Monday, December 2, 2019

In Grief: Self-Care As A Way Of Paying Homage

[Reviewed and updated July 11, 2021]

Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.  
~ Christopher Germer

A reader writes: It's been nine months since my wife and best friend of 57 years died. I still have my bad days, but I am noticing now that the good days outnumber the bad days. I spend a lot of time on the computer going to grief sites and reading everything I can get my hands on about grief. I'm still hiding in my shell but at least I'm trying to get back to the real world. It's tough, but I will win this battle and my beloved will always be in my heart, never forgotten and never said goodbye to. I just wanted to say thank you for all your help and God bless you.

My response: How good it is to hear from you, my friend, and to learn that you are moving forward in your journey. I know that this is the most difficult work you will ever have to do, but you have come a very long way, and I want to acknowledge that and honor you for your efforts.

I have in my library a wonderful book by Christine Longaker, who became a widow at a very young age, when her husband died of leukemia at the age of 25.  Christine has since dedicated her life to researching the emotional and spiritual care of the dying, and I found her book, Facing Death and Finding Hope: A Guide To The Emotional and Spiritual Care Of The Dying, to be magnificent, insightful and wise. There is one passage in it that I found especially moving, and I'd like to share it with you here, in hopes that you will find some comfort in the words of another widower like yourself. On page 175, she writes:
While the process of mourning includes facing our dragons and moving through our pain, we must also find ways to comfort and take care of ourselves. It is not a testament to our loved one if we neglect our own well-being or become self-destructive, if we neglect other family members, or if we avoid laughter or activities that connect us to the pleasure of being alive. One useful technique is to imagine what our deceased loved one might wish for us now. 
A man in his mid-seventies spoke quite glowingly of how he made his peace with the death of his wife two years before. "At first I felt like I wanted to die, too, and I started neglecting myself, just staying at home and letting the four walls close in on me. I secretly wondered how long it would take me to become terminally ill so I could join her. Then I reflected on what had made my wife happy, and I asked myself: Is there anything I can do even now that would please her?

“I realized that my wife was most happy when I was happy. She would want me to still take care of myself, go out into the world and do things I enjoyed, or even learn new things. Now, by enjoying my life, I feel every day I am telling my wife that I love her.”
I know it's only been nine months for you, and I know that everyone's journey is unique. Nevertheless, I was struck by this man's coming to realize that by the very act of taking good care of himself and living his life to the fullest, he was paying homage to his wife and demonstrating his deep and everlasting love for her. So let it be with you as well, my friend.

Thank you for letting me hear from you again, and please know that I hold you gently in my heart.

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