Updated on 04.07.09

Lifting Your Spirits For Free

Trent Hamm

Know the rulesThe last week has been pretty rough for me following the passing of my grandmother. I was pretty close to her from my earliest years, but over the last few months, we hadn’t spoken as much as we normally had. I was involved with my own children and she had not called as often as she used to, which I didn’t think much about at the time, but now I realize was just another sign of her Alzheimer’s growing slowly worse.

When she passed away, the initial shock was difficult, but it was actually much harder after the funeral, when I tried to get back into my normal routine. To put it simply, I didn’t want to write. I felt down. I kept thinking about Grandma – and also about how my mother was dealing with things. Memories kept popping into my head. The last thing I wanted to do was to write or do research. I mostly just wanted to hide under a blanket somewhere.

Then I realized something. If Grandma saw me sitting around feeling that sorry for myself, she would let into me like no one’s business. She constantly expected great things from me, more than other people, and she told me why once – because she knew that I was capable of it.

So I spent some time putting myself in a better psychological place – and it really helped. Here are some of the things that really worked.

Let it out The quicker you let it all uncork, the better off you’ll be. I spent some time thinking about the happiest memories I had with Grandma and, before long, the tears came, hot and hard. I cried for a bit, then I felt much better about things.

Exercise I went on a three mile walk, then I did a little bit of interval training (basically, I ran as fast as I could for a block, then stopped until I caught my breath, then did it again, repeating several times). Endorphins do wonders for lifting your mood and making you feel better, even if it’s just a nice walk.

The outdoors After my walk, I sat outside in the grass for a bit. It was pretty cold (winter has been trying to fight back against spring here in Iowa over the last few days), but the fresh air, the sunshine on my skin, and the sound of birds in the trees brought me a steady and happy inner peace. I wound up tinkering around in the garden for a bit, enjoying the outdoors and being refreshed by the sweet spring air.

Simple meditation A period of simple meditation can help clear any troubled mind. Here’s a very basic one that works well for me. I get in a comfortable chair with my feet up. I close my eyes, then I focus on nothing but breathing. I breathe in for a four count, then breathe out for a four count. Once that becomes easy and natural, I focus on each part of my body, starting at my toes. I try to focus on making them go completely still. I move up my body, until I’m to my head, and I’m usually pretty close to sleep (but not quite). Then I go in reverse, back down my body, imagining those pieces coming back to life. It takes about twenty minutes and always makes me feel relaxed and more at peace with the world.

YouTube I have a big collection of YouTube bookmarks that simply lift my mood. They usually take me back to moments in my life that really made me happy, and each one usually gives me goose bumps. Here are a few of them.

Conversation I’ve talked to countless friends and family members over the last few days. Each conversation has helped. A simple phone call does the trick … and a good friend always listens and has something helpful to say.

Children I’ve spent a ton of time playing with my children. A child at play subtly convinces you to let go of the concerns in your life and simply revel in what’s happening at the moment. Rolling around on the floor with my daughter, playing Memory with my son, and having a dance party in the basement with them helped cure a lot of what I was feeling.

Love Just now, as I was writing this, my wife came into the office, put her arms around me, and gave me a big hug. Her constant, unyielding love helps with moments like this. She’s a constant source of support and conversation, and when I’m facing a difficult moment like this, she’s there for me in every way.

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  1. Sorry about your loss Trent…Its good to read about the things you are doing to keep your mental status in check during this stressful time. The first two steps are crucial – letting your feelings out will only aid in the healing process and yes, exercise is a great assistant in getting the good juices flowing.

  2. Maureen says:

    My father passed away at the end of Jan., almost exactly 2 years after my mom passed away. Even if anticipated, the death of a loved one can leave you reeling. There were times when I felt numb. There is no timetable for grieving. Don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘feel better’. Be gentle with yourself. I drew some comfort from routines. Working can be therapeutic. With time, the loss will be less raw. Easter, Mother’s day, Christmas will be hard on you all, particularly your mom. A song, photo or memory can bring another pang of loss, even many months later. This too is natural.

    My condolences to you and your family.

  3. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    Wow, I really enjoyed the links to the you tube videos. You are right they are awesome!

    Videos work great for me! Anyone else have any?

  4. Miranda says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. My husband had a hard time when his grandmother passed, and found comfort in talking about her and in enjoying nature. He also found comfort in our faith. I haven’t lost anyone so close to me yet, but I’m sure it’s coming as my grandparents age. I will keep this post in mind when the time comes.

  5. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this post. My husband’s grandfather passed away last week, and we also spent the past weekend traveling 1,000+ miles to attend his two services. He also suffered from Alzheimer’s for the past 14 years. It was a tough, tough weekend, and while I’ve finally recovered physically from the journey, mentally I’m still exhausted and very sad. My husband, who is named after his grandpa, is also pretty down. I’ll take your tips to heart and try a few of them today.

  6. Mary says:

    Your post reminded me of my Grandpa’s funeral. It was the middle of December and we all made it despite the snow. Afterwards, it snowed all day and we hung out at my mom’s. We were all staying there and the next day we went sledding almost all day. My husband, me, my sister, her husband, their 3 kids, and my dad. It was awesome. The next day my husband and I had to come home to work for a week but the following week we were right back at my parent’s for Christmas (as was everyone else and everyone had been there for Thanksgiving to say goodbye to my Grandpa). That time was crazy for me and my husband because we lived 450 miles away; insane for my Aunt, Uncle, and cousin because they lived 1000 miles away (and they drove for Christmas and THanksgiving, flew for the funeral). But I don’t think any of us will forget those 5 weeks (oh yeah and my brother and his wife had baby girl in that time, but they lived nearby so they got to be there too).

  7. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    Sorry for your loss, Trent. My thoughts and prayers to you and your family. Hang in there.

  8. Sarah says:

    I think all your self-care routines are great, Trent, but don’t pressure yourself to feel better on a certain schedule or consider grieving to be “sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.” We heal at our own pace. You have a right to be sad.

  9. SP says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, and keep on taking care of yourself. hang in there!

  10. Bill says:

    My condolences on the passing of your grandmother. My grandfather passed away last year and it difficult for me as well. I was so fortunate that he left a book of his memoirs that I could read and remember him and share with my kids.

  11. ~Carla~ says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss… :( I lost my grandfather a few months ago to Alzheimers also, and it is tough for a while. However, like you said, you have to live for the ‘now’… sounds like you have a wonderfully supportive family! Thanks for sharing your YouTube videos.. i’ll have to check them out.

  12. NED says:

    This may sound really callous, or really insightful. Depends on how you see it.

    How it Ends
    by De Votchka

    Hold your grandmother’s Bible to your breast.
    Gonna put it to the test.
    You want it to be blessed.
    And in your heart,
    You know it to be true,
    You know what you gotta do.
    They all depend on you.
    And you already know.
    Yeah, you already know how this will end.

    There is no escape,
    From the slave-catchers’ songs.
    For all of the loved ones gone.
    Forever’s not so long.
    And in your soul,
    They poked a million holes.
    But you never lettem show.
    C’mon it’s time to go.

    Already know.
    Yeah, you already know
    How this will end.

    Now you’ve seen his face.
    And you know that there’s a place,
    In the sun,
    For all that you’ve done,
    For you and your children.
    No longer shall you need.
    You always wanted to believe,
    Just ask and you’ll receive,
    Beyond your wildest dreams.

    Already know.
    Yeah, you already know
    How this will end.

    You already know (You already know)
    You already know (you already know)
    You already love will end.


  13. kai says:

    Interesting what things lift the moods of different people.
    If I’m feeling off for whatever reason, this is my favourite. It’s in german, but you don’t need to hear anything. I can’t make it through this video without smiling no matter what my mood before.

  14. kz says:

    @ Sarah: Amen. This Sunday is the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. It took me months to finally emerge from the fog of grief.

    Trent – I’m glad that you’ve found a way to deal with your own grief. While I’m sure you didn’t mean this article to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to grief, understand that a lot of people are just incapable of lifting their spirits after just a week. It took me longer than that just to get back to eating regularly. Again, I don’t think that’s what you meant, I just wanted to throw that out there for anyone else who might be struggling, so they will know to take as long as they need.

  15. kristine says:

    I read this, then went to the local state park. My husband had to coax me to get out of the car- my energy is sapped. They are pulling the plug on my aunt tonight- after a massive stroke last night. And my suicidal brother is staying with us. I thought NOTHING could cheer me up. But the great outdoors did, albeit momentarily. Sympathy to you as well.

  16. Michelle68 says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Trent.

  17. Andy says:

    I can’t believe that you are a Duke fan. I thought you were better than that. This changes EVERYTHING . . .

  18. cookie says:

    When my grandmother died, my aunt tried to cheer herself up by anticipating the birth of her own first grandchild. The baby was born about six weeks later. My aunt said at the funeral that it is the cycle of life: one passes and another begins.

  19. Linda says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. My grandmother was like a mom to me, and I miss her to this day. Thanks too for sharing the variety of ways you are dealing with loss. We can all learn from others. Prayer is my best resort. Prayer outside in God’s creation is even better :-)

  20. Sense says:

    Thank you, Trent. I’m sorry for your loss–I’ve been there. I have no grandparents left now, sadly. One of my grandmas, who practically raised me, passed away in 2007 and I still struggle with it, although it’s gotten much better and the sense of loss comes farther and fewer between times.

    This is a timely post because I’m going through a hard time–something completely unrelated to death. However, grief is grief, and your techniques apply to my situation as well.

    I notice that I feel worse about things and dwell on them if I’m not sleeping or eating or exercising like I should. I would also say to focus on babying yourself right now–take care of yourself like you would your child. Or let your wife do that for you. If you need a little time off from the blog I’m sure we’d all understand.

  21. Another Dave says:

    That meditation thing you mentioned is how I get my self to fall asleep on restless nights. It’s amazing how well that works. I laughed when you were describing it and said that “I’m usually pretty close to sleep” Basially I just pretend I’m breathing out the (usually negative) energy that’s keeping me awake. From my feet slowly up to my head with each breath. Works wonders.

  22. Judith says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. There is not much to say when someone loses someone dear to them, except I understand and I care.

    I read your blog through my Google reader, and think you are doing a wonderful job. God bless you.

  23. grannygoodstuff says:

    It has been almost 30 years since my beloved Grandmother passed and 6 years since I lost my mom. Two of the most important people in my life. Even now with the passing of time, I still feel the loss. So, if it gets a little heavy, I drag out some of my meories. I share in thoughts our laughter, our joys, and yes, even our sorrows. I look back on these memories as fond friends and it does help to relive the emptyness. As many before me has said, there is no time limit for the grieving process so just do it at your own pace. You will find in time that the big pain of loss will ease up. Then take comfort in your wonderful memories of your loved ones. They will always be with you, just a dream away.

  24. Kim says:

    One of the things that surprised me when facing grief is how angry I got at people around me who didn’t appear to be grieving while I was devastated. I don’t mean my husband, whose relationship with my uncle was cordial, but never close…I mean my family who had relationships of their own, yet seemed to be moving on. One even forgot (Forgot!) the funeral. It’s normal, even though it helps me to remember that we are all different and each of us had our individual relationship with our loved ones and while our world sometimes feels as if it tilted on its axis, that isn’t true for everyone.

    Just realize that the moments will come perhaps even years later as it does with me and my grandparents, when the grief will hit me again. When you love someone you miss them when they’re gone.

    Thank you for sharing your tips. This is a day when getting out of bed seemed like too much to do, but now that I’m up, I think I’ll go for a walk and cherish memories of my uncle and of my grandparents, gone more than 25 years now.

    Bless you,

  25. grannygoodstuff says:

    ***Corrected typos***
    It has been almost 30 years since my beloved Grandmother passed and 6 years since I lost my mom. Two of the most important people in my life. Even now with the passing of time, I still feel the loss. So, if it gets a little heavy, I drag out some of my memories. I share in thoughts our laughter, our joys, and yes, even our sorrows. I look back on these memories as fond friends and it does help to relieve the emptiness. As many before me has said, there is no time limit for the grieving process so just do it at your own pace. You will find in time that the big pain of loss will ease up. Then take comfort in your wonderful memories of your loved ones. They will always be with you, just a dream away.

  26. Ann McD says:

    Gracious- what a timely placed article! I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother- my heart goes out to you. My own father died just last week. He had been debilitated for a long time but had the situation that lead to his death was fairly short. My head says he is in a better place but my heart is screaming “Give me my dad back!!!” My family has been a huge comfort in all of this- we share the grief but I think we are also helping each other walk through it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

  27. Georgia says:

    Trent – others are right. Grief comes differently for all people. I lost my husband in 2007 and I have grieved very briefly – a few moments at a time. I do not feel like a widow – I am still married in my heart and nothing has changed that. Everyone says that someday I will grieve, but I’m not certain about that.

    My husband & I lived apart most of the week because of my job 70-90 miles away. This went on for 18 years. The last 2 years I retired and moved home to be with him. He was able to do things right up to the end of his 3 1/2 months in Hospice. He was incapable for less than 24 hours. Everywhere I look I see reminders of him and it brings him nearer and doesn’t cause grief.

    Possibly my strong faith in God and his way of doing things that keeps me focused on continuing my life. Also, we were married for 44+ years and I feel I loved him and he loved me. Love can be longer lasting than the life of the loved one.
    I hope you find solace in whatever way you grieve and remember all the times of love you received from your grandmother.

  28. Evangeline says:

    It is important that grief comes for many reasons including the myriad reasons for a shocking, sad change to your life. A year after the loss of my last surviving parent and a few months after a serious health scare, my spouse has informed me only a few days ago of the intention to file divorce. Never saw it coming. When I asked myself how does one overcome the enormity and overwhelming loss of something, I come to much of what Trent and the others suggest: routine as well as faith. Once I pick myself up, come to terms with the loss of a marriage so very important to my heart, I shall know I survived with quiet patience and unwavering faith. Trent, let your grief flow in whatever fashion it choses; it follows it’s own path and you are allowed to resolve it in the manner which gives you the most peace.

  29. Steve says:

    Trent, sorry for your loss. Glad that you have find a way to deal with it. It will take time… you may have to remind yourself to pick yourself up again.
    Thanks for the uplifting youtube videos. It speaks volumes that you had time to share even when you are suffering.
    God bless!

  30. Angela says:

    Trent, I am so sorry to her about your grandma. It is hard when you loose someone so special to you. You will always remember funny things she said, ways she would look when she said something but ment something else and certain smells will also catch you by suprise. You are wise to already have such great coping skills. Thanks for taking the time to share them with us.

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