3 tips to help if you're struggling with grief at home (pt. 1)
I’ve been in and out of traditional office spaces for the last three years.
When my mom died I was fun-employed, then headed back into the office because I need human contact (for real). But when that environment took a turn, I ended up back at home freelancing and grieving in the privacy of our apartment.
IMHO, my situation painted a picture of how messy grief is and that it can quickly change what we need and want. Some days it feels like we need to be holed up in the bathtub, and other days we need to be grinding. It can be unpredictable and it can be quite frustrating when you know you need to be home, but don’t know what to do with yourself some days.
Whether you’re choosing to stay home because you need time to process, or because you want to be alone, or because you need to be alone, I applaud you for prioritizing your needs. Grief is a looong, complicated experience and we’re not all ready to go back to work after three days of bereavement leave.
But! That being said, if you’re home and realize that there are still some struggles that come along with that, here are a few things - from my days grieving, as well as my former life as a freelancer - that can give a little structure to and remove a little stress from staying inside all day.
One thing I’ve learned from being home is that the mornings and evenings and all of the minutes in between will still come and pass as if you were getting up to go to work or school or social events. But what can change is how you structure your day around that passing time. Even if you have nothing planned 7 days a week, consider a routine. Routines shape our attitudes, energy levels, and fill holes that our dead loved ones once filled. Alarms can be a huge part of that routine, especially when you’re wading through a grief fog, or that forgetfulness and confusion that comes with grief.
Things I like to set alarms for:
Walking - I used to set alarms just to get up and walk around the block, our apartment, or even the office now that I’m back at work. When you’re home, it can be really easy to get into a long day that passes with a simple and stationary sleep-eat-watch-sleep-eat-watch-sleep cycle.
Eating and drinking water - The basic necessities in life can take a backseat when your brain is filled with planning, memories, stress, and fog. But it’s still important to fuel your body for grief, one of the hardest things we deal with in life.
Calling people - If you know that you might end up going lots of days without interacting with humans other than the ones on a screen, consider setting alarms to call people. You can set up phone calls for a few days out so that someone else can “be your alarm” and give you a ring. Or you can put notes in your calendar with names and reminders - which I’ve found also helps me on those days when I’m feeling super alone and isolated, as it reminds me that there are good ppl out there for me to connect with.
Get dressed / don’t get dressed
I think there’s an argument for both sides of this. Some days, getting up and dressed was a routine that made me feel like I’d officially started my day - even if that day was just going to involve moving from my bed, to the shower, to the closet, to the couch, then back to bed 12 hours later. I found that getting dressed also meant different things; I wasn’t getting fancied up in my dry-clean-only shit or picking out ‘my Sunday best’, I was just taking off dirty underwear and finding clean but likely mismatched socks. The pressure isn’t to even go as far as (exhausted just thinking about it) putting on a full face of makeup or snapping cuff links through your shirt. It’s just to let your body and brain recognize that you made a HUGE effort by getting out of bed, and that can be celebrated with a (yes, inside-out but) clean! t-shirt.
On the other hand, I know that grieving can mean that you truly, literally cannot figure out how to pick out clothes. People talk about how hard it is to get dressed when you’re grieving, and there are a few reasons why: 1.) You’ve spent weeks making decisions in hospitals, about funeral planning, and saying goodbye to the last of the family that’s around - then going back to work is exhausting, cooking is exhausting, picking up the phone to cancel credit cards and closing accounts is exhausting. 2.) Your closet still has the clothes of your loved one in it, or your laundry hamper is full but also has the last of the clothes your loved one wore, which you can’t stand to wash. 3.) You question, ‘What’s the point?’ and some days really just have no good answer. And that’s okay.
You don’t have to literally be locked inside if you’re going to “stay home”. Sometimes it can be handy to identify what it is you actually need while you’re home from work or taking a break from humanity.
Are you taking that break because you need to be alone? Or just away from certain people? Are you taking that break because you need to be in your home? Or just out of other specific paces? Are you taking that break because you need to be able to cry on your couch all day? Or just feel free to act *however* you want to about your grief without people looking at you like you’re weird?
If the answer is that you just need to be away from people at work, places at work, social groups that aren’t supportive, etc. - consider spending lots of time at home, but also getting out in your neighborhood when you feel like you can muster the energy. Identify one safe place within walking distance that you can head to when you need some fresh air or sunshine. Somewhere that you won’t run into toxic people, somewhere that there’s lots of dogs around to lift your spirits, or somewhere that the sky is wide open and you can be alone with your thoughts without being alone in your house.
When taking these walks, I’d consider bringing a few things: headphones (so that people leave you the f alone); water (so that you keep yourself hydrated during the hard work that is grief); a phone (so that you can call people when you need a chat - sometimes changing our environment can make opening up about this stuff easier and more enjoyable).