A Holistic Approach to Grief
None of us thought we would need to know how to practice self-care after the loss of our adult child. But here we are.
Most of us go through life assuming things will follow the natural order; a child outlives their parent. Losing an adult child is simply not the way it is supposed to happen.
We expect that children will first grow old and then say goodbye to us when they have to live their own lives. When an adult child dies, we are left reeling and wondering how we will ever cope.
Losing a child at any age is terribly difficult for us; however, when an adult child dies, other factors compound our loss. Guilt, isolation, lost dreams, and sometimes the lack of vital support are the issues that make parental bereavement difficult. This loss can also affect a person’s relationship with other people such as a spouse, grandchildren, and other children.
With all these difficulties, how, then, can parents cope with such a massive loss? One way is making sure you take care of your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. Self-care when you lose your adult child is more important than ever.
The first few months after my son died, I had a hard time knowing what to do with my brain. That might sound odd, but for me the grieving experience meant that I couldn’t concentrate on complex ideas, but I needed the distraction of doing something that involved my mind. You may respond the same way after the loss of your adult child, but if you are like me you can try coloring.
That might sound overly simplistic, but for me I found help in coloring. Yup, crayons and coloring books. I realize now that they allowed me to keep my hands and my mind busy while not requiring me to pay attention to complex things. It keeps me busy and occupied, but not overtaxed.
For some people, it might be knitting, crocheting, painting, writing, or any number of endeavors. Focus on what makes sense for you. Have a garden? Going out and pulling some weeds is not only going to keep your mind occupied but it will use up some physical energy.
I highly recommend every parent who has lost an adult child try to find some professional help. No matter how your adult child died, it is outside anything we as a society have been taught or conditioned to handle.
My mother asked me a very good question the other day – if all you do is talk to a therapist, wouldn’t having a good friend to talk to be just as good? It is a completely different resource and here is why:
- Talking to someone who is not emotionally connected to you allows you to say things that your friends, spouse or relative may find hurtful or alarming. The therapist is your sounding board for things you don’t want to say to those that are close to you. When I started my counselling, I was able to tell my therapist that I didn’t want to be alive. She wasn’t alarmed or upset. We talked further and she quickly realized that I was not suicidal, I simply didn’t feel as though I had a reason to get up in the morning.
- The therapist can guide you through uncovering issues you may not be facing. While it may seem like they are only asking questions, those questions are key to taking you to places of honesty and healing.
- They understand grief; when I told my therapist that one of my immediate feelings when my son died was one of relief, she knew this was not unusual. She knew that parents who lose a child after years of fear and uncertainty often experience a sense of release.
- They don’t judge. Basically, you can’t tell them anything they probably haven’t already heard.
Dealing with your emotions can also be helped by finding a meaningful way of memorializing your child. For some people, it gives them purpose and something to focus their energizes upon.
Losing a child at any age can make you reassess all of your beliefs about yourself, the world around you and even the meaning of life. The loss of an adult child can shake your very foundations. I know that as a born-again Christian, my faith has never quite been the same since my son’s death.
You may find it helpful to speak with your spiritual leaders – pastors, priests, Iman etc. Many will have dealt with the topic of death and faith throughout the years.
There are ways outside of the more organized religions that you can take care of yourself spiritually. Some ideas include:
- Learn to meditate
- Take walks in nature
- Take a walk in the rain
- Go on a retreat
- Spend time in silent contemplation
Whatever your belief system, finding a way to nurture your spirit is essential to healthy healing.
Grief can produce many physical symptoms. Fatigue, memory loss, aches and pains are only a few ways it can manifest.
While it is incredibly difficult, especially during those early days and months, try to engage in some type of movement every day. Even a simple walk around the block can help.
Remember, we all find ways to cope that are healthy and unhealthy. At this point, it is important to be very aware of what you are doing and why. Focus on the healthy methods of coping that feed into one of the areas of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical. And remember, there are many activities that can help you in more than one area. Going for a hike in the forest, running through a park or doing yoga can help you physically but also spiritually. Making a memorial quilt for your child can be emotionally, mentally and spiritually therapeutic.
While there are plenty of healthy ways to cope with the loss of your adult child, there are probably even more ways of unhealthy coping. Take it from those who have gone before you, these methods won’t help you in the long term, even if they seem to in the moment.
Drinking & Drugs – in addition to the obvious caution of drinking too much, alcohol is also a depressant and can cause you to feel worse in the long run. Even cannabis has been found to hurt the process if used too much.
Keeping too Busy – I’m guilty of this one. I went back to work way too early after my son died and I paid the price of prolonging my healing process. I started up a scholarship in my son’s name and took on project after project. It helped me avoid my pain.
Overworking – closely related to keeping too busy, some people throw themselves in their work, so they don’t have to deal with their own emotions or the emotions of people around them such as a spouse.
We all learn to cope and deal with the grief of losing an adult child in different ways and part of your journey will be discovering the methods that work for you.
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