The other day, I wrote about the anger I felt when my dad was dying of cancer last year, and how much it surprised me.
I'm a fixer. I like to do what I can to fix things and make them better. This was a scenario where, as much as I desperately wanted to, I couldn't fix it.
I learned a lot about myself and what was important to me during that time, and I honestly believe that as horrible as it was, it was also a time of growth for me. Forced growth, to be certain, but growth nonetheless.
I discovered many years ago that I need to feel in control of what is going on around me. I wouldn't call myself a control freak, but I do need to feel like I have some handle on my situation. This was one of those times where I just had to go along for the ride, hold on and hope I was in one piece at the end.
How can you cope, then, when you feel like things are spinning out of control? Here are some of the things that I found important when I was going through this.
Be honest with yourself and the people around you. Express your feelings with words, through drawings or writing or song. Find a name for your grief, own it and take charge. Don't let it own you. It will eat you alive if you let it.
Find a physical outlet. Dance, run, kickbox, punch a heavy bag, walk outside and breathe in the fresh air. Give your anger or sadness a physical release. When my dad was dying, I wanted nothing more than to tell my story through movement. I figured that my body could express what my words couldn't. Exercise is good for stress and helps to give your body a rush of endorphins. It can help with sleep and gives you permission to leave everything else behind for a little while.
Know that it is OK to feel angry, even if the people around you aren't. It's a natural response to loss, and you are not crazy for how you feel.
Reach out. It's OK to want to get away for a couple of hours, to be with people you care about, to laugh or forget, just for a moment. It does not make you a bad person to crave an opportunity to escape that pain and feel like yourself again. The day my dad died, one of my best friends came to be with me. We talked, we remembered, we cried and we laughed hysterically. That night, we went out for dinner and raised a (very large on her part) glass to my dad. It was what I needed, but didn't know that I did.
Remember to fuel your body and soul. There were so many days when I wouldn't eat simply because I was completely focused on my dad and what was going on. People would come by with treats and often they would be the first thing I had eaten in hours. Make sure to drink lots, too. I was immensely grateful that there was a Starbucks in the hospital. Many days were fuelled by nothing more than eggnog and chestnut praline lattes, and that was OK. Eat and drink things that make you feel good - no guilt.
Take a few minutes or a couple of hours away, spending time by yourself or with people who will nourish your spirit. As much as you may want to be there every second of the day, burning yourself out is not going to do anyone any good.
The night my dad started to leave us, two days before he died, my son Q and I had tickets to see Disney On Ice with good friends of ours. When we arrived at the hospital that afternoon and found that my dad was slipping away, I was going to cancel our plans. I wanted to be there in case he went while I was an hour away at a show. Although he was no longer talking, I asked Dad if he wanted me to stay or go to the show, and he indicated very strongly that we were to go. I knew he wouldn't want us cancelling something that he knew Q was looking forward to so much. I bawled my eyes out, but knew that I had to honour his wishes. It was a memorable night, as it allowed my son the opportunity to be a kid and get away from the sadness for while. It gave us both time to be with people who made us feel happy and loved and a bit normal, as weird as that may sound.
Try to keep your routine as normal as you can. For us, this meant that we took the time to take Q to his activities, his sports and his birthday parties. We tried to keep things going, so that it didn't feel like all life had stopped. I knew that one day, life would have to go on, and I didn't want any of us to be completely disconnected from it when that day came.
Let yourself feel. Feel happy, feel sad, feel numb, feel angry. Whatever you are feeling is OK and normal. Also remember that everyone feels things differently. Just because everyone around you seems to be feeling one way and you find yourself feeling a different way, that is OK. This was a hard one for me to remember. We all experience grief differently, and that includes what feelings show.
It can be really hard to take care of yourself when you or someone you love is sick or in crisis, when you feel like life is spinning out of control. I've been there and I'm hoping that by sharing my experience and what helped me, it might help someone else.