By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN
Have you ever had the experience of being completely and utterly emotionally depleted? It would be pretty amazing and unusual if this weren’t true for you as it is true for almost all people.
Three years following my father’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer he died. His passing was not a surprise nor a shock and still it was devastating for his immediate family including me. I was privileged in that I was able to spend two of the last three weeks of his life with him and my mother.
My mother and father had celebrated more than 50 years of marriage only weeks before my father’s death. My mother was devastated following Dad’s passing. As she predicted, Mom lived another ten years after my father died. However, she was never the same, never really happy again.
Once Dad died the family all assembled in North Carolina for the memorial service with the fellowship to begin our mourning and healing. Then it was decided that Mom would visit each daughter’s home for awhile before she would return to her own home to begin her life without Dad.
Six weeks after Dad died my mother had a heart attack. I had just returned home after accompanying her back to her home to help her begin this post-Dad part of her life.
My sisters and I needed to decide what we were going to do. At this point I couldn’t even get off of the couch. How could I possibly get on a plane and return to my mother’s side?
This was my first experience of being emotionally bankrupt. Sadly, it has not been my last.
There was a “letter” circulating on Facebook recently where an old man explained grief, mourning and loss to a younger person. He described these kinds of life moments as being ship wrecked. Being overwhelmed by all of the sadness, devastation, grief and varying aspects of loss comes upon us as waves. And when the ship is first wrecked all we can do is hang on and stay afloat. Sometimes we hang onto another person, or a thought, a prayer, our faith or a possession.
Eventually these overwhelming feelings are not present 100% of the time. Eventually we have some moments of relief. How soon? There is no way of predicting. And for each person with each loss and each wrecked ship the timing and waves vary.
Eventually the waves become less and less frequent. Eventually we are not devastated by the wave. Eventually our memories become sweet and a source of comfort.
While we are waiting for the waves to lesson, and calm without taking us under, we must be kind, gentle, loving and supportive of ourselves. We must care for ourselves in ways that might normally feel like indulgences:
Take an afternoon sitting on a park bench, under a tree, or on the beach, and do nothing.
Take a hot bath daily, as a ritual.
Be quiet, still, and if needed alone. Let nature be your companion as nature is one of the strongest healers available to us all.
Stop working, at least for an afternoon or morning.
Stop doing for, caring and helping others, at least for an afternoon or morning.
If you have a pet, hug, love and pet him/her. Let your pet soothe and comfort you as you pet and love him/her. If you don’t have a pet, ask to borrow one.
Ask a friend to help you focus on fun, funny and wonderful memories.
Ask a friend to distract you and tell you stories that are completely unrelated to your present experience.
Spend time holding, hugging, playing and cuddling a baby.
A word of caution about any and all of the above ideas. If you discover that this emotional soothing and regenerating is not working, is in fact contributing to you feeling worse STOP. You can return and try out any or all of these ideas in the future. For now, be gentle, quite and still with yourself. Concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out with no other expectation or goal.
Honoring your need for rejuvenation during the emotionally bankrupt and tsunami times of our lives is important and essential for our Mental Health & Happiness.