Get Well

How I Learned to Make Friends With My Grief

by Laura Erhart

At 5 AM, as my husband and I boarded our connecting flight from L.A. to Minneapolis, we received a message from our friend letting us know that we lost our good friend S* in a car accident Friday night. She later died at the hospital from her injuries.

I don’t know if it was the comedown from the honeymoon high we’d just returned from; my in-flight movie choice of Coco; or sheer delusion from lack of sleep complements of the crying infants on our overnight flight from Maui to L.A., but I couldn’t help but think about the word “legacy.” Life is short. The time we each spend on this earth is a hell of a lot shorter than any of us really think. According to a statistic from Statista, the average lifespan of a male who is born in 2017 is 79, while females tend to live a little longer with an average lifespan of 81 years young.

S was only 29, though. She had been married less than six months, was only at the beginning of a brilliant career as a nurse, bought a house… you can fill in the rest. Life was great for her — even if it wasn’t always perfect, it was still pretty damn good. As soon as the plane landed, we hit the ground running. My husband took off for Iowa immediately to be with the husband of our friend who had passed, while I headed to my parents to pick up our dog and drove back home. 

When I entered our house, I did everything I could do to not have to sit down and be alone with my own thoughts. I vacuumed the whole house, unpacked my things from the trip, and even caught up on work that I had missed while we were gone. However, I finally ran out of things to do, so the wave of emotions came over me and I couldn’t stop. Body-wrenching sobs in the midst of thinking about the loss of a good friend, the loss of a brilliant and beautiful woman so close to my age gave me permission to question my own mortality. I experienced guilt, anger, and confusion before finally settling into shock. I just had the most incredible nine days of my life on my honeymoon, no less, and now to feel such tremendous grief? It didn’t make sense. Life didn’t make sense. 

To be honest, my instinct was to turn to booze, which for the record, I have done before, but this time, I turned to a few of my favorite self-care rituals to fight this past behavior:

Feel All the Feelings – Whatever you’re feeling, go with it. If you need to cry, go ahead and cry. Are you angry? That’s ok, too. Everyone has a different reaction to death and other traumatic events and what you’re feeling is raw and powerful, so be kind to yourself.

Make Something – Anything really, but go and create something. Draw a picture, write down your thoughts in a journal, bake a cake, get your sweat on. Actively creating something reminds us that life does go on. Indeed, making/doing something can help you focus and activate the creative side of your brain which can increase resilience and contribute to a better sense of well-being.

Take Five – After your initial reaction, take five minutes and light a candle, burn some incense or get your palo santo on. Watch the flame or smoke and inhale the comforting scent. Take these moments to center yourself and slow down the emotional roller-coaster you’re on. Our five senses are incredibly powerful and when grief or any other kind of emotional upheaval occurs, these senses can be heightened or dampened completely. The simple act of taking time to inhale a familiar scent can begin to ground you and bring about a sense of peace and relaxation, so you can begin to sort through all the thoughts racing through your mind.

A Little Bit of Comfort Food – Food that’s good for your soul! I personally recommend a soothing bowl of ginger and turmeric carrot soup, but if lasagna, tacos or Chinese food are your go-to’s then allow yourself to indulge and enjoy the food you know you love. Why comfort food? Because you know the flavors, the smells and the tastes are going to transport you to a time when you felt most secure. Having a meal that you know you’re going to enjoy is just another way for you to feel stable in a time of emotional and mental chaos.

Stay Close to Loved Ones – This is also a good time to reach out to your bestie, mom, sibling or another loved one in your life for a little check-in time. It’s comforting to be around those we love most. Sometimes when we’re grieving, we feel like our existing support system has fallen apart, so make a call, go for a walk or get a cup of coffee, but make sure you connect with someone in your tribe so you can feel more grounded and confident in your mental well-being.

Catch Some ZZZ’s – If you’re experiencing grief-related insomnia, follow these guidelines: listen to your body. Experiencing grief can not only alter your mental state, but your physical state as well. If you’re sleeping more than you did before your loss, know that this, too, is normal, and may be exactly what you need. But if too much sleep is negatively impacting you, get some sunlight in your life, especially in the early morning, to help assist you to recalibrate your system and get it back to a regular sleep schedule.

Meditate – I have to be completely honest here, I don’t think I’ve ever successfully meditated. Something about my brain always goes 100 miles per hour, but I know that this technique does work for others and it’s something I aspire to still do. You can try visualization, incorporating affirmations or even breathing exercises. Meditation helps you take control of your mind and stay in the present, which contributes to your mental well-being. Start with 2-5 minutes and build from there. Just like exercise, this is something you won’t regret doing.

Sometimes life throws us a curveball that might turn the world upside down, but by practicing self-care paired with time and patience for ourselves, we can begin to heal again. It’s been almost three months since S* left us too early. I still have moments where I wish the time would rewind and S could be back with us.

Losing a friend at this age has oddly enough been the push I needed to start accomplishing goals I had set for myself for quite some time. Every day, I’ve been writing and finally gotten around to making some of the recipes and DIY projects I’ve had on my Pinterest boards for like forever. I’m also attempting a five-minute meditation session each morning; using this time to think about my friend and how her incredible attitude and love for life is what fueled her to always get to where she wanted to go. With these self-care tips in my back pocket, I know I will be able to keep moving forward with passion and courage — honoring the life of a friend lost too soon.

Name has been removed for personal and protective reasons.

Have you ever experienced a loss of a friend? DM us @thechilltimes to let us know what you did to help grieve through the process. 

Feature image via JimJam 

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