I’m writing this weeks reminder with a heavy heart. My good friend Louise very sadly passed away last week.
Why I’m writing this
I reflected on whether to share this or not and decided I wanted to for a number of reasons. For the memory and legacy of my beautiful friend, for a way of offering help and kindness to anyone who also knew Lou and is struggling (or for that matter for anyone going through a bereavement now, struggling from a past one or worrying about future loss) and finally for a reminder for us all to try and spend the precious time we have on this earth living it in the moment.
Thoughts and grieving
I feel there is often nothing that “wakes us up” more than the shock of a loss. Especially when, like with poor Louise that the person we lose is so young. It makes us think of our own mortality, can shock us into thoughts about what we would do if we found out we were dying soon and thoughts about our loved ones and what would happen. These thoughts may be useful as a way to help us plan or decide to make changes in how we are currently living our lives. However it can be helpful to be aware that they are just thoughts when we feel we are getting dragged off into a stream of worrying rumination or unhelpful thoughts.
How our body responds
Engaging in unhelpful thoughts often leads to our body responding with physical sensations- often uncomfortable tensions such as a tight chest, shaky tummy or headache amongst many others. These physical sensations then feed messages back to our brain, creating more thoughts and the cycle begins. This is very common during a bereavement- maybe having thoughts like “why did this happen?”, “it’s so unfair”, “how will I cope without this person?” “how will their family cope?” Etc etc.
What to do to look after yourself
Mindfulness practice can help us to step off this unhelpful cycle. The first way to do this is by bringing your attention to the body. Notice what physical sensations are present. Allow them to be there by simply being curious about them. Gently explore where in the body you can feel the physical sensations, notice what type of feeling it is – a tension? Tightness? Heavy feeling? Or maybe something more subtle than that, maybe something that just doesn’t feel quite right. Whatever you find, if you can just be curious about it, give it some space. This helps as your body then stops resisting it – what we resist persists and instead we need to “feel to heal”. By “feeling” uncomfortable sensations we can allow them to disperse naturally.
The next step is to simply notice your thoughts – you can gain control of your mind by noticing them without getting engaged with them. You may find it helpful to label the thoughts.
Then finally gently bring your attention to something “real” in the present moment – your breath, body, sounds or anything you can see or feel. Connecting to any of your senses.
This can be done informally by following the above details or formally through a guided mindfulness meditation. The formal version of this is called Turning Towards Difficulty. A ten minute version of this is available on mine and Roz’s free app Present Mind Mindfulness.
The more regular, formal and informal mindfulness we practice the more we get to know our own body and where we tend to hold tension created by thoughts. We can then more easily and quickly notice we need to take a pause and focus on them to step off the cycle. The more we practice mindfulness also gradually dampens down the power of our thoughts which is so helpful.
Thank you Lou
Lou was without a doubt one of the most selfless and caring people I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend. Therefore my closing remark is to encourage people to practice mindfulness and spend more of their precious life being in the present moment. When Lou was first diagnosed with cancer we chatted about this and I was so proud and in awe of her when she told me she was doing this. She described how she was using the techniques she’d learnt on a previous mindfulness course she’d attended to try and let go off the future worrying thoughts she was having. I have a fond memory of us both having a glass of red wine in a bar saying that was the only “real” thing in that moment – us simply stood there, drinking the lovely wine, hearing the laughter around us and chatting to each other. Lou was such a happy and positive person, someone who really tried to keep her focus in the present moment as much as she could. What a wonderful way to be and that’s how I intend to live the rest of my life and honour my beautiful friend Louise.
If anyone would like to contribute to Louise’s memorial fund to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis here is the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/donationsforlou
Much love xx