My mum was sixty-three when my dad died. She lived on an isolated island, my siblings and I between 3-24 hours travel distance away. Ever the mother, she didn’t want us to worry about her, so, despite her great grief, she did three things to keep herself healthy.
1) She tried to eat well even though she had no appetite.
2) Come rain or come shine, she went for a walk every day along the beach, sometimes barely able to see as her tears mixed with the rain soaking her face.
3) Instead of burying herself at home, she forced herself to accept invitations from friends to go for a coffee or a walk or visit her kids and grandkids. Mum hadn’t worked since she was 22, but she loved cooking, so a few years later, she ended up taking occasional jobs as a cook and housekeeper in well-to-do homes in London and the Home Counties. (But that’s another story!)
I sometimes think my own grieving process might have been easier if I’d had a job to occupy my brain and all those empty hours. One of the special challenges of a later-in-life divorce is that you may be retired and no longer have a structure to your day, so you will need to find one.
When my ex walked out on me, all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and cry. And for some people, that is the way they will heal. But I was scared that if I took to my bed, I might never come out.
Like my mum, I didn’t want my kids to worry about me, so I decided to try and follow her example.
1) I forced myself to eat well even though I had no appetite. (I lost 27 pounds in a year. They don’t call it the Divorce Diet for nothing!) I bought myself an electric wok so I could stir-fry meat and veggies every night. It took ten minutes (including chopping), it was nutritious and left me with little cleaning up to do.
2) I set my alarm for seven every morning and forced myself to get up even if I’d only managed to fall asleep two or three hours earlier. Before I had time for second thoughts, I pulled on my clothes, peed, brushed my teeth, made my bed, and went out for a walk along the river path. Like my mum, there were times I could barely see for tears, and once I came back from my walk, I didn’t want to disturb that freshly made bed. Later, I bought myself a Fitbit and challenged myself to walking 10,000 steps a day. At first it was hard…but in time it became second nature.
3) My friends were great and rallied around me. Like my mum, I accepted any and all invitations and made 2016 my year of saying ‘yes’. If someone invited me somewhere or to do something – and it wasn’t dangerous and I could afford it – I said ‘yes’, and through doing that, my world started to open up in ways I couldn’t imagine.
This routine got me through that first awful year. At the end of it, my emotional health was still pretty raw and patchy, but I was physically healthier (I have the blood work results to prove it!) and fitter than I had been in over a decade.