than fight against it, and give yourself permission to experience the full spectrum of emotions. Write in a journal, cry in a pillow, look at a photo album – do whatever feels right to connect you to the full experience of loss.
7. Give Yourself a Break: In addition to spending time with your grief, you will also need to take a “time out.”
Of course if you are overwhelmed with emotion during this time you do not need to suppress it; the intention is to give your body, mind and emotions some recover time. Schedule dinner with a friend, go to the gym, or take the family for a nature hike.
8. Get Outside: Try to get outside for a walk at least once a day.
Nature can be very healing when you are bereaved. If you live in the city find a park or playground. Churches and college campuses often have gardens where you can seek refuge.
How do you practice self-care when you are going through a difficult time?