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Daily requirements to cope with the death of a loved one

“Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation”

Lao Tse

Whenever I speak publicly about grievances, I often start with an old Chinese proverb, one of my favorites: “You can’t stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building nests in your hair.” There is much wisdom in these words. Grief engulfs us all, and yet we can learn to adapt to the massive changes it brings.

Adjusting to the physical absence of our loved one depends primarily on what we choose to tell ourselves and ultimately what we constantly do. There are numerous answers that have proven helpful in adjusting to a large loss depending on many individual factors. Here are five that have proven themselves in many ways over the years.

1. Self-expression. Regardless of what some well meaning people have written, letting out what’s inside on a regular basis is healthy, both physically and emotionally. This means finding those you trust and sharing what’s going on inside on any given day. Refuse to be a prisoner of your thoughts and the anguish that often accompanies them. Self-expression also includes talking to your Higher Power as so many do or even to your spirit loved one. Bottom line: release the normal buildup of emotions that affect every cell in your body. Write, draw or paint to allow more of what’s inside to be released.

2. Balance sadness with downtime. Possibly the most common misconception about the grievance process is that one must continually focus on their sadness. Since your body listens intently to every thought you generate, the constant focus on the stress of sadness with no downtime guarantees eventual immune system deficiency. Consequently, the result will be the deterioration of health. Colds, flu, headaches, stomach problems, etc. are common during mourning. There is nothing wrong with taking a break and finding a way to relax. Do whatever gives you a temporary release from sadness so that your body can recharge. For at least 20 minutes a day, vow to find a peaceful and reflective state of mind.

3. Love. Without giving and receiving love every day, you are increasing unnecessary suffering and missing out on the most powerful coping response to adjust to loss. Loving even while you are grieving will forever strengthen your inner life. It all starts with loving yourself. You are a unique person made in the image of God. Respecting yourself and everything you come in contact with is essential to loving well. We all need to be loved, both the bereaved and the caregiver. Become aware of how you can develop new ways of showing acceptance and appreciation to others.

Also, focus on how you could express love to the person who is no longer physically present with you. American playwright Thornton Wilder wrote: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love… the only survival, the only meaning.” Learn all you can about how to love in separation while building a new relationship with your deceased loved one. Also, be sure to show love to those who are helping you on your difficult journey. Ask yourself, “What do they need?”

4. Self-respect. You are the most important resource you have in reaching your goal of adjusting to your great loss. Take care of your physical needs as well as your emotional ones. Too often, mourners tend to increase their intake of caffeine, alcohol and junk food which have a direct effect on brain function. The need to protect your physical self, especially the maintenance of the brain, will reduce physical pain and provide energy to adapt to all the new circumstances that will be faced. Be sure to drink enough spring water every day to prevent unrecognized chronic dehydration. Start the day by drinking 8 oz. A small amount of protein in all three meals will slowly increase blood sugar levels and energy. An omega-3 supplement will help how you feel physically. Do your best to refrain from sugar and high fructose corn syrup which negatively affect the brain.

5. Participation. Daily interaction with other trusted people will generate much-needed hope for the future. Mourners often isolate themselves and, in doing so, prolong intense suffering. The feeling of connection is a powerful coping force. Loving in separation, praying, and being with caring people ensures connection and movement toward inner peace. Decide what organizations or groups you can join, as well as what new interests you can generate to broaden your spectrum of connections. So here’s the key: Schedule connections every day while you learn to adjust to your loved one’s physical absence.

Grievance is seductive and can cause us to stray from a path of coping with change. Never forget, start each day with the determination that you will survive the next 24 hours. Create an affirmation to use to quietly strengthen your inner life. Then live the day as your loved one would encourage you to.

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