I’m compelled to share some personal news in case someone needs to hear it. In July 2022 I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I’ve since had a successful surgery followed by chemotherapy treatment. It has been gruelling to endure, and my “cancer journey” certainly isn’t over, but I’m now thankfully into the monitoring stage.
However, I’m acutely aware it could have been way worse. If I hadn’t pushed for a colonoscopy the doctors wanted to wait another 2 years. I hate to think of the outcome if I’d accepted that initial discussion. My point is: it’s vital to be your own best health advocate.
Part two of this post. Again, it’s not a checklist, but a list of offerings. Funnily enough, I wrote 95% of this post when I wrote part one. And yet it took over two months to come back and finish it. I was jolted to action after sharing some tips with a good friend (hi) and remembered I had written this whole thing. It’s good to share.
Self-care 102 – cozy self-care. Soft cozy blankets. Nice smelling candles. Incense sticks. Hand cream. Face masks. New socks. A cute toy. Some nice tea. The fancy cookies. Any small nice thing. Treat yourself or allow others to treat you. I have been very lucky and received a lot of thoughtful care packages over the last 2 years. And I haven’t hesitated to buy myself a fancy candle here and there. Now is the time.
Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness and grounding yourself in the present moment can be really helpful. It’s hard because it doesn’t necessarily give an immediate payoff, but doing a little bit when I can has definitely helped me. I try and remind myself at various points throughout the day, particularly in moments of panic or overwhelm, but also in calm too. Finding stillness. Putting one hand on my belly and the other across my heart. Feeling the chair underneath my butt. Placing my hands on my thighs. Sipping something slowly and with intention. Feeling each step as I walk. Noticing the breath. Being in my body and becoming aware of sensations: temperatures, pressure, heaviness, tightness, numbness. Allowing whatever emotion I’ve been holding onto or resisting just to be. Feeling my feelings even though our culture deems them “negative” is the ultimate act of rebellion. Noticing it. Naming it. Allowing it all to be.
The past few months I was starting to feel the ground beneath my feet again. It felt nice.
And now I’m facing down another setback and have been feeling defeated and disorientated. I’ve noticed I’ve been reaching into my grief survival toolkit, searching for any small thing to help me feel grounded and resist overwhelm.
So I wanted to share them with you. On the caveat that it’s not used as a to do list, if you’re suffering you don’t need more things you feel you’re failing at, instead think of it as an offering of possibilities. I squirrelled these away nut by nut. Do NUT attempt to eat them all in one go! (Wee bit o’ nut humour for you.)
Some of these helped me in the earlier days and some came months or over a year later so not all will be applicable at any one time. My needs and capabilities changed as I moved through my grief. And it’s not linear, I still regularly need to remind myself about the basics. Being kind to yourself and is the number one thing to do, and perhaps the last thing you want to do. And here are some things that helped me do that, when not much seemed to help at all.
Self Care 101 – Basic needs. Caring for yourself can seem pointless, but do it anyway, if not for you, for those around you. Start with your basic needs. Figuring out what you need is hard and energy consuming. So start small. Drink a glass of water, or if that’s too much, have one sip. Take a shower, or if that’s too hard, splash your face or brush your teeth. Eat something, healthy if you can muster it, but anything will do if you can’t. (I like cheese sticks or avocado and crackers for an easyish snack ). Or if you’re eating everything that’s okay too – kindness to yourself is key here. Doing any small thing you can for yourself is better than nothing and if something seems too hard break it down into manageable chunks. One thing at a time. One foot out of bed. One arm in a tee shirt. One step. One breath.
It’s not often that intelligent, thoughtful analysis of the drug poisoning crisis is presented in such an entertaining and funny way, so I was stoked. I also felt sad and a deep sense of regret in that I wish I’d seen this two years ago. Like with many moments in grief, duality is fiercely present and the sting of regret for what I wish I’d known is sharp.
Last Week Tonight was one of Mike’s favourite shows to watch and he would always get excited when the latest episode dropped. If this had aired two years ago, Mike and I likely would have watched it together and who knows, maybe things would be different. Maybe not. I wish I’d known more than I did at the time, but I can’t change the past. Sadly, it’s too late for Mike, but perhaps it’s not too late for someone else.
If you want a better understanding of the drug poisoning crisis in North America and the impact of fentanyl and harmful drug policies, this is a great place to start.
I don’t have the perfect words today. So I was hesitant to share anything. I wanted to put it off for another day. However, maybe I’ll never have the perfect words. And who knows if I’ll have another day. (Don’t worry, according to my therapist it’s just an existential crisis.)
I can’t remember who, but one of us, me or Mike accidentally broke this little ceramic bowl. I have a feeling it was Mike, but don’t trust my memory so I can’t say for sure. The grief and trauma have significantly affected my memory which is troubling in several ways, but particularly because I don’t know if I’m remembering our all too short time together correctly. I wish I could remember his exact words in so many moments, but sadly I don’t.
The bowl broke into four clean pieces, and I remember (correctly or incorrectly) telling Mike it was fixable. I told him about kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. The philosophy emphasizes the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, embracing the flaws.
Mike liked this idea, he embraced flaws in everyone and accepted them as they were – human. He did this to me, and I offered the same to him. We are all flawed.
If you’re not a fellow griefling (yes, we have a cute name for ourselves – don’t @ me) you may be surprised to hear that you can feel very judged in grief. I learned this over the past year from my experience as well as talking to other grievers. I found when I most needed support I was on the receiving end of comments that seem like they should be comforting, but instead I felt judged. It took me a lot of thinking, reading, and processing to understand why everyone was trying to comfort me and theoretically saying nice things and yet I often felt worse.
The first thing I want to say is that your words will likely never provide comfort in the way you wish they could. I hope this liberates you rather than brings you down. It’s not because you’re inadequate, it’s because perhaps the only thing that would bring them true comfort is for their person to still be alive. You can’t take their pain away. All you can do is acknowledge it and perhaps ease their suffering if you can (more on that another day).
Also, I’ve most likely said versions of all of the below in the past, and despite my experience I often have to check my urges to say them now, so I’m not some perfect example. I just know more now and want to share that knowledge in the hope it helps bridge the gap in a society that doesn’t understand grief. I also know that if you’re reading this you want that too and I thank you for that.
Here are a couple of things people (muggles – yes you get a cute name too) commonly say to grieflings and why they feel like judgements.
There is so much loss and grief out there right now. I started trying to recap some of the latest, but then got overwhelmed and scrapped that idea. This isn’t a news site and you probably know it all anyway. So, unlike those recipe blogs that make you scroll as though your life depends on it just to hit that chicken soup recipe, I’ll get right to the point.
I wanted to share this blessing I wrote for other grievers… you can define ‘griever’ for yourself. It could be recent loss or a wound from 30 years ago.
for other grievers
I feel your pain. Your sorrow, your longing, your loss.
You have pain that can’t be fixed or moved on from or gotten over.
“Want to split an orange, Baby?” he’d call out to me from bent over the open fridge. Mike and I always used to share them.
The other day without thinking I cut this orange up into 8 pieces and started eating, by the third slice it was getting harder to swallow as I realized what I was looking at, on the chopping board were Mike’s orange slices. His portion.
“Everything’s always better when you share”. He always said. Of course he was right.
These were Mike’s orange slices. I left them out for a bit because I was too sad to deal with them. I thought maybe I’d eat them later. I didn’t.
I hate wasting food, but I couldn’t eat these orange slices. They were his.