“This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” ~Kristen Neff
Your best friend just lost her husband and her mother within five days of one another. Her husband was terminally ill. Her mother was eighty-six. You don’t know how she is going to get through this. You know that she was assuming that after her husband died, she would console herself by spending time with her mother. But that is not how it is going to work out.
Your best friend is grieving. Doesn’t she deserve your compassion? And by the way, by best friend I mean you. You are grieving, and you need to treat yourself with compassion. How do I know? Because in November of 2014, my mother died and then five days later my husband died. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day, let alone a month, or a year, or beyond.
I quickly learned that I needed to be my own best friend, to wrap myself in self-compassion.
Understand your limitations, while gently pushing beyond them.
Being self-compassionate includes being self-aware and empathetic.
For example, during the first two months after Mom and Ed died, I would reach a certain point in my day where I was just done, mentally and physically done for the day. The problem was that, initially, this was at about 4 p.m. At 4 p.m., I felt like I could not do one more thing. I also knew that it was far too early to go to bed.
When I felt like I could not do one more thing, I would pick just one more thing to do and then, after I completed it, I allowed myself to be done for the day. Next, I would meditate. At first, I could only meditate for a few minutes, and it was a major sob fest. But that is okay, I needed those tears.
Include the people in your life who will help you regain your strength. And stay away from those who drain your energy.
Being self-compassionate includes minimizing the amount of time you spend with people who drain your energy. This is a great rule for us to follow at all times, but now it is even more important. You are running on empty both physically and emotionally, and you need take care of yourself first. Remember put your own oxygen mask on first!
Trust your intuition. A friend who I had fallen out of touch with learned that I was navigating the death of my mother and my husband. The good news for me is that she had forgotten my address. I say that because she began bombarding me with messages about how she needed to come be with me. I needed someone to come take care of me, and I could not be by myself.
In the past, I had watched her method of taking care of others, and while she meant well and had a heart of gold, she was loud, and she was overbearing. Her way to take care of someone was to take over every aspect of their life. As an introvert, all I wanted was quiet. I could not imagine having someone in the house with me, telling me what was best for me.
Tell your inner critic to be quiet.
You would think that during a time such as this, your inner critic would just be quiet. But that’s not what inner critics do, is it? Your inner critic might be telling you things like:
“You should stop crying so much.”
“Why aren’t you crying more? What’s wrong with you?”
“You should be able to concentrate on your work.”
“You should be more productive.”
“You should, you should, you should…”
There is no such thing as should, there is only what is. Pay close attention to what you are feeling.
Don’t use self-compassion as an excuse for self-destruction.
Being self-compassionate is not a free pass to being self-destructive. It does not mean that it is okay to eat a pint of ice cream every day or to drink a pint of vodka every day. Keep an eye out for self-destructive behaviors.
You still have responsibilities, and you will handle those responsibilities. This is the time to really sort through the difference between what are nice things to do and what are required things for you to do. Paying your rent or your mortgage, let’s call that required. Going to an event because someone said it would be good for you, let’s call that optional.
Being self-compassionate does not mean you never do anything difficult. The day comes when you need to go back to work, or interact with the public, or attend social functions. Be aware of your limitations.
Keep an eye on yourself.
You are going to have days where all you want to do is stay under the covers. This is normal. Allow yourself a day to mope. However, do not allow yourself to spend seven days a week under the covers.
Most days you want to get out of bed at a normal time and get dressed. Groom yourself, whether you are leaving the house or not. Eat healthy meals. Resume your exercise routine. Keep in touch with the right people, the people who do not drain your energy.
If you are having severe difficulties getting up and getting dressed and handling day-to-day living, then get help. Seek out grief support groups and counseling. Ask trusted friends for help. Nobody said you had to go through this alone.
Allow grief to be a part of your life.
I found that I was able to return to instructing and also to attending classes within a week. On my way to teaching, I would cry in the car all the way to class. When I was in front of the class, I was able to concentrate on my students and, for that short period of time, I was able to forget about my sadness.
Once I left the classroom and got back in my car, I would cry all the way home. I learned to keep a good supply of tissues and eye makeup with me at all times. And I learned not to judge myself for needing to cry.
About two months after, I was scheduled to travel to teach a corporate class across the country. I went, because I thought it might be good for me to leave the house and because I believed that I could be sad anywhere.
I was right; in some ways it was good for me, and it was true, I could be sad anywhere. Living my life was not about denying the grief, it was about supporting myself in a way that I could get back to the business of living, and, for me, the business of living included making room for grieving.
Don’t impose an end date on your grief.
Even while I was teaching others how to plan and schedule and meet deadlines, I began to realize that there is no specific timeline for grief. There is no magic date on which your sadness expires. As you move forward your days will be different. Your grief will change from a sharp stabbing pain, to a dull ache. Do not let anyone tell you when you should ‘get over it.’ Everyone’s path is different.
Please be your own best friend.
You are the one who knows yourself the best. Be kind. Do not use your own self-talk to say things that you would not say to others. Your best friend is grieving, and he or she above all others deserves your compassion.