I have come to realise that a lot of people underestimate the physical toll that grief takes on the body. In the early days, and to some extent even now, I found even simple tasks seem to take up vast amounts of energy. Things like putting the rubbish out felt as if I was conquering Everest and I felt like I was wading through treacle all the time. The exhaustion and lethargy that is a side effect of living with intense grief day in day out and knowing it will be forever, then affect the emotions and mental state and it is a vicious cycle.
I believe that actively trying to take some time out from grief, even if it is a just a temporary distraction, can be beneficial. It is easier said than done, as we can’t just flick a switch and turn off the memory of what has happened, but treating yourself with care is important. If you can plan things to take care of ‘you’, such as a massage, a favourite meal or a short break away from home, it may give you strength to carry on.
Most people comment on how strong I am, but the other day I was sitting with someone and I was chatting and relaxed and out of nowhere I just started crying and blurted out ‘I’m just so exhausted with it all’.
It was then that I realised that I was just physically exhausted by getting up every day and living with the loss, the grief and the knowledge of how my life has changed forever and that I will never see my beautiful son ever again. The emotions of grief were causing my muscles to contract, my stomach to churn, my breathing to become shallow. Putting on my brave face, day after day was taking it’s toll.
I had the first anniversary coming up and after that I had a holiday to look forward to, which did help me get through it. The anniversary was very challenging and I was taken back to a very dark, low point, but I knew I had my holiday to look forward to.
So a few days before the holiday I started to think about actively ‘deciding’ to just take a week off from my grief. At first this seems a bit disloyal to Toby, but I am sure he would be supportive of anything that gave his Mum her life back.
I started to work on changing my mindset, to get excited about everything to do with this holiday and I told myself I would pull out all the stops. I would pamper myself, drink champagne, spend money that I shouldn’t, eat lots of lovely food and just indulge myself.
This was my first holiday since my loss and I found that it became symbolic, as a ‘moving on’ experience. The anniversary was behind me, I had a life to live and I am 56, I don’t have years and years to recover, I need to turn a corner and see my new life ahead.
And I am glad to report that mostly it worked. I had a fantastic holiday with four old friends that I have known since school days. The weather was fantastic and we were on a Cruise ship so it was easy to indulge every whim in terms of food, drink and pampering. I didn’t have to worry about my friends talking about my loss, as people just don’t mention it and in this case that was just what I needed. One night was ‘formal night’ and I dressed in a full length posh frock, put in contact lenses and actually put on eye make up. For the first time since my loss I felt like a sexy woman again.
When I came back I changed my Facebook profile photo from one of me and Toby to one of my holiday pics. Again it felt a bit disloyal, but I needed to make positive statements about it being time to move into a new phase of my grief, one that focuses on my future.
So in summary, the anniversary followed by a holiday where I worked on actively changing my mindset into one where I am determined to move forward with my life in a positive way, is helping me put the grief somewhere where I can revisit it when I need to, but it is no longer controlling my life and my body.
I am in a choir and we are learning a new song by Billy Joel called ‘And so it goes’ – the lyric begins
In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along
You can hear the whole tune here And so it goes
So now there is a new room in my heart ‘a sanctuary safe and strong’ to heal the wounds from the loss of my son, so I can now start to build new, fulfilling, happy life.
So if you can bear the thought, think about planning to take a vacation from your grief.