Some HELP for the Grieving

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What to DO while we’re peeling the onion

Another adorable Phillip Martin graphic

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part 2 of a two-part article in the
Grief & Diagnosis Series
– all rights reserved

You will get more value out of the articles in this series
if you’ve read Part 1:

The Interplay between Diagnosis and Grief

Click BELOW for Part ONE of this article:
Onions, Diagnosis, Attention and Grief –
Dealing with Grief is like Peeling an Onion 

In Part One of this article, we talked about some of the ways in which dealing with grief is like peeling an onion, and we discussed the fact that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish grief from depression.

I encouraged you not to automatically discount the idea of pharmaceuticals if you feel you are not able to cope very well at all, and discouraged the impulsive from self-medicating.

I also encouraged you to trust your instincts about what YOU need while you heal.

I went on to give you a few specifics to help explain what that frequently mentioned “trouble sleeping” during a grief phase might look like in your life.

Following some brief information about the benefits of normalizing, I included a bit of self-disclosure about my own recent struggles with grief, to further help normalize what you may be experiencing. I left you with this:

Peeling grief’s onion takes the time it takes.
There ARE no shortcuts.

While it is certainly true that we cannot shorten the process, there are many things we CAN do to avoid lengthening it. That will be the focus of the remainder of this particular 2-part article in the Grief Series.

WHILE we Peel, we need to avoid the Pitfalls

Watch out for what you usually do that doesn’t really serve you

How have you handled pockets of unusual stress in the past?
Do you eat more (or less), sleep more (or less), drink or smoke more?

  • Watch out for those tendencies while you are grieving,
    so that you won’t unconsciously engage in “comfort” activities
    likely to make grief take longer to resolve.
  • Control what you can.

What have been your favorite avoidance activities?

Do you tend to hibernate to heal emotionally, or are you more likely to escape into activities that keep you busy-busy-busy so you don’t have time to think?

I tend to disappear into creating new blog content and updating content or links on articles long since posted, for example – in my attempt to keep my mind off uncomfortable emotions.

It does work, but other areas of my life fall apart when I hyperfocus there (followed by some “sneaky grief” — a sudden hit of anger about how “overworked and unappreciated” I am!)

Remaining aware of what I do helps me make better choices — but not a bunch, by the way.  (I’ll take any help I can get, however, and I’ll bet you will too!)

At this time, do your best to pull back from your tendencies toward either end of the “what you do to cope” see-saw.

Doing your best to “look normal” from the outside will help you stabilize with structure — as long as you don’t add to the pressure of grieving with undue attention on others during a time that needs to be self-focused.

Lower your Standards

Be gentle with yourself when you fall back into old habits. Allow yourself to get back on the horse when you fall off. Avoid self-flagellation.

Be prepared to remind others that they need to cut you some slack during your grief window — every time they try to push you faster than you can go.  If you find you aren’t able to do it very nicely, forgive yourself and do it anyway.

Unless they are grieving too, it is a reasonable expectation that they will step UP as you need to step down for a bit.  Even if THEY don’t get this, you must.

Brush aside any attempt to shame and blame – especially if they don’t mean to do it.


Tailoring the To-Do List

Underpromise and underschedule.  Jettison the shoulds.

Make a [short] list of items that really-no-kidding need to stay in place without fail, and let others fall by the wayside for now.

To get you started, below are some items from my list and ideas from grieving clients.  Use them as guidelines, but make your own list of “musts.”

FOOD and its logistics

  • The kids have to be fed, but this is probably a good time to take advantage of prepared foods, paper plates, and paper towels. Get some.  Get more than you think you’ll use. (While you’re at it, pick up enough blow-your-nose-and-dry-your-eyes facial tissue boxes to have at least one in every room, and stock up on toilet paper — extras can store under the bed, by the way.)

YOU have to eat, but you will survive a spate of a less than optimal diet – that’s why God made vitamins. Take them. When you feel like cooking something healthy, make twice as much and freeze the leftovers to reheat when you don’t.

Don’t be penny-wise and grief foolish. Stock up on easy-to-open-and-close freezer bags or those “take it home from the party” left-over containers when you pick up the paper products.  Now is NOT the time to hunt for lids that match the containers you have! Wrangling with plastic wrap and freezer paper will do you IN – save them for next year, they’ll keep!

You will probably find it worth your time to identify the contents of your freezer meals right on the container — with a permanent marker.  Keep it in your silverware drawer (with a few backups in your underwear drawer if you have family members that don’t put things back).

Avoid junk food, and focus on upping the protein – especially in the morning.  

Carbs will comfort, but shift them to the end of the day when they’ll help your brain produce serotonin that will help you get to sleep.  Go easy on the grains, even if you’re not normally sensitive to gluten – there are other ways to get your carbs.

Protein is what your brain needs to help dissipate the brain-fog as you emerge from the already high serotonin sleep state — what your brain needs to make the neurotransmitter dopamine.

In addition to focus, dopamine is also a major player in what is called the “reward” circuit — you want your brain to be able give you credit for any little thing you manage to accomplish, don’t you?

Hard boiled eggs, a spoonful of peanut butter or a chunk of cheese (assuming you are not sensitive to those items), or leftover chicken, fish or meat from last night’s dinner if you are — are all good AM choices if you, like me, barely function for hours after you open your eyes anyway.

Oatmeal for dinner occasionally rarely kills anyone, but make it a point to attempt to avoid the ChocoSugarBits and other sweets a much as possible during this time-frame.

Your home and its services

  • You have to keep the utilities on and a roof over your head, so you must make sure your bills are paid.

This is not the time, however, to agonize over what a late payment is likely to do to your credit rating.  Do what you must to avoid shut-off — when you are feeling a bit more together you can call to ask that a note be put in your file to explain a few missed deadlines.

If you can delegate bill-paying for a while, so much the better.

  • Justify it any way you must, but if you can afford to hire help with the housework, DO it. Otherwise, the dust and dust-bunnies will wait. (So will the yard work, cleaning out the garage and washing the car.)

Borrow my standard of cleanliness for a while: nobody trips over the dirt and nobody gets sick from being in my house. You can probably manage that much housekeeping if you pay attention to not letting things get too far out of hand.

If people in your life want to read your beads about your sloppy standards, DO NOT ALLOW IT!

Teach yourself to put your hands over your ears and tell them – forcefully – to clean away to their heart’s content, but that it’s simply mean and nasty to give you grief while you are already grieving and they need to STOP it!  Tell ’em I said so.

Maybe next time they’ll stop the moment you cover your ears?

Another good To-Do List to help move through the tougher times


Make another [short] list of little things that make a difference to your state of mind, and pick them off whenever you can. Avoid perfectionism – this may become your entire to-do list for a bit.

Cross items off your list as you do them, by the way.

Add anything you do that’s not already on your list so you can cross that off too, the minute you finish writing it down. It may sound silly, but I promise that it really helps. You will be amazed at how much more effective crossing-things-off will make you feel, even when the individual activities themselves aren’t that impressive.

Your “done” list will soon becomes your best evidence to yourself that you ARE, in fact, doing something besides staring in a grief-sodden stupor.

  • Take care of your physical health and keep up with basic grooming: this is not the time to decide that it is too much trouble to take your vitamins, remove your make-up, or to get haphazard about brushing and flossing.

While you might not have it in you to get to the gym, you can do a few jumping jacks, or run in place while you count to fifty – something to get your heart pumping a bit faster. It will make you feel better. Really!

Make sure you take some time everyday to stretch your muscles (sort of a poor man’s yoga!).  If you have a regular yoga practice, keep that in place.  It will help immensely. So will a daily walk – even a short one.

  • Force water – don’t wait to feel thirsty. Your brain needs more than your body, and you really don’t want to make it more difficult to drive your brain, do you?  Make a hash mark on that list of yours for every 8-ounce glass you down.  Aim for a minimum of 8-10 hashmarks every day. That alone will make everything a bit brighter.

Screen shot 2013-01-15 at 5.58.52 PM

  • MAKE your bed because the visual calm will translate internally, but don’t agonize over the fact that the sheets haven’t been changed for a bit, or that nice neat hospital corners are beyond you currently.  Even if you throw the spread over lumpy bedding, it will look better and help you to feel better.  Make it a habit to do it as soon after awakening as you can manage.
  • Make sure you put things back after you get them out, so you don’t end up buried under clutter that will only depress you further.  This is probably not the time to bemoan your lack of organization, however.  Organizing is a decision-intensive task, and our ability to decide is not the best when we’re grieving.  Just take the time to put things back in their current homes for now, so that you can find them again when you want them again.
  • Use one of your “good” days to organize your work-clothes into outfits you don’t have to think about in the morning.  Simplify your wardrobe; put away the “make work” clothing for a while. Tees and turtlenecks don’t need ironing; oxford-cloth button downs are simply nuts while you are grieving (unless you live in a doorman building and can afford to drop things off to be picked up and delivered by the cleaners).
  • Similar to “putting things back,” make it a point to hang things up (or throw them in the hamper) the minute you take them off. Avoid the pile-ups. (Think about this concept in your bathroom too – hang the towels to dry and put the grooming tools away immediately – make it an exercise in mindfulness until it becomes a habit.)
  • Leave the kitchen in a state of calm after dinner – you’ll be surprised at how much more centered you will feel in the morning.  If your family leaves a mess after you have restored order, go on strike.  Tell them as forcefully as you must that they can’t have whatever it is they expect from you if they make it more difficult for you to give it to them by starting your day off  badly.
    (They’ll live — and it’s amazing how much more cooperation a day without your hands on their breakfast or a ride to the mall can garner. Just say no, gird your loins, and lock yourself away from the weeping and wailing.)

Put these kinds of items ON your list so you can cross them off when you do them.

Source: dreamstimefree

Fight Malaise

Get engaged in something you can DO, and try to avoid hyperfocus on the mindless.

Hours of television or web browsing probably won’t help. If that’s your pleasure, set an alarm for no longer than an hour. When it rings, make yourself turn off the electronic mind-master and do anything else to break the tractor beam – go to the bathroom, wash a dish, or walk around the block.

You can always go back for another round of hyperfocus (set that alarm again!), but you may find you don’t really want to.

Check your (simplified) To-Do list if you can’t avoid the siren call on your return.  Pick anything and do something else first.

Cross it off the list, and see if that creates enough momentum to remain in action for another one or two items.  Allow baby steps to remind you that you do need to baby YOU, but you don’t need to give in and give up.

A less passive activity like catching up on your reading is a better choice if you love to read, but now is not the time to tackle War and Peace. Magazines (or what are sometimes referred to as “beach reads”) may be a more reasonable expectation.

  • Be careful with self-help – avoid the rah-rah books for now, in favor of the ones that encourage you to be good to yourself and take things slowly.
  • The last thing you need in the throes of grief is a supposedly motivating book that will only remind you of what you can’t do right now.

This is a great time for journaling.  If you’re a lapsed Julia Cameron fan (The Artist’s Way), put the morning pages back in place.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept or the book (or even if you are), click the link and watch a great two-and-a-half minute video where the author explains the point of the exercise.  Most people find it helpful to have a place to dump mental detritus.

Boundary the Territory

You will probably find you will do best with activities that have a clear beginning and ending.

Chunk larger tasks into smaller ones:

  • Sewing a button on ONE shirt instead of “doing the mending.”
  • Putting away the glasses or the silverware (or the forks!) rather than
    “emptying the dishwasher.”  

It will give you more to cross off your list, too.  I promise, it sounds dumb but it really helps.

Keep reminding yourself and others that, “This too, will pass.”  For right now, you are practicing what the coaching world refers to as Extreme Self-care

I’ll leave you with the last item from Helpful Tips for Coping with Grief, the article on the HealthCommunities Website that began this article:

If you can, draw comfort from your faith.

Faith can be a powerful source of strength and comfort. If you follow a religious tradition, engaging in meaningful spiritual activities, such as prayer, meditation and religious services, can help you heal.

If your grief causes you to question your faith, spiritual guidance may be helpful.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Transitions Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
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BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

13 Responses to Some HELP for the Grieving

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  7. Let’s try something different for comments. How about requesting comments in the middle of the post with a question and than at the end of the post with another question, both in a color that gets attention for ADD and yet. Include a small area of how to click on comment and type it. It took me awhile to figure this out … like several months! Maybe that’s the real issue.

    I think ADDers have so much to offer. Combining TBI and ADD can help many brain dysfunction issues in many area the population. ADDers are experienced, and I hope they share their experiences so we don’t need to travel the same road. We can take a different path and teach what we learn and combine both techniques.

    Take care and stay safe,


  8. Attention readers: What different things are working for others reading this post while ones goes through difficult times?


  9. Madelyn,

    I love these ideas dealing with grief. Since most of us revert to “comfort foods” I especially like how you say these can prolong the grief process. I hope to remember this!

    Cooking an extra meal is so important and freezing it. I have found that even soup will freeze well in quart size freezer bags. That’s a life-saver to pull something out of the freezer and heat. It’s nutritious and that’s what we need to get through these hard times. We need to feed our brain!

    You’ve reminded me to do carbs later in the day changing the proper brain chemicals. I find my sleep is poor without good carbs. High protein is good, but everyone needs a balance of good carbs.

    There are so many great points in this post. I’ll come back to visit! (I’ve exhausted my day by replying & writing a lengthy email letter and well worth it!) Thanks for another amazing post!

    Take care and stay safe,


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