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How to deal with grief: a survival guide

In The Grief Handbook: A guide through the worst days of your life, local author Bridget McNulty offers personal reflections on grief and expert advice on coping.

Losing someone you love, whether sudden or due to illness, is by far the worst thing that can happen, the news often shock-inducing. Author Bridget McNulty says one of the toughest challenges in the weeks and months following her mom’s passing was accepting she was gone. “It seemed impossible for the world to continue as if nothing had happened when I no longer had a mom,” she says.

“The sudden reality when someone who was alive stops breathing forever is too harsh a disjunction not to be accompanied by shock.” That’s why Bridget recommends giving yourself time to recover from the shock before you start processing all the truths about your life right now and forever after. “I’d go so far as to suggest you think of rules of survival,” she adds Below, Bridget shares the rules that helped her cope with her mom’s passing.

Be gentle with yourself

Really gentle. Treat yourself how you would a newborn baby or an injured bird by cutting yourself some slack. That means looking after your body just as much as it does your emotional self. I found it comforting to wear soft clothing and cosy slippers. I lay down and read a lot. I drank a lot of tea. Comfort might look and feel different for you, but I wholeheartedly encourage you to do whatever you can to make yourself feel nurtured and loved.

No late nights

When grief knocks, routine goes out the window. It suddenly seems okay to stay up until all hours and sleep in, to shuffle around in pyjamas and eat junk food. The trouble with those behaviours is that they won’t necessarily make you feel better, and some – like late nights – can make you feel much worse. There’s something about the quiet and still of nighttime that brings all the hardest, worst feelings to the fore. This is not the time for emotional conversations or quiet introspection. Rather, go to bed at a sensible hour and treat your body the way you know it likes to be treated.

Move your body

That brings me to the next point: move your body. Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing – it was for me. But on days that I could drag myself out for a walk around the block, I felt so much better. That was (literally) all I could muster – a slow walk – but the combination of movement and fresh air did wonders for my psyche.

Don’t question your feelings

Whatever you’re feeling is fine. You might be feeling okay or desperate or depressed or angry, or any number of other emotions. It’s all OK. There’s no normal; it’s all hard.

One day at a time

What’s helpful to remember is that you don’t have to do it all at once. Try to adjust your expectations to one day at a time – or half a day at a time, or even one hour at a time, whatever gets you through the next little bit.

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