It sounds obvious, but sleep is tremendously important. This is much easier said than done. You are feeling a million different emotions, trying to get everything done, and your mind is still reeling and trying to understand. Calming your mind becomes a challenge. Try a sleep-inducing tea (Nighty Night by Traditional Medicinal, Lights Out by The Tea Spot, Sleep & Relax by Gaia Herbs, Bedtime by Yogi, Dream by Tazo, Tulsi Sleep by Organic India), a meditation app (Calm, Breathe2Relax, Insight Timer), and getting rest whenever you can throughout the day. Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to reset.
A decreased appetite is common, especially the first few days/week. Food is one of the ways your friends and neighbors may want to help, so definitely let them. Eating several small meals or snacks during the day if you are struggling to eat regular meals will help to nourish your body. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water, too.
Talk about your child. Their life and their story matters. If you feel others do not understand or you do not feel comfortable talking with friends or family, seek a grief counselor or support group. The Resources tab lists many different websites and online support groups.
Take a Walk Outside
The simple act of changing your environment, breathing fresh air, and feeling the sunlight on your face is an excellent way to clear your head and relax. Try Walking Meditation: Take a few deep, slow, and long breaths. Focus on the moment and take your time. Start by acknowledging 5 things you see around you, then 4 things you can hear, then 3 things you can touch, then 2 things you can smell, and finally, 1 thing you can taste. Take a few deep, slow, and long breaths. On your next walk, try to find different things to acknowledge.
Create a Sacred Space
Whether it is indoors or outside, find a quiet place you can release energy, ground yourself, and connect to your loved ones in spirit. Think of your space as a place dedicated to the needs of the soul. You can retreat to this space any time you need to. When I go to my sacred space, I start by taking three slow, deep breaths. I then close my eyes and visualize roots growing from the bottom of my feet into the ground. While my eyes are still closed, I then visualize a white light that starts at the top of my head and slowly goes all the way down to my feet and out through the roots to wash away any energy that is not serving my highest and greatest good. If you are experiencing a wave of grief or feel surrounded by heavy energy, you may have to keep visualizing the white light until you can feel it like a waterfall washing everything away from you. Once I am grounded and my energy is lifted, I connect to my son.
Take a Hot Bath
Light some aromatherapy candles, put on your favorite music, and soak up some quality relaxation.
Music can soothe the spirit and nurture the heart. Create a playlist and pick songs that remind you of your child. You may want to include their favorite song(s) or song(s) by their favorite band. Or, pick songs that are meaningful for you or bring you comfort. Your playlist may serve you for a short time or many years to come. The playlist I created for my son still has the same 12 songs I started with, but I’ve added many along the way when I find lyrics that resonate with me or the journey I am on.
Plant a Tree
Trees represent the continuity of life. A planted tree can honor your child and serve as a perennial memorial. The tree is both symbolic and a physical representation of the shared history and life. As the roots take hold in the ground, the tree facilitates in establishing and continuing a long-lasting legacy.
Putting feelings into words can help to process them better. This exercise does not require that you put an explanation behind your words or try to justify them. The simple act of putting a pen to a piece of paper and writing down everything and anything that comes to mind will help release heavy emotions you are holding inside. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or complete sentences. The idea is to just write without judgment and to be completely raw and honest. Keep your hand moving and don’t pause to reread the lines you have just written. If something comes up that you are hesitant to express, keep writing as those words probably have a lot of energy and need to be moved through you and out of you. You should feel a little lighter and have a sense of peace when you are done.
Write a Letter
Writing a letter to your child can be quite cathartic. Its benefits can sometimes be enhanced by reading it out loud to an empty chair or mirror. Start the letter by telling your child everything you wanted to say or all the things you want to tell them now. Before ending your letter be sure to include all the various things you admire, appreciate, and love about them.
Read a Book
According to research, reading fiction can reduce stress levels up to 68%. When your brain is engaged in the story, your heart rate slows, and your muscles relax. Spending just 6 minutes a day has been shown to decrease stress.
Our limbic system (emotional center) has olfactory receptors that directly affect the brain as you smell. Essential oils can help ease depression, grief, and anxiety. There are many different methods for using essential oils: light a candle that is infused with essential oils, use a diffuser, add essential oils to your bath or shower, or use them topically. The top 10 essential oils for helping with grief: lavender, rose, chamomile, sandalwood, bergamot, ylang-ylang, rosemary, jasmine frankincense, and neroli.
Whenever you have remembrances, dreams, signs from your child, or emotions related to grief, record your thoughts and feelings in your journal. Whether you plan to share your journal or keep it to yourself, writing it all down can help you cope with grief and process life after loss.
One Minute Meditation
Set aside 60 seconds to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Taking 60 seconds can help you calm your mind and clear your head. You can find several 60 second meditations online or even set the timer on your phone.
There are thousands of studies that have shown meditation can positively impact mental and physical health. Whether it is by improving sleep, reducing stress, or increasing focus, research shows meditation works. There are numerous meditation apps you can download on your phone. A widely used free one is Insight Timer.
Draw a “Grief Map”
Make a large circle at the center of your map and label it GRIEF. This circle represents your thoughts and feelings. Now draw lines radiating out of this circle and label each line with a thought or feeling that has contributed to your grief. For example, you might write ANGER in a bubble at the end of one line. Next to the word anger, jot down notes about why you feel angry. This exercise will allow you to release feelings and emotions stuck inside.
Yoga can be ideal for reducing stress and anxiety. It has also been shown to reduce depression, improve sleep, decrease joint pains, and aid in digestion. If you are new to yoga, do not let it intimidate you. The Sun Salutation is a simple yet powerful sequence that you can do in a short amount of time. Anyone can do yoga and it can be done anywhere or at any time. There are many free yoga videos and classes online. I really like Yoga with Adriene (https://yogawithadriene.com/). Adriene hosts a YouTube channel and has a library of over 500 free videos.
Studies have shown that expressing your creativity can promote healing by increasing positive emotions. Coloring your way to a calmer mind can invoke a meditation state because you easily become absorbed with the process. There are several websites that provide free coloring pages. Google: Art Meditation, Free Coloring Pages for Adults
Join a Grief Support Group
There are many potential benefits to being a part of a grief support group but find one that aligns with your views and resonates with you. Although no two people experience grief in the exact same way, by joining a grief support group you may find that other people have experiences, feelings, and struggles that are similar to your own.
Download an App
It is important to have tools that can be helpful to you wherever you may be. Some of my favorite apps: Calm, Happify, Headspace, Insight Timer, Podcasts, Hemi-Sync, Healthy Minds Program, and Plum Village.
Having gratitude can be a challenge when you have experienced the loss of a child. This new “normal” is a heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions. We can be grateful, and we can be grieving. The former will not cure the latter and the latter does not negate the former. We can be thankful for every single blessing in our lives, but that does not lessen the depth of sorrow in our hearts. It is almost counter-intuitive to even think of thankfulness, but each day try to find one thing to be thankful for. I started my gratitude journal by being thankful for my son’s friends who loved him dearly. Thankful for my dog who would lay by my side and try to lick away my tears. Thankful for the love and support of friends, family, and neighbors. Being thankful for these things did not change the pain of the loss, but they did help me see the blessings in my life.
Make a Tribute Book
Many families assemble memory boards for funerals that are full of pictures from throughout the life of their child. This is an emotional and challenging task, especially those first few days when you may still be in shock and raw grief. Later, when there is no time pressure, you could take the pictures from the memory boards and create a tribute book to honor your child. A long-term preservation of memories. To create this lasting treasure, you can either make by hand (scrapbooking) or use an online program. Many home printers/copiers have the ability to scan photos to create a digital copy. Most drugstores have photo kiosks as well. You can even use your smartphone’s camera. “One picture is worth a thousand words” ~ using both the photograph as well as words to express the story and memory of each picture is an extraordinary way to create your child’s tribute book. You could also include their birth certificate, menus from their favorite restaurants, personal passages from literature, stories or quotes, newspaper announcements or articles, letters, cards or notes.
Get a Massage
Massage is known to aid healing with touch. It is a powerful healing therapy that removes stress and creates harmony between our body, mind, and soul. Massage allows you to mentally “switch off” giving you time to rebalance.
Digging in the dirt really does lift your spirits. The digging stirs up microbes in the soil and inhaling these microbes can stimulate serotonin production, which can make you feel happier and more relaxed.
Make a Memory Quilt
Memory quilts are made with personal items such as t-shirts, pillowcases, old blankets, jeans, jerseys, etc. Take all those sweet memories and make them into a meaningful memory quilt that celebrates your child’s life. If you do not sew, there are several reputable organizations and companies that can make the quilt for you using your child’s personal items.
The Monthly Checkup
On the first day of each month following the transition of your child, write down your reflections on the following:
In what ways are you feeling better in the grieving process, better than you felt a month ago?
In what ways might you be feeling worse, worse than you felt a month ago?
In the upcoming month, how might you be able to increase the better feelings and decrease the worse feelings?
"I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgence.
Caring for myself is an act of survival."