It’s a Friday night, and the newest season of Modern Family was just released on Netflix. You’re settling in with a bowl of ice cream when you get the text: “Hey, we’re going out tonight. Wanna come?” We’ve all been there- the momentary elation of social inclusion followed by the gut-wrenching thought, I’ll have to get out of bed for this.
The first week after the death of a parent can simultaneously feel like the slowest and most hectic week of a lifetime. Between the hordes of relatives, friends, flowers, condolence Hallmark cards, and awkward shoulder squeezes are the quiet moments when the gravity of what happened hits. These minutes feel like hours until you’re rushed back into the frenzy of funeral and wake planning, black dresses, and dry-cleaned suits.
The aftermath of the first week wasn’t something I quite understood until I was a few years removed from it. I craved the normalcy of hanging out with my friends after those days of grief and formality. I wanted to fill my time with going out to dinner, going over to a friend’s house, or catching the latest blockbuster film.
I spent days following my mom’s death with these activities, which I understand now to have been a coping mechanism. At the time, I just wanted to be around people as much as possible. As soon as I spent more than an hour or so with friends, though, I was hit with a wave of emotional and physical exhaustion. I didn’t necessarily want to go home and be alone with my thoughts, but I didn’t want to feel forced to socialize either. So, I settled. I was “present” in the sense that I was in the same room as my friends, but I existed in my own world (which often meant staring at my phone pretending to have someone to text). I recognized this negative behavior but instead of talking to my friends about it, I internalized it. Soon, the thought of hanging out with my friends was equally as stressful as the thought of being home.
I really struggled with balancing spending time with the people I loved and taking the time to love myself. When someone would ask if I wanted to hang out or catch up, I didn’t want to say no. It made me feel weak and like I was letting mom’s death take control of my life. Slowly, however, I learned that there’s a difference between saying no and asking to reschedule. It was a process, but I came to understand that taking time for myself was and is an essential part of the grieving process. Once I started saying, “maybe later,” I felt a huge weight being lifted off my chest.
It can be difficult to decipher what “maintaining good mental health” means. Sometimes it means texting back, “thanks, but I think I’m going to stay in tonight.” Some days it might be asking for a friend to spend the night because you don’t want to be alone. Whatever it is, trust your gut. There’s a reason why ice cream and Modern Family is calling your name! Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself- it might be just the pick-me-up you needed to feel in balance after a difficult day or week.