Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stepping Back from Friend Grieving

I’ve written about this before, but I thought this was a good time to revisit the topic of self-care when writing about grief – or any difficult subject. And I believe the same principles apply to those working in hospice, therapists and grief counselors.

The fifth book in my series about grieving the death of a friend will be about 9/11. I always knew it would be included, but I deliberately positioned it late in the series. My blog posts about that day have been difficult to write. It’s overwhelming at times to even think about it. So I gather research, read books, and fill up a shelf in my bookcase. And I walk away. Eventually, I’ll have to take a deep breath and dive in. But it will be a slow process.

In comparison, the second book, now at the editor, is about losing friends to AIDS. I was somewhat surprised at how much anger was involved – not just from me, but from the people I interviewed and wrote about. I thought I’d put more distance between me and that subject, but I hadn’t, and neither had they. Maybe the anger fueled me, not for the first time. But this book took a relatively short amount of time to write.

I feel more detached from books three and four, and frankly, that’s a relief. So is my latest venture, writing book reviews on BroadwayWorld.com. I don’t review books that are in any way grief-related. I decide what kinds of books to review. I have control.

And maybe that’s the bottom line: control. We often feel like grief controls us, that we are being swept away. The feelings we experience are so raw, so powerful, we are helpless to fight them. And many times that’s right. We’re not in control: of our emotions, of our reactions, of what happened to us.

When our lives – whether it’s writing about grief, working with people who are dying or grieving, or grieving ourselves – overwhelm us, we have to find the strength to step back. Having someone say “you need to get past this, get over it” is not the same as hearing them say “let’s go out for lunch” or “I’ll watch the kids so you can take a nap”. And unfortunately, the former is what we hear most often.

So, if you are grieving or live/work in a situation where others are grieving, do whatever you have to do to take care of yourself. Even if it’s 15 minutes a day, do it. Turn off your phone, go for a walk, take a power nap, cry, crank up the radio: do something that takes you away from grief and gives you a tiny bit of control over your life.

Before you know it, those 15 minutes won’t feel self-indulgent: they’ll feel absolutely necessary. They may turn into 30 minutes or even an hour. You aren’t disrespecting the friend who died –or your work – if you do this. You are refueling your body and your mind for the tasks ahead.

Don’t wait for someone else to make you do it. Do it for yourself, today.


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