October 19, 2020: The image of “waves” of grief swelling up and crashing down on us is often used to describe those really hard, unexpected moments of pain, those moments when we miss someone or something so much that we’re knocked off our feet. It can come like a fog, wrapping us in a blanket of withdrawal, fatigue, tears, spacey-ness, apathy…it can also come like an earthquake, ripping us open with anger, agitation, sleeplessness, anxiety, impatience.
As waves are apt to do, they ebb and flow. They are not always present, we are not always existing in the greatest intensity of grief. In those moments where the waves recede, we can take care of ourselves by creating a source of comfort to be used when it’s needed the most. Your future self, in all its grieving glory, will thank you.
I call it a Grief M.E.S.S. Kit. The word mess means a lot here. Grief is a messy process, it’s all over the place most of the time, and it can make a person feel like a mess. A mess kit is also a set of useful tools and gear that you take camping, and you’ll need some helpful things venturing in the wilderness of grief. The origins of the word mess in “mess kit” come from the French “mes” roughly meaning “a portion of food.” The tools in the kit are what you use to provide nourishment to yourself.
When creating a Grief M.E.S.S. Kit for yourself, consider your Mental, Emotional, Sensory, and Spiritual needs. Here are a few ideas for each category:
- Write notes to yourself that remind you of these ebbs and flows. Grief is a process and you are in it. It’s okay to feel and think a huge array of feelings and thoughts. Take each day as it comes.
- Keep a journal and pen handy. It’s common for grief to affect memory and to bring up a lot of dreaming. Writing things down can help with forgetfulness and confusion, and sort through overwhelming thoughts and dreams.
- Create a playlist that connects to your grief. This could be favorite songs of your loved one, or songs that match your emotions. Let yourself be understood by the sounds and lyrics.
- Create a list of favorite shows or movies to watch. Watching old and familiar things is comforting in times of stress.
- Have a friend’s number easily accessible to call or text for a supportive ear or hug.
- All of our senses need attention in grief. Here’s an idea for each of the 5 familiar senses.
Sight: Go outside, look out a window, or look at images of nature or something beautiful.
Smell: Keep essential oils, candles or lotions with soothing scents like lavender, orange, sage, or vanilla.
Sound: Listen to music, wind chimes, bird songs, or nature sounds.
Touch: Use modeling clay to manipulate with your hands. You can sculpt something or just focus on the feel of pushing, pulling, twisting, rolling, smashing.
Taste: Keep mints or flavored hard candy. Practice deep breathing with a candy in your mouth and notice the sensations of your breath mixing with the flavor.
- Keep a symbol of something important to or representing your religion or spirituality (or of your loved one’s if it was different than yours).
- Pray, meditate, light a candle, sit at an altar, read a passage, sing/listen to a spiritual song.
When a wave of grief swells and crashes, you’ll have your Grief M.E.S.S. Kit to help you swim, catch your breath, and watch the waves recede again.