Processing grief: an excellent time for self-care

Something I’ve heard a lot since Bruce died (five months ago yesterday, not that I’m counting) is “Now is the time for lots of self-care.” It’s taken me a while to register this advice, and more time still to act on it. The concept of self-care is not simple for me.


Why? Because I am, in essence, a workhorse. All my life I’ve been more interested in what needs to happen to move forward on a goal or project than I am in metaphorically stopping to smell the roses. Unless smelling the roses is a goal. Hmmm, maybe I manage self-care after all.


One moment, while I remove my tongue from my cheek. Little by little, self-care has trickled into my new life. I started by resuming my own good habits that had been sidelined while caring for Bruce in his final weeks. First step: I picked up my regular 6-days-a-week exercise routine on December 27.


I restarted my weekly blog that day, too, after a two week lapse. Writing about Bruce helped me share the burden of knowing his final days. On January 14 I resumed my regular writing projects. Workhorse meets self-care, as writing feeds my sense of being whole. I made outings to movies and lunch with friends, and attended meetings for Fort Walla Walla Museum volunteers. On January 19 I marched in the Women’s March. On the 28th I had my hair cut for the first time since October.


That was a start but a persistent siege of tense muscles in my left shoulder and sometimes all the way down my left side informed me there was more to do. I fell back on an old standby, what Bruce called the “worry tape” though he’d transferred it to a CD years ago. It’s a relaxation recording. The narrator talks through a full body relaxation, interlaced with positive imagery for dealing with worry, in twenty minutes. Easy to do and it doesn’t hurt a thing if one or more of the cats sits on me while I do it.


Still, it wasn’t enough. The muscles continued to do what they do, some sort of guarding, I suppose. It reminds me of the time following the excision surgeries I had fifteen years ago to treat an incident of breast cancer. If I can just keep it tight enough I won’t hurt anymore, right? With a tremendous dose of good luck I found an excellent massage therapist on the first try. At our inaugural session, April 24, we discussed the recent events in my life and my body’s response. After hearing my story the LMT said, “The body processes what the mind can’t absorb.”


She’s right. While I know Bruce died five months ago, I can’t yet absorb what that means. Maybe I never will. But massage is a good way to protect my body from harming itself in an effort to pinch-hit for my mind. Since that first session, “self-care” is a concept I consciously embrace. I’ve acknowledged that there are real consequences for holding emotional hurt in my body, which allows me to set a goal. The workhorse likes that.


The “worry tape” that I listen to more often now recommends taking three deep, slow breaths and saying “relax” on the exhale to restore a sense of calm. I’ve found that pausing and saying “self-care” is equally effective and also coaxes a smile. Well done, old horse.

With “old horse” (actually a Welsh pony), Wee Chocolate, 1968.

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