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The 4 Steps I Take to Continue Living While Grieving

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Just seven months ago I got a call I never expected — my father had been admitted to the emergency room, suffering from extreme pain. Less than 72 hours later, he was gone.

I barely had time to begin processing the fact that he was even in the hospital before I had to shift gears into managing the aftermath that comes with a loved one’s death.

Like anyone who’s experienced grief, I’ve had to navigate a new reality while trying to retain some sense of normalcy in my daily life. Over these long and arduous months, I have naturally become more attuned to other people’s stories of grief for insights on how to steer this course.

One story, in particular, caught my attention and inspired me to contribute to the conversation around how to continue living while grieving. In a similar situation to mine, the teller of this story had been given the commonplace advice of “give yourself grace” more times than they could count. And while grateful for these gentle reminders, this person was desperate for something more — something concrete and actionable to continue moving forward with daily life.

“Giving themselves grace” had led to getting stuck in an endless cycle of not taking care of their basic needs. Unsurprisingly, this lack of attention to basic needs had made the grief they were already feeling seem more insurmountable than before. This person was begging for the how? How do I pull myself out of this cycle and continue living while grieving?

So, while giving yourself grace is certainly important, there are ways to do that while simultaneously moving forward — even in the smallest ways. And although I’m just a regular person trying to figure this out as I go, these are the actions (the how) that have helped me put one foot in front of the other each day. I hope they can serve you too.

1. Set No. 1-3 priority tasks each day.

Finding a balance between allowing yourself time to sit with and process emotions, and moving forward with daily life can be a challenge. Most of us will engage in the extremes as we struggle to find this balance: either doing nothing at all, which can lead to the grief overwhelming us, or trying to stay overly busy to numb the feelings.

Setting No. 1-3 priority tasks each day helped me find the right balance.

A sample of my daily tasks includes things like:

  1. Workout: One of my tasks each day is my workout. No matter how low I’m feeling, I know it will be worse if I don’t move my body. However, to find balance, I always operate by the “Five Minute Rule.” I have to push play, but I give myself permission to quit after five minutes if I’m truly not feeling up to it.
  2. Close accounts: Whether it’s designating a specific number of accounts to close for the estate, or setting a timer for a designated length of time, I try to do a little work on this task each day.
  3. Correspondence: This task could include things like contacting a person or a company I need information from, mailing something, sending a fax, etc.

If I’m able to complete more than these few tasks, icing on the cake. If I can only manage my No. 1-3 tasks and I want to rest for the remainder of the day, I give myself permission to do it (remember, give yourself grace).

2. Simplify cooking.

Even as a person who loves to cook, I didn’t always feel up to it in the beginning. Luckily, we had a pretty solid and consistent Sunday cookup that we would do each week to prepare food for the upcoming weekdays. Over the years, we’ve developed some pretty elaborate, as well as some very simple, cookups to pull from.

We took our simplest cookup items and prepped those so I would have access to them during the week. They included foods like:

  • Roast Chicken
  • Chili
  • Soup

We chose these because they make numerous servings and are simple to prepare; not to mention they all have a comfort food factor to them. The oven and stove do most of the work in dishes like these, so we didn’t have to give our undivided attention to the cooking process. Most importantly, they only require a simple reheat when it’s time to eat, so I didn’t have to muster the energy to cook myself meals each day.

My husband often jumped in to get these going on Sundays, and I helped out when I felt up to it.

3. Designate a “food/sleep director.” 

In addition to choosing simplified foods to keep me nourished even when I didn’t feel up to cooking, enlisting support from someone else to keep me focused on maintaining a minimum baseline of health has been essential throughout the grief process.

My husband and I have a little tradition whenever we travel of designating “director” positions between the two of us. I am always the “culinary director” because I have a knack for finding the best places to eat in any location. He is often the “transportation director,” which puts him in charge of getting us from place to place. We utilized this tradition in the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing and designated my husband as my “food and sleep director.”

As can often happen with grief, I fluctuated between not sleeping or eating, or wanting to do both all day long. Leaving these critical things in my hands would result in too much inconsistency, and as a result, feeling worse mentally and physically than I already did. To tackle everything I needed to do, I needed to nourish my body with the basics so I could function.

When my husband wasn’t at work, he was able to directly help with making food available and providing gentle reminders for me to eat and rest. When he was away at work, he would text to check in about how well I was eating. Even at times when I didn’t feel up to a simple reheated meal, the accountability of knowing that text was coming would encourage me to make the effort.

Whether it’s a spouse, a friend, or a family member, asking someone to check in with you about your sleeping and eating habits can ensure you get the strength you need each day.

4. Take sunshine breaks.

We all know that a good walk in the sunshine and fresh air is always a great idea, but when grief gets the best of you and you find it hard to muster up the energy or desire for even a short walk, a quick sunshine break can be a great alternative.

This quick, instant mood-booster is one that I use often to reset when I’m feeling low (or even during normal times). And it may feel much more manageable than a full walk. I simply take a step outside my front or back door, then:

  1. Close my eyes.
  2. Tilt my head up to the sun.
  3. Take five long, deep breaths in and out.

That’s it. Simple and doable even on the hardest days.

When it comes to navigating grief, no two paths are ever the same. No two days along the path are ever the same. It is precisely because of this unpredictable and messy nature of grief that it’s helpful to have tangible strategies to pull from when you need help keeping your head above water. Tinkering with small actions like these can help you find your footing and continue moving forward as you learn to walk alongside your grief.

What small actions have helped you put one foot in front of the other while grieving? Tell us in the comments.


Photo credit: spukkato/Getty Images

Originally published: November 13, 2019
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