Am I grieving in a healthy way?
You likely know that everyone experiences grieving differently. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. But are you handling it in a healthy way?
After my dad passed recently, I was in a fog and didn’t want to do anything. That seems to be the common theme I hear from others who’ve experienced grief.
One friend I talked to was in the middle of a trial when he heard the news that his mother died and had worked non-stop since then. I think that’s normal too.
Sometimes we only give ourselves moments to experience the loss. A quiet moment in the backyard watching your dog play can turn into a cathartic moment seemingly out of nowhere.
Life moves forward.
But how can we move forward personally after something heart-rending like death or medical problems cross our path? Suddenly we’re called to reevaluate our perceptions of what’s important, but we also must move forward with work and other obligations.
Grief can manifest in harmful ways if we don’t create the time to express it or decompress in healthy ways. We weren’t born with guidebooks, but I want to share some tools I’ve used to deal with my personal experiences with grief.
I’ve experienced this several times now. Each time I’ve mourned, I’ve felt differently – through a breast cancer diagnosis, severed relationships, and now death. However they have similarities in that each impacted my identity, my perception of priorities, and left a hole in a part of my life that I can’t fully explain.
After these experiences, I feel like I’ve added tools to my tool box to deal with grief better each time it crosses my path.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to stay sane and move forward in a healthy way. Take what you like and leave the rest behind. These are some mindsets, people, and places that have made grieving in the midst of my every day life easier.
1. Setting boundaries
I set boundaries as soon as I knew dad was ill. It’s something I didn’t think about when I went through chemotherapy. I was forced to set them because I was ill and didn’t have the energy to handle lots of people around me. This time, it’s been more intentional.
I stopped blogging. I let my Facebook Tea Peeps know I was incommunicado for the foreseeable future, and I alerted my supervisor at my day job that I’d likely need time off. I also cancelled a pre-paid vacation with my bestie that we’d planned for months because I knew this was family time. Because my friend is a true friend (love you, Megs!), she understood completely. The money could be figured out later.
To walk you step by step through what’s happening in your life, I’ve created a free guide that walks you through a mini-coaching session. If you need more than an article to help you or your friend, this is a good place to start. Click below to download the guide. It’s courtesy of my new website, DinaCataldo.com, so know that it won’t say Sicilian Tea Co. on the page.
2. Focussing on gratitude
This may sound played out, but seeing all the synchronicities that allowed everything — as horrible as it was — to play out as smoothly as it did with my dad, helped calm me.
My parents moved up to Sacramento from San Diego a year and a half before he passed. I remember conversations with Mom about Dad making her give away things that she never used to make their move as easy as possible. I flew down to San Diego, helped Dad load the moving truck (much easier for having taken the time to pare down their possessions), and we drove up I-5 in the scorching heat and traffic for the last time together. Their decision to purge possessions made their move into my home a lot easier, but it also made the time after Dad’s passing easier because Mom and I didn’t have to do it in the midst of grieving. So grateful for that.
I’m thankful that Dad prepared me for his death by setting up his passwords for all of his accounts years in advance and told me everything that needed to be done. Thanks, Dad.
Reminding myself that I was fortunate to spend the last year and a half with them both in my home (no matter how difficult it was for us at times) helped too. It was like the universe helped us prepare together for the inevitable.
These were just a few of the blessings that made this transition easier, and focussing on them made me feel fortunate rather than like a victim of circumstance.
3. Forcing Self-Care on Myself
A big thing I learned from my breast cancer diagnosis was that I needed to take better care of myself.
It’s taken me years to practice self-care consistently. Us Type-A workaholics are really good at compartmentalizing, pushing through, and ignoring our needs to get “the job” (whatever that might mean at the time) done. I had no clue what “self-care” was when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but I learned fast. It’s taken me years to recognize when I’m not caring for myself.
When we don’t care for ourselves, we can’t care for others. We’re also sending a subconscious message to ourselves that we don’t matter, and that’s unhealthy for a whole host of reasons ripe for another article.
When I learned Dad was ill, I knew I had to force myself to make time for myself. I was doing so much for my parents – getting a primary care physical through Medicare, setting up doctor appointments, taking him to them, trying to expedite hospice care through Medicare, caring for him through hospice with Mom, etc.
Because self-care is so important, I want to explain some of the tools I used and give shout outs to the people and places who helped me cope.
SOMATIC THERAPY – Lino Cedros at Kinections
Lino is a somatic therapist. What’s that?
Somatic therapists know how each part of our bodies work together, so they can fix you. They’re more than a chiropractor. It’s like they wave a magic wand, and you’re all better.
A few days after I learned Dad was ill, I strained my upper back. Because I knew I needed to practice self-care, I needed this pain fixed ASAP or I would be miserable. Lino pushed a couple spots in my upper and lower back, and voila, I was brand new. Not only that, but he knew from my answers to his questions that something was going on in my life that was stressful, and he listened when I talked about Dad. His ear was much appreciated.
FLOATING – Capitol Floats
I walked into Capitol Floats not sure what to expect and left that first float a believer. I hadn’t had that kind of clarity in a long time much less during the fog of grief.
I was hooked.
What’s floating, you ask?
You walk into your own room complete with a shower, towel, and other float accoutrements like ear plugs. Adjacent to the shower is a magnetically closed tank door. When you open it, you step into a foot or two of warm salt water in an extra extra large tub lit with magically glowy lights that sets a relaxing mood. There’s also a subtle soundtrack playing. You can leave the lights and music on, or you can turn one or both off for a sensory deprivation experience.
I was nervous at first. I left the lights on for a bit, then I turned them off. When I went for the total sensory deprivation, it was Ahhhh-MAZING. An hour of silence. When do we get to do that?
The water quickly adjusts to your body temperature, so sometimes you may be unable to tell where your body ends and the water begins. I let my mind wander. When you come out, you rinse off and walk into a calming creativity room filled with art supplies and tea. (You KNOW how I love tea.) I bring my journal and write. In fact, I wrote most of this article after I came out of a float.
I’ve done this a few times now, and it gets more relaxing the more I do it. Plus, when had shoulder pain for days, I came out of a float with the tension completely gone. I definitely recommend giving it a try.
MASSAGE and SALT WATER BATHHOUSE – Asha Bathhouse
I’d heard about Asha’s bathhouse for a while. It’s modeled on Roman bathhouses, so I thought I’d give it a try during my time of forced self-care.
The day I go, I’m a complete wreck. Dad just died. I was angry, frustrated, and crying, and I’d just snapped at my mom before I left the house, so felt guilty and ashamed. And to top it all off, my GPS wasn’t working, so I got lost. So I was crying, yelling at the cars around me, and had to pull over to figure my phone out.
I must’ve looked a hot mess to the casual observer. And it was a good reminder not to judge the person who seems to be an a-hole in your lane because who knows what’s going on with them. Brene Brown has it right when she says we should give people the benefit of the doubt.
When I found it, I tried to smile at everyone I saw because I didn’t want them to think I was a psychopath. When the gal at the counter casually asked how I was, I said, “I made it. I’m here. That’s good.” (I’m a horrible liar, so that’s all I could manage.)
I had a fantastic 50 minute massage from Jessica. Then I spent some time in the salt water pool. By the time I left, I felt renewed. I wasn’t the crazy woman who entered. I was me again.
YOGA – Zuda Yoga
If you’ve been with me for a while, you may know that after my bout with breast cancer at 29, I turned to yoga to become healthier physically and discovered that it made me mentally healthier as well. But I’ve had an inconsistent practice for the last couple years. I knew I needed to go all in for a long time. When Dad died, I knew it was more important than ever. After two weeks of vegging on the couch, I decided I needed to do it. December 30th was Day 1, and was going strong for 16 days when I got the stomach flu. So lame…but stuff happens.
There are a lot of teachers I love at the studio, but Anne Marie Kramer’s energy propels Zuda. She embraces everyone who walks in and sees them. It’s a gift, and she shares it. She helps me see possibilities, and it keeps me coming back.
Another reason I love Zuda is that by the end of the practice I feel raw and open, which helps me realize emotions I’ve pent up. This means I may tear up and have the sniffles. At other places, I might feel awkward. But not at Zuda. Everyone’s got their own stuff going on and are sweating it out, so I don’t feel out of place. I do some of my best inner work at Zuda, so I’ve got back on the horse as of this writing.
4. Allowing myself to numb out
Usually numbing out is not the best thing to do. It means we’re avoiding our feelings. But sometimes, that’s okay.
Let me explain.
While Dad was dying, and for the last few weeks after his death, Mom and I binge-watched “CSI: Las Vegas.”
That’s right. While going through this traumatic experience, we chose to watch a show all about death and horrendous ways you can die. It seems there’s an extreme number of serial killers in Las Vegas, which is disturbing. (That’s a joke. I know it’s not real…mostly.) Also, being a lawyer, I was constantly yelling at the TV: “CSIs don’t belong there!” “Why are they clearing the house?” “Where are the police?” “They can’t talk to suspects!” Suffice it to say, it’s not realistic.
Anyway, do what you have to do when you’re grieving. Sometimes vegging out feels good. no judgment here. Just recognize when it’s getting in the way of you taking care of yourself and your obligations.
5. Focussing on Relationships
I’m making an effort to connect with people more. I want to talk to them and get to know them. I’m thankful to everyone who’s listened to me and shown a sincere interest in my experience. People are capable of so much empathy.
Connecting has felt really good. I feel like talking and being honest about what I’m going through, which may be a bit much for some people. But having this vulnerability also helps me click with people.
I’ve had people ask me how I’m doing like they usually do, and I’ll tell them that Dad passed recently, and they’ll respond with empathy and maybe opened up about their own loved one’s death that just happened. It’s opened doors to connection that I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t willing to share my own experiences.
Is this cringe-worthy?
I’m thankful that I have these tools to process grief this time around. Dad would totally cringe at the idea of me talking this frankly about my feelings and his death. He was intensely private about his affairs with everyone except me and Mom. I understand that because we’ve each had different experiences with sharing our feelings.
One of the reasons I share my feelings is because I know I’m not the only person going through something. And not all of us have the tools to help us through.
A few more tools…
Faith that all is as it should be and that people mean well even when they aren’t as compassionate as you’d hope. I try to understand that they don’t know what to say. I’ve been in their shoes, so I understand that they mean well.
COMPASSION TOWARDS MYSELF AND OTHERS
Being compassionate towards myself helps me be more compassionate to others. The next time I see a “crazy” drive, I can remember that time I was a “crazy’ driver trying to get a massage after my dad died.
When I take the time to care for myself daily, I can be present for — and kinder to — those around me.
I’m not perfect. I’m a work in progress. I’ve shown anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, absent-mindedness, joy, depression, you name it, in these past weeks. Maybe you didn’t see me in full yogi mode and instead you got pissed off Dina. Sorry.
If you know anyone who could use this, please share this article.
Lots of love,
If you want to delve into your own feelings surrounding grief, I’ve created a free Pinpoint Self-Coaching Guide to walk you through questions you may not have asked yourself — and that you may have avoided asking yourself.