How to Take Care of Yourself When You're Grieving

Water Bomber at Sunset in memory of Brian Ruddell

It's been only a few short weeks since my father died of a heart attack, and today I finally did something substantial to take care of myself in my grief. I took myself to a safe space. For me, that safe space is a yoga studio.

The first week after my father passed was a bit of a haze. Initial shock, heartbreak, and a long list of tasks to accomplish in short order (funeral arrangements, picking photos, visiting banks & lawyers, writing a eulogy.) It left me feeling thankful for something to do, exhausted, and also wondering how my family and I pulled it off (hint: lots of tissues, a little bit of food, and just enough smiles & snuggles with the baby nephew/grandson in our lives.)

Week two I went back to work. I'm still new at my job, and I only work three days a week, so it seems manageable. It was nice to dress up and get out of the house again, and keeping busy is good they say...

This past weekend it started to seep in. Moments of grief and sadness sneak up on me. I may have yelled at my boyfriend when he asked me what was wrong. A friend called and asked how I was doing, and while I made it through the past few days just fine, I couldn't make it through the phone call without a whole lot of tears.

On Sunday I thought about pulling out my paints and just putting some color on paper, but I didn't, and I can't really remember what I did instead... That's a good indication I spent too much time scrolling on my phone. Numbing out.

With all this talk of living Creatively Sustained, you'd think I'd retreat into drawing, painting, or making in order to cope. But I feel like I've got to go even deeper than that to take care of myself right now. And my deepest source of solace in the past has come from yoga.

Right now, I feel like even if I was making or drawing, I'd be too much in my own head. I don't want to numb out on my phone either, but I'm also not in a place to start a new project. I haven't even sketched for my #100dayproject since day 19. Counting the number of days since my dad left is something I don't really want to do right now.

I have started journalling though, because that gets things out of my head for the moment at least. And it's always been therapeutic for me. Writing doesn't have to look or sound good in a journal.

This morning though, I knew I NEEDED to get back to my practice. I went to a morning yoga class, a 90 minute mini workshop at my friends studio, a weekly class I have been wanting to attend since the new year, but hadn't made it happen yet. Today it needed to happen.

I needed to go to a safe space that wasn't home, that wasn't work. As we started with mantra, meditation, then asanas and breathing, I could feel more subtle power & strength in my body, though my muscles were tired and tight when I arrived. I could feel the grip and control of my emotions and my mind softening too.

This is the safe space where I might find support. The guidance of a teacher, the fellowship of a community, following the wisdom of my own subtle body. It's not color on paper that I'm working with here, though I would argue it is creative work, and it will help sustain me as I wade through my own grief.

My Dad also had a safe space in his life, and it was called the Clubhouse. He struggled/lived with a mental health diagnosis for most of his adult life, and the Clubhouse was a drop-in centre for other adults like him to find support, activities and meals shared through community. It was a side of his life that I had only previously glimpsed through our personal conversations.

Some friends and fellow clients from the Clubhouse attended his service, sharing stories and memories of my Dad with me and my siblings. They remarked on his kindness, his willingness to listen, and the gentle sense of compassion he offered along their shared path of fluctuating mental wellness.

I must tell you the day of his funeral service was a really great day, and that might sound odd considering it was also emotionally tough, and physically exhausting. Yet there was this greater sense of connection with my Dad, through the stories shared by the people in the room who knew him. And it was then I realized that even when his ability to care for himself was unpredictable at times, he will be remembered for the ways he supported others.

So I guess my advice right now is this: don't do this alone. Get out of the house. Find your community. Support others.

I will rely on friends and family through the coming weeks, months, for sure. I will go to work to stay busy, and at home I will try to keep the screen time at a minimum so as not to numb what I am feeling. I will get outside of my own head and into community with others, in the safe space of a yoga class.

But I also have a desire to support the safe space that was available to my Dad in the final stages of his life. The Clubhouse where he spent time is managed by a non-profit organization, and for the forseeable future - half the proceeds from the sale of my Beginner Block Printing E-Course will benefit the North Peace Mental Health Society.

I started carving my own rubber blocks as a way to add personal meaning to my paper and fabric printing projects. I can't think of anything better than sharing these skills with others while also dedicating funds in my fathers memory to a place that became his second home.

Take care of yourselves out there, and tell all your people you love them,


Love Cat

My (excited!) Dad, my Sister and I at the opening of my local art show this fall :)

My (excited!) Dad, my Sister and I at the opening of my local art show this fall :)