The Five Things I Have Learned Since Becoming a Widow – The Third Thing

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Be Gentle With Yourself

When my husband was sick and we were living in a hospital for 83 days, so many people offered me support through social media, text messages, and emails. Most people ended their message with the same phrase, “Make sure to take care of yourself.” For some reason, this just made me feel frustrated. How could I take care of myself when all of my energy was needed to take care of my husband and my children? Me time just didn’t really happen, and looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Still, I tried to find a moment in each day to just stand and feel the sun on my face. I tried to take a moment to go outside and smell the fresh air of the hospital parking lot, or to find a decent cup of coffee to hold and sip while I sat on my little cot in the hospital room and watched my husband battle for his life. But take care of myself? My needs were so far down on the list of things that mattered, as long as I had clean-ish clothes, had showered within the past three days, and put some microscopic bit of food in my mouth each day, I saw it as a victory!

Then, after he died, I got the same message, “Take care of yourself.” And, for me, this just made me feel irritated. Take care of myself? How? Why? The only way I could take care of myself was to have him with me. On my own, nothing mattered.

I forced muster the physical and mental strength to get out of bed and put on clothes. Going to work was torture, as we both worked at the same school so I saw my husband everywhere, his old office, the hallway, the workroom, the cafeteria. I woke up in his bed, drove in car that he had sat in as I took him to hospital after hospital, walked the hallways of work where his presence was everywhere, and then returned to our home by driving our car. I was constantly surrounded by his absense. Take care of myself? I was working hard to just breathe – quality care wasn’t even on my radar.

And then I heard the best advice. I wish that I could remember where I first heard this phrase, but once I did – it changed EVERYTHING for me!

Be Gentle With Yourself

This phrase changed me. It changed how I functioned, and it changed how I moved forward in grief. Grief never ends. While grief changes shape and changes size over time, it is carried forever and tends to pop up at unexpected times, softening at some moments and burning in others. It is always present as background noise, like the whispering of wind through the trees or blasts of lightning suddenly appearing in a dark quiet sky. No matter what, it is always there.

After hearing this phrase, it was like I had a new weapon to fight off grief. I started telling myself “Be gentle with yourself.” I would tell this to myself as I laid in bed crying. I also told this to myself when I was smiling and finding joy in life. The moment I started feeling lost, or that I wasn’t doing what needed to be done, I quickly told myself, “Be gentle with yourself.” This gave me permission to feel whatever I was feeling. That permission became the greatest gift that I could give to myself. And it was the only real way that I could “Take care” of myself.

Here are some ways that YOU can learn to be gentle with yourself. Like most things, it is a life process and we learn it in steps and phases, taking one small step forward at a time, and sometimes a few steps backwards.

5 Ways to Be Gentle With Yourself

  • Honor What Your Body is Telling You. If you need rest, lay down. If your bones hurt from resting too much, exercise. If you are hungry, eat. If you need to go to the bathroom, don’t hold it! It can be that simple!
  • Be Forgiving. There are so many people to forgive. We must forgive the one who is lost, we must forgive those around us who are trying to comfort us but may not know how, and we must forgive those who may have done their best to make the situation better but failed – family, medical staff, your loved one, and most importantly, yourself. There is a scene from the movie The Green Mile where John Coffey heals Tom Hank’s character by taking on his illness and then letting go of it. I think of this as the letting go of grief. I try to picture the grief and pain as leaving my body just as the disease left Coffey’s body. If we don’t let it out, it will choke us, as it seemed to choke Coffey.

  • Be Patient. This grief thing takes time. A lot of time. Even more time than you can imagine. There will always be pieces of grief that you carry with you, but they may not show themselves or interrupt your life as often as they initially do. If someone tells you, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now,” or asks, “When are you going to move on?” remember that everyone moves through this grief things differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You need to make sure that you are grieving in the way that is best for you in the current moment.
  • Share and talk about your loss. Whether you have a great friend, family member, or therapist, make sure that you are talking about your grief with someone. Getting your story out, and sharing your feelings is a powerful way to move forward. After becoming a widow I was first surprised by how many others who have become widowed turn to the Internet to share their grief stories. Again, just like John Coffey, it seems that we have to get these grief feelings out.
  • Accept yourself in THAT moment. I think that this is one of the harder things to do. If you are feeling sad, it’s OK to feel sad. If you are feeling angry, it is OK to feel angry. But by far the hardest feeling to accept during grief is joy. It is OK to feel that as well. By using the phrase, “Be gentle with yourself,” I’ve learned to accept how I feel at that given moment and to just allow the feeling to happen.

Our ClassCee Life provides general educational information from someone who has experienced great loss. You should not substitute information on the Our ClassCee Life website for professional advice.


If you, or someone you care about is dealing with grief, here are some tips for coping with grief from people who are dealing with it themselves!

5 Things I Learned Since Becoming A Widow Series

  • Organize, Organize, Organize
  • Positive Self Talk
  • Be Gentle With Yourself
  • Facing “The Monsters”
  • Distract Yourself

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