How to be kind and gentle to yourself

Being kind to myself is one of the hardest lessons I have learned on this journey after loss.  I am beginning to understand what it means to be gentle with yourself and when I am going to need some quiet time to pull it together.

Grief brings about many emotions; sadness, guilt, anger, despair,  anxiety and it is pretty much agreed upon by people that I have talked to that grief does not follow the rules of proceeding through a certain number of stages until the finish line.  It is more like being hit by waves at the beach, some are bigger than others.  Some knock you down and suck the air out of you.  Some are unexpected and make you feel unbalanced.  Eventually, you learn to prepare for when they hit and maybe to ride a few.

Feeling numb is also common.  Labeled the “widow fog”, we carry on with our routines and try to go through the motions but often may not even remember what we did.  We lose things.  We can not concentrate. We begin to avoid doing even what seems like a simple task.  Everything is so overwhelming.  I remember that I could not talk on the telephone for the longest time.  Mailing a letter or a bill was a major accomplishment.

Going to the grocery store, activities that as a wife were normal, became triggers of anxiety.  I was used to shopping for us.  Now I was only shopping for me.  What do I like to eat? I have no idea. My identity seemed lost and being forced to think about it was stressful.

As a working mom, who took care of her family while managing the household, I was always busy.  I was productive during the day at work.  Things got done.  My students were learning. Coming home, I took care of the home and family.  Paying bills, shopping, cooking, cleaning, driving kids around and planning for my days at work took time.  Spending time socially with neighbors and friends was a pleasure that I was able to fit into my busy life.  I was used to the go – go – go American way of life.  I was happy and fulfilled and loved by a wonderful husband.

That all changed one day late in the summer of 2015 when Mike died.

All the normal behaviors of life that I took for granted, suddenly became so difficult. Making decisions was challenging.  That fog must have a layer of thick molasses on the ground because it is literally hard to even move your body in the right direction, but somehow you do.

You make it through the beginning weeks.  Funeral arrangements have to be made.  Paperwork has to be filed.  You must change names on bank accounts, credit cards, the mortgage and your beneficiary and health insurance at work.  Cars require a visit to DMV to put registration and titles in your name. Insurance agencies and last place of employment needs to be notified. Lawyers may need to be involved with estates. Medical bills paid.  Oh, and don’t forget to tell the pharmacy to stop calling you that your husband’s medication is available.  I finally had to tell them in our local store to stop leaving me that message.

Some days you can do a couple of these things.  Some days, not so much.  I started to write a small list of 3 things I hoped to do each day.  More than 3 and I didn’t seem to get anything done.

When I have an emotional set back, I take some time. Certain dates or situations you can prepare for.  Anniversaries are difficult.  Think about where you want to be, with who and  what you want to be doing. My first year I ran away at Christmas with my sons on a cruise.  It was different. A Different Christmas is OK, especially after the loss of a loved one. I had anticipated that holiday to be awful so we did something out of the ordinary for us.  My wedding anniversary Celebrating my wedding anniversary with the elephants! and the one year anniversary of Mike’s death are a few days apart so I headed to the other side of the earth and distracted myself with elephants in Thailand.

Unfortunately you can’t always travel to the other side of the planet and a lot of times you can not plan for the waves of sadness that hit during grief. You may have days where the ocean of emotions is not that rough.  People  may tell you how strong you are and you may begin to believe them. Then…one of those waves sneaks up and gets you.

I was recently purging some old files and came across copies of my husband’s college transcripts.  I looked at the courses that he had taken and the grades he got.  He had transcripts from the 2 community colleges he attended, as well as the UCSD transcript and one from law school.  I guess I won’t be needing them anymore but that made me cry.  I was glad that I purged the files, but was sad to know that no one would ever need to see his transcripts again.

Another day, my next door neighbor’s mother in law fell on her icy driveway.  The ambulance and police came to take her to the hospital.  The same doctor that had taken my husband to the hospital in an ambulance came up the driveway to talk to us. Seeing all of this brought back trauma from the night my husband died when the ambulance and police car were in front of my house.  It honestly shook me up for a few days and resurfaced so many emotions.

On Superbowl Sunday I was invited to a party at a friend’s house.  I picked up the chicken wings and joined friends to watch the game and comment on the commercials. After the half time show a feeling of melancholy came over me.  I had always watched the Superbowl with Mike and we often hosted the parties.  I had not expected that date to be a trigger.


The important thing I learned is to take time for some rest. I have been learning to be gentle with myself and that it is OK to have down time. There is no prize for the busiest person. The feeling of being calm and centered can only be practiced when your mind quiets itself.  Don’t get caught up in feeling like you should be doing something.  Just be in the present. No expectations.


Taking time to just breathe and rest after an emotionally intense episode is important.  Be gentle with yourself by not expecting much.  You would be kind and supportive to a friend who was hurting.  Sometimes you need to treat yourself like a friend.  Put on some soft music or meditations.  Take a nap.  Have a cup of tea.  Lay on the couch and cuddle with a pet.


In the book Fighting Forward by Jan Owen, she recalls a question posed to her in therapy “What would it look like if you were to show kindness to yourself?”  Jan writes a chapter about her thoughts on what that would look like but I especially connected with her quote “…I would understand my limitations and pace myself so that I have time to pay attention to my grief, practice self-care and rest as needed.”

What would it look like if you were to show kindness to yourself?



67 Responses

  1. Thanks so much for your posts Kristin. I enjoy your writing and I am learning so much about what you and others are experiencing with your losses. I hope it makes me more understanding…I also think that some of the things you write about can apply to many…please continue on your journey and continue to take care of yourself. ❤

  2. So many wonderful thoughts on taking ,time out , for yourself to just be, be…reflective and thankfull and yes, with joy…and to wonder where life will take you now…it will probably be farther away than your imagination could ever possible imagine! EnJOY the journey.

    Runawaywidow wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ runawaywidow posted: “Being kind to myself is one of the hardest lessons I have learned on this journey after loss.  I am beginning to understand what it means to be gentle with yourself and when I am going to need some quiet time to pull it together. Grief brings about many “

  3. I can so relate to this. I just had my husbands two year death anniversary and I, for the first time, feel hope again. Time is the best healer. Thank you for opening up. Leslie

  4. You’re story hits so close to home including running away with my kids at Christmas after the love of my life passed away. After 7 months the fog has started to lift but then something triggers my sadness and I feel like I’m back at square one. You’re blog is helpful in that I know I’m not the only one going through this. Thank you for sharing your story and know that you are helping others like me.

    1. Thank you Marie for reading and your comment. It definitely is helpful to know that we are not the only ones, and I feel more compassion for others now having gone through this myself.

  5. This broke my heart, but it also allowed me to see another side of things. I’m newly married and I really can’t imagine my life without my husband. It triggers immediate tears. Reading your experience is still heart-breaking, but i’s also reassuring. Thank you for sharing.

  6. It must be so hard writing your thoughts to share and I can only imagine how you feel, although my husband’s younger brother died very suddenly 2 1/2 years ago and it is stil very fresh in our minds. One thing we have learnt is that everyone grieves differently. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing. All the best.

  7. I love reading your blogs. I am going to try to take your lead and be kind to myself. Why is it so hard to put ourselves first? It’s not a year yet since Joe’s passing, so I am still feeling all the emotions.

    1. Thanks for reading Sheri. I started to realize that when those really difficult days came, I just needed to be nice to myself and take it easy, literally.

  8. It is so hard to put ourselves first. I am going through a self-care issue as well! Take time for yourself, you’ve got this!

  9. It is so hard to take care of ourselves! I am going through a self care issue as well! Take time for you, it’s so important!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. You have a wonderful insight about things. Keep looking at the positive side of things and everything will fall into place. Great read!

  11. Oh my gosh. I am literally in tears reading this. Thank you for sharing such a personal event in your life and I am incredibly sorry for your loss. I can only imagine what you’ve gone through the past few years. As horrible as grief is, It does pass but getting through it is the tough part! I loved the quote you posted about monkey bars…you really DO have to let go in order to move forward. That’s the tough part though! I wish the best for you moving forward and I am here if you ever need anything <3

  12. Self care is so important, and its hard to remind ourselves of that even when we aren’t shaken by something as totally devastating as a loss of a love one. Thank you for the book recommendation by Jan Owen, too. I’m looking forward to reading it!

  13. It is ABOVE AND BEYOND important to be kind to you. If you’re NOT… Then you will be a very negative person and everyone around you will sense that, thus not want to be around you and a vicious cycle will begin. You are a wonderful person. Compliment the attributes you love about yourself. You were put on this earth for a reason! Give yourself a hug!

  14. My mother passed away this past Superbowl Sunday. For me, the superbowl will forever be associated in my mind with her death.

  15. Yes, it’s so important to treat yourself well and make sure you are taken care of. This isn’t selfish, it’s necessary or else you can’t take care of another person. Great post!

  16. Beautifully written, but still broke my heart. It is important to take care of yourself and love yourself then that helps you love others. Keep on doing what you do and just persevere.

  17. We LOVE this, so inspiring. We treat ourselves the best we can so we can pour from a full cup at all times!

  18. This is a really beautiful and touching post. I visited other areas of your blog too and you have a beautiful way of writing and more importantly, showing your readers how wonderful your relationship with your husband was. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself.

  19. I am so sorry to hear your story.But,you are strong and your way of facing to the life challenges are inspiring!It is important to be kind to you before anything.You will face all the challenges when you start loving yourself!

  20. Such a beautiful and honest post. I am so sorry for your loss, and I hope that managing your grief becomes easier over time. Nothing will replace the love you shared, but hopefully the loss becomes more bearable.

  21. My deepest apology for your lost. However life must move-on, because the one you lost might not be happy seeing you so weak. Smile. Life is beautiful.


  22. Kindness is one of those happiness paradoxes, whereby we become happier by making other people happier.

  23. First of all, I am sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be esp. with the dates and memories. I But I think you making a list and taking one day at a time is the best way to cope– and survive– and eventually thrive.

  24. Thinking about losing my husband gives me anxiety. I cant imagine how hard it would be without him but I know I was able to survive on this planet before him. I am sorry for your loss.

  25. Thank you so much for this raw and open post. I really needed the reminder to be kind to myself, as I am still grieving.

    I am coming up on the 1 year mark of my beloved grandma’s death. And I find myself struggling so very much. I remember where I was this time last year (staying with her, trying to keep her going, but watching her get weaker and weaker). Every time I close my eyes, I see her face. Sleep is almost non-existent these days, as I dream about her every night. And every morning I wake up, feeling like the loss JUST happened.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. This time of year is a trigger bringing up sad memories, remember to be gentle with yourself and not expect too much. It is important to feel your emotions, and then do something positive in the memory of your loved one.

  26. I would try to dive through some of those waves that are trying to flatten me and then I would lie down hands behind my head, ankles crossed and not try… but just be…

  27. I love that you are doing this and you’re so wonderful with sorting out and communicating what I can only guess is a crazy knot of emotions. I haven’t lost a husband to death, only divorce, but I feel like so much of your wisdom is applicable to is as women period. Especially starting with the title!

  28. Such a beautiful post. I recently lost my father and I know what you mean about unexpected things being triggers. I think it is reassuring to know that feelings we experience during a time of grief are often shared by others. Losing a Close loved one can be very isolating and my husband often has a hard time understanding. Keep on writing, I think it’s beautiful

  29. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this personal post, I lost my dad when I was a teenager and it’s important for me to try to understand how mum feels along the way. Will definitely recommend the book.

  30. I too was widowed with a 6 year old son. It’s an uphill climb to be sure not to mention a new and unexpected life that you have no experience in which to deal. Time eventually heals. My son is 24 and in grad school. I finally remarried 5 years ago myself. If you’d like to chat just send me a message. Hugs from one widow to another.

  31. I lost a very dear friend who was like a mom to me in December. It’s been rough especially feeling like you cannot talk about your loss for too long. Thanks so much for sharing some of what you do to get through. I love the quotes you included.

  32. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss but what wonderful courage and positivity you have that has came from it. This is such a beautiful way to turn your grief into something that other people can enjoy too. I’ve had a lovely time reading through your posts and I would love to say how inspirational you are because of everything you have done by yourself, it’s very admirable!

Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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