9 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion After Loss

person holding rocking horse christmas ornament

Self-compassion is practicing kindness and understanding towards yourself, especially during difficult times like the loss of a loved one. It involves developing a healthier relationship with yourself and being more forgiving and supportive. Just as you would treat a friend who is suffering with kindness, understanding, and care, that is how to embrace self-compassion.

The season has changed and emotions are soaring. The days in our hemisphere are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler (hopefully for us Floridians), and those holiday plans are sneaking up on us. It is time to acknowledge the change and make space for both the joy and the sadness.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year, and then sometimes it isn’t. The first and second holidays after the loss of a loved one are extremely difficult. No cheery songs exist on the radio wishing for a fast-forward button to January, but that is the true feeling of so many who struggle. Learning to be kind and gentle with yourself and your expectations is important in the healing process.

If you are like me, you may want to run away from it all. I did that for a few years in anticipation of the holidays and the sadness that comes with missing someone. Planning something different to do for holidays and anniversaries helped me hold off slipping into a deep depression at the time. And you need to do what you need to do to function and survive through that period.

But I’ve learned something in the 8 years since Mike died.

It is OK for sadness to exist with joy.

In fact, I still have moments of sadness over memories of Mike. Now that my sons are older, I have grief over no longer having little kids at home to shop for and create that magical Christmas. Tears fill my eyes when I think of my mom’s Shalimar-scented hugs with her colorful holiday scarves and jingling costume jewelry. I even miss the way my dad reminded me of Santa Claus as he was always bigger than life itself. The memories are nice but they can bring a feeling of sadness as well.

And that does happen, but life goes on, and finding moments of holiday joy may be different now, but still good.

I’m leaning in to being more present in my life. I think, just like anything else, being present takes practice. I’m attempting to practice daily meditation and yoga as a way to improve my attention, however I tend to lack consistency. In conversations with others, I am trying to be a better listener. Listening to podcasts that offer guidance like “Calling on Your Awakened Heart” by Tara Brach helps set the intention toward mindful living.

Appreciating the outdoors during my daily walks with the dog or on my own keeps me grounded. I appreciate the sights and sounds of the changing season. Last winter, I loved admiring all the different holiday wreaths and decorations in my Florida neighborhood and smiling over the bedazzled golf carts. We even decorated our golf cart in the Frozen theme for a community golf cart parade that raised money for needy families. It’s important to not be so busy that you miss out on all the efforts we make to brighten the season.

Festively Foolish Holiday golf-cart parade in Florida

I am aware of aging more these days.

Turning sixty this year has made me feel like I am in the middle of the see-saw of life. I spent all those years climbing up and trying to get balance. I kept slipping but didn’t give up hope that I could get there.

Now I am in the middle and the other side tempts me to slip up. I want to have fun and enjoy my well-earned retirement. I like eating and drinking whatever I want, despite wanting to lose weight. I like playing pickleball and skipping my yoga workouts, despite knowing my balance and flexibility are suffering.

I signed up for a wellness program with Michelle and Keith from Onefitwidow this past summer. I was motivated, and they provided lots of information during the Rise Up program. I learned how important lifting weights was for our bodies post menopause and that of course limiting alcohol consumption is necessary for good health and losing those extra pounds. I know if I don’t make my health and fitness a priority now, it won’t be long before I start slipping down the other side of that teeter-totter.

I can’t stop thinking about my dad who died at 61. His diagnosis of lung cancer as a lifetime non-smoker still haunts and confounds me. How could that happen?

Yesterday I played pickleball with Mary who is 81 years old. She scolded me that I needed to call my shots as she sprung after the ball. “OK,” I replied as I tried to focus on that yellow plastic ball with holes. I’m amazed at the age of some of the good players in my community.

I’m getting better at hitting the ball and have made some friends who play with me almost every day. We are all improving our skills and staying healthy with exercise, right? So why did one of my new friends have a sudden massive heart attack last week and die? He seemed so fit and healthy.

It makes me think about my mom who passed at 79. She had a fall on her way to the mailbox and was never quite the same. Why can some people be so active in their eighties and others die so young?

Having experienced great loss, you do understand that we don’t know when our time here will be over. Life is too short to feel bad about yourself.

For years I have been trying hard to make improvements in my health and weight. I start out with great intentions. I buy the right books or sign up for the best programs only to sabotage my efforts and feel like a failure, again. Just like the way I forced myself to move forward after the loss of my husband with baby steps, I haven’t given up hope that I can improve my health and fitness with some self-discipline. But first I need to stop letting my thoughts and feelings get in the way.

How do I do that? By practicing self-compassion. Kindness, understanding, and care for myself as I balance on that see-saw.

Wondering what my purpose on earth is, I recently asked a psychic medium because I was sure she could tell me.

She said, your purpose is “to do what brings you joy“.

That seems a little simple but it was explained that you do what resonates with you. What feeds your soul? Do what makes you happy.

I love that. What feeds your soul? What makes you happy?

Books for Kids contacted me last week about volunteering to read in the local schools again this year.

Last year, I went into a classroom to volunteer and read a book. I had never been to this school or met this teacher or her class. I was a bit nervous. What if they didn’t like me or listen to me when I read the book? But when I stood in front of the class and read that story, I was happy. It was like riding a bike. My 30 years of teaching returned to me and I was in my element. I had the best time and they all appreciated the visit and our time together too. I can’t wait to start visiting the classroom again.

Sometimes you must step out of your comfort zone to appreciate what makes you happy. I knew nothing about pickleball and was never particularly athletic, but now I love the challenge of playing the game and having the opportunity to be active and social with neighbors.

Life is full of ups and downs. Sadness and joy can exist together.

Hold space to care for yourself. It is easy to get spread too thin. As my mom always said when I felt overwhelmed, this too shall pass.

Embracing self-compassion is something I have been working on this month. Here are a few suggestions on how you can start being kind and compassionate toward yourself.

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Be present with your thoughts and feelings. Be aware of negative self-talk and notice the emotions and thoughts without feeling judgmental. Mindfulness is the opposite of avoidance in that it suggests we label and acknowledge those feelings. A balance is made between seeing those feelings, and not being those feelings.

2. Meditate

If you are like me and your mind wanders too much, try sitting or lying down in a quiet space and listening to a YouTube meditation on self-compassion or loving-kindness. The benefits of a meditation practice include reduced stress, lower blood pressure, increased focus and concentration, and reduced anxiety.

3. Journal

Writing your feelings and thoughts on paper can help you understand and process what is going on in your life. You can even write yourself a loving letter from a loved one who is no longer here. What nice things would they say to you?

4. Set realistic goals

Losing 30 pounds by Christmas might not be realistic. But if weight loss and good health are the goals, what is something you do that could be improved? Make a plan to reach a goal by taking baby steps. Don’t stop working on self-improvement, but focus on tasks that can be realistically done.

5. Seek support

If guilt, shame, or other negative thoughts are overwhelming, find a support group or therapist to talk to about your struggles. Learn to forgive yourself and become more compassionate toward yourself. Opening up to friends and family may be able to give you the support you need as well. You are only human after all and maybe you will find others who have felt the same way as you. Realize that you are not alone and rather than isolate, appreciate that others can help you on your journey.

6. Practice self-care

Prioritize self-care and self-love by investing in time and activities that bring you joy and happiness. Having a nice manicure or massage is nice, but so is taking a 5-minute time out during a chaotic day to put on hand cream. Taking a walk in nature, reading a good book next to the fireplace, or making that doctor appointment are all ways to practice self-care. Care for yourself as you would someone you love who is hurting.

7. Be patient with yourself

Forgive yourself for past mistakes and regrets. Just as you would be compassionate to a child or a friend, be kind and patient. Treating yourself with kindness and understanding when you fail at something or are hurt takes patience. Self-growth is a lifelong process and learning self-compassion may be a challenge.

8. Repeat affirmations and mantras of self-love.

May I be happy. May I practice loving kindness. May I be peaceful and safe.

I trust that everything is already OK.

I accept who I am.

I am thankful for…. Practice gratitiudes.

9. Celebrate your achievements

Acknowledge your accomplishments, no matter how small. Give yourself a pat on the back for your efforts. Rather than criticizing yourself, motivate yourself with positive self-talk. Begin each day by making a list of 3 easy to do acts to help you move in the right direction, and once checked off the list, reward yourself for making YOU a priority in your life.

Mastering self-compassion is about treating others with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to others. It is not a way to avoid self-improvement or self-discipline. As you develop a healthier relationship with yourself, you will face the challenges in your life with resilience and ease.

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6 Responses

  1. Hi Kristin, I enjoyed your post and missed seeing you today hopefully we can get together next month. Happy holidays slow down and take it all in!

    1. In this busy season sometimes we need reminders to cherish the moments right? Thanks so much for reading and your comment. Xo

  2. You are such a good writer. I have been reading your posts for 7 years. They always seem to resonate with me. Thank you and please don’t stop!

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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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