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As you may know from my most recent post, my family and I have been grieving our mother and preparing for the death of my father, who’s in palliative care [as of this writing; he has since passed away]. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to how my days are going, and figuring out which things are helping me survive this time, and I’m listing them here in the hopes that they may help other folks going through rough times.

Schedules

I’ve always hated routines and schedules, but when I’m grieving and dealing with difficult decisions, having a schedule is imperative. I try to have some meetings planned—not too many, maybe once or twice a day, on the phone or in person depending on how I’m feeling. While I have a lot of work to do independently, meeting with someone else forces some focus and brings me out of my funk. For me right now the best schedule is only moderately full and quite flexible—it’s much better than having no schedule at all. These days when I have nothing to do, I spiral into anxiety and accomplish very little.

Human Contact

Not just friends and family (see below for those). Having casual human interaction every day is important to me, and it’s relatively easy to achieve if I’m having meetings. But I have to make sure I’m only interacting with a few people each day, and that there is some down time between interactions. It’s a delicate and vital balance.

Meals

If I’m not cooking healthy meals (or having them brought to me; thank you, friends!), I find that I eat junk food, and I crave more sugar and fats than usual. I guess that’s why they’re called comfort foods. Unfortunately, none of it leaves me feeling great. If you have good cooks around you who are happy to bring you beans and brussels sprouts and chicken and delicious, nourishing food to keep you healthy and energized, accept their help.

Work

Through grief or depression or anxiety, try to find work that keeps you occupied and feeling productive without being stressful. Seek work that is familiar to you, something you’ve done in the past and done well. Try to find something that doesn’t require you to perform much—stay in the background or in support roles if you can.

It is a bit more challenging for me to find a space that enables me to hide a bit, because my work is very public; I do moderation, facilitation, training, speaking, coaching—all things that require me to be on and at full capacity (or more!). So I can only do that for very short periods of time. Tomorrow I’m going to deliver a workshop; I haven’t done that since last week. It’s a three-hour session on familiar content with a helper on site, and I cross my fingers that I’ll be able to perform and my eyes won’t start to leak if I think too hard about my parents—or my own changing role from caregiver of two, to caregiver of one, and soon to caregiver of none. Where does that leave me? What identity do I take on? Who do I get to be if I’m no longer caring for people whose health has been declining for years and whom I’ve really loved, and still love?

See how quickly these thoughts come on? My work has to be engaging enough to keep the grieving and sadness at bay, which is only sustainable for a few hours at a time right now.

Meditation

Every day. No exceptions.

Humour

My siblings and I are finding a lot of comfort in some seriously dark humour right now. Whatever we come across is fair game, including everything to do with the death industry.

Friends and Family

I’ve got to keep communication open with the people who know me best. I have no energy for superficial personal connections right now—casual friends from social media or friendly acquaintances who aren’t in my close circle, for example. Nothing against them; I just can’t pretend I’m fine outside of a professional scenario, and I don’t want to talk to everyone about my grief. So I’m sticking to my inner circle, the friends who don’t flinch when I swear or scream or sob about the same thing for the fifteenth time. I’ve held space for them in similar circumstances and now they’re doing it for me, and I couldn’t survive without them.

My siblings and I, spread across North America, have a group text and are in near constant communication. One person will find information about the best dosage of medication for Dad, the doctor among us communicates with Dad’s palliative care doctor, we all contribute our observations and reports. I’m at the facility most often, so I bring in extra care, extra people, things to help with Dad and his wife’s everyday needs. All my siblings are providing support on a rotating basis as they fly in and out of town.

This constant open, generous contact is bringing us closer than ever. In our texts and conversations, we can process our pain, fear, and anxieties, and also solve the very complicated end-of-life problems arising for our dad.

How about you?

At some point we all have to develop these coping mechanisms, so if you have any to share, please let me know in the comments. What do you do to get through grief or other turmoil? What else should I be trying?