Your best friend is grieving. You don’t know how she is going to get through this. She has lost more than one close friend and multiple family members. If ever there was a time to extend compassion, it is now. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? When someone you love is going through loss and grief, you respond compassionately.
But how do you react when you are the one dealing with loss? Don’t you deserve compassion? I hope that your friends give you the support you need. Especially your best friend. And by best friend I mean you.
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
You are grieving and you need to treat yourself with compassion. And if you are not sure what that means, or how to begin, please consider these tips:
1. Know your limitations, while gently stretching yourself
Being self-compassionate includes being self-aware and empathetic. For example, early in my own grieving process, 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 4pm. At 4pm, 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 would allow 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 OK, I needed those tears.
2. Be mindful of the company you keep
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 to take care of yourself first.
Trust your intuition. A friend with whom I had fallen out of touch 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; how 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.
3. Silence your inner critic
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. Accept yourself and your feelings as they are.
4. Don’t use self-compassion as an excuse for bad behavior
Being self-compassionate is not a free pass to being self-destructive. It does not mean that it is OK 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. This takes us back to point No. 1: Know your limitations, while gently stretching yourself.
5. Find a way to stay engaged with day-to-day living
You are going to have days when 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 (see No. 2: Be mindful of the company you keep). 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 have to go through this alone.
6. Welcome grief into your life
Grief is now a part of your life. In the same way that you might live with allergies or migraines or other challenges, now you live with grief. Just like you have learned to work with your allergies or your migraines or your sensitive stomach, you will learn how to accommodate your grief. I found that I was able to return to teaching 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 my students, I was able to concentrate on them 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. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 she or he above all others deserves your compassion.