Self-Care for the Bereaved

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

“There is nothing in nature that can’t be taken as a sign of both mortality and invigoration” – Gretel Ehrlich

The word ‘bereaved’, means ‘torn apart’ and ‘to have special needs,’ which is accurate and useful. Perhaps the most important ‘special need’ right now is to be compassionate with yourself. In fact, the word ‘compassion’ means ‘with passion.’ Caring for, and about yourself with passion is self-compassion.

Over many years of walking with people in grief, I have discovered that most of us are hard on ourselves when we are in mourning, and we take care of ourselves last. But good self-care is essential to your survival. To practice, good self-care means you are creating conditions that allow you to let the death of someone loved into your heart and soul.

To be self-nurturing is to have the courage to pay attention to your needs, healthy self-care allows us to mourn in ways that help us heal.

Nurturing Yourself

When we are ‘torn apart’, one of our most important special needs is to nurture ourselves. This can be broken down into 3 important areas: physically, emotionally, and socially.


Your body may be letting you know it feels distressed. You may be shocked by how much your body responds to the impact of your loss.

Among the most common physical responses to loss are trouble with sleeping and low energy. You may have difficulty getting to sleep, or perhaps even more commonly, you may wake up early in the morning and have trouble getting back to sleep. During your grief journey, your body needs more rest than usual. You may even find yourself getting tired more quickly – sometimes even at the start of the day.

Good self-care is important in this time. Your body is the house you live in. Just as your house requires care and maintenance to protect you from the outside elements, your body requires that you honour it and treat it with respect. The ‘lethargy of grief’ you are probably experiencing is a natural mechanism intended to slow you down and encourage you to care for your body.


Just as your body and emotions let you know you have experienced being ‘torn apart’, your mind has also, in effect, been torn apart.

Thinking normally after the death of someone precious to you would be very unlikely. Don’t be surprised if you struggle with short-term memory problems and have trouble making simple decisions. Essentially your mind is in a state of disorientation and confusion. Early in your grief, you may find it helpful to allow yourself to ‘suspend’ everything major for a time. Allow yourself to just be, your mind needs time to catch up and process.


The death of someone you love may have resulted in a very real disconnection from the world around you. When you reach out and connect with family and friends, you are beginning to reconnect. Your link to family, friends, and community is vital for your sense of well-being and belonging. You open up your heart to love again when you reach out to others. If you don’t nurture the warm, loving relationships that still exist in your life, you may even withdraw into your own world and grieve, but not mourn. Isolation can then become the barrier that keeps your grief from softening over time.


Self-care during grief can help you suffer less, hence why it is important to care for yourself. Take as much time as you need, and seek and accept support from a trusted friend, family member, or health care professional when you need it. But most of all be gentle on yourself.