Living Well, Dying Well

A few people have told me they do not see me around much and wonder where I have been. Of course they are right. I have not been very visible lately. Not that I am an “out there” person, by any means.

After years of caregiving and a long stretch where grief following my husband, Bill’s, death was all I knew, where motivation was all but non-existent and energy totally absent, I finally reached a point late last year where I was ready to take on the task of building a life. Grief will always be mine and I needed to get my health back.

Last February I retired my clinical license and began a self-care program under the guidance of a Functional Medicine physician who warned me that what I was undertaking was a lot of work, time consuming, and demanded focus and awareness. I chose to do it and now, eight months later, I have regained some of my energy, seen my chronic muscle and joint pain diminish considerably, and my motivation to create a life increase.

I chose to retreat for a while in order to make all this happen. I am stepping back and focusing on me. I have the luxury of my cocoon. What I have chosen would be quite difficult for many.  Most could take a week or a day each week but I have been able to dedicate all the time I need to regain my health and go forward. In that sense I am gifted.

I share this because I believe when we have had a windfall of tough times it is essential that we counter balance those rough chapters with a lot of self-care and solitude, i.e., retreat in whatever way we can or choose to.

Consider the times in your life when you knew that if only you could, you would run away for a while, disappear, stop. We all need to retreat from time to time or at least on a regular basis.

My well was dry. No matter how hard I tried to get anything out of it … there was nothing to get. I was empty. Caregiving and grief had drained me and I was getting pneumonia annually or more. Living well involves self-compassion, self-care, honoring our needs, putting ourselves first — at least sometimes. We can only love others the way we love ourselves.

Initially I felt selfish focusing on myself; guilty that I was not helping others … fearful of being forgotten … but when the well is dry what good are we to anybody? I have been sitting face to face with hundreds and hundreds of people for 45 years and teaching kids for 15 years before that. In our work-oriented culture, we frequently forget to take care of ourselves. This is especially true for women. We push way too hard and need to crash occasionally.

I highly recommend crashing, i.e., retreating, taking solitude, time, self-compassion. Following a crisis, healing is essential. Our bodies need it. Our spirit needs it. Those we love need it.

Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW is a clinical social worker, thanotologist and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at mfriedelhunt@charter.net; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com. Vincent Kavaloski’s “Parables and Ponderings” will return next month.