Health-full Minute: Grieving as Self-Care

Health-full Minute: Grieving as Self-Care

November 17, 2022

By Kae Tritle, RN Well-Being Coordinator
Life this fall seems to be back to normal—stores, churches, schools and businesses are open and operating as usual. We are attending sporting events, plays, concerts and other social events. We are gathering with our friends and family in each other’s homes and restaurants. Fewer people are sick with COVID-19.

But life isn’t quite the same as it was before the pandemic. We are still being careful with whom we get close. There has been a dramatic shift in the way our churches, schools, healthcare providers, restaurants and businesses operate. It seems that we are still having to do more with less in our workplaces and with our resources. We have had to learn new skills and pivot in directions we never imagined!  
Over the last two years we personally and corporately have experienced much loss; persons who have died, relationships that have withered, events that weren’t celebrated, lost opportunities, finances that evaporated and difficult circumstances. Denominationally, we are also coping with congregations and pastors who are leaving. Many of us, particularly those in the caring professions, are struggling with feelings of being weary, overwhelmed, anxious, having difficulty coping, and a feeling of “this is not what I signed up for."  
Often times the underlying emotion is grief—for the way life was supposed to be, for the losses experienced, for the ability to help others in a fulfilling way, for supportive relationships within our workplaces, congregations and with our colleagues and community, for time and resources to do our jobs well, and to enjoy life without undue worry or stress

“The way we deal with loss shapes our capacity to be present to life more than anything 
else. The way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves
from life. Protecting ourselves from loss rather than grieving and healing our losses is one of 
the major causes of burnout…We burn out because we have allowed our hearts to become so
filled with loss that we have no room left to care… burnout only really begins to heal when people learn how to grieve. Grieving is a way of self-care.” (R. Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom)
This concept may be hard to grasp—the process of grieving as a self-care strategy. Reflect on this for a moment: Generally, death and/or loss are avoided at all costs. We fear the loss of loved ones, relationships, reputation, possessions, finances, opportunities, dreams and our future/past. Grief is an internal response to loss. Grief must be converted into mourning—an outward expression of the loss—for us to move through grief to healing.

I offer the following as strategies for mourning our losses and for self-care:
  •  Acknowledge your loss: Journaling writing emotions and thoughts get them out of your brain so you can see them objectively and/or share your regrets and losses with family, friends, or other supportive persons
  • Ceremony: Releasing your loss in the form of balloons into the air; writing losses on pieces of paper and scattering them into the wind, a body of water, or fire; naming your losses at a special prayer service, or by other meaningful traditions.
  • Healthful Self-care: Adequate sleep, eating whole foods (fruits, veggies, lean meats, whole grains), decreasing intake of high sugar/high-fat foods, and doing physical activity daily.
  • Time-off: Make sure you are taking your allowed days off and scheduling vacation time away. Check out retreats or denominational camps (UMC or other denominations) for time apart. 
  • Go Outside: Nature soothes us, resets our thinking, increases endorphins, and tames burnout. Research shows that we need 20 minutes three times per week in a city park atmosphere, five hours per month in a county or state park, and three days per year in a wild area (national park) to help with optimal healthfulness. 
  • Process: Talk through your emotions and the effects of your losses with a trusted friend or colleague. 
  • Spiritual Nurture: Feed your soul through Spiritual Disciplines, meaningful worship and/or prayer services.  For our clergy, check out offerings by other denominations, retreat centers or other support networks.
  • Professional Counseling: A listening ear and objective perspective can be helpful to move you forward.  Iowa UMC personnel: contact Employee and Family Resources at 1-800-327-4692 or at
  • Practicing Sabbath: Sabbath activities allow you time to slow down and give you space from “busy activities” and permission to connect with your inner self, significant people and God. Think of Sabbath as “pampering your soul." Check out Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. 
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll 
recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch
how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.  (Matt. 11:28-30 The Message)
It is essential for our well-being that we encourage and be gentle with each other as we mourn our losses and move forward into a new normal. May you discover the blessings that come with healing.