You will get through it.
Death is a certainty in life. You cannot escape it yourself, nor can you evade experiencing the death of someone you love. Sooner or later, a person you care about – a parent, a grandparent, a spouse, a friend, or a child, will pass away. Then, another.
Sometimes the person lost was ill or aged, other times it was an accident. Other times, it was something else very tragic that took their life. And you – who remain, are left devastated, with what seems like unbearable grief.
When my grandfather recently passed away, it wasn’t so unexpected, really. He was 91 and he had lived an incredible life, though in the past few years he had become quite frail. When I told my young daughter the news, she cried “it’s too soon!”
It was far too soon for me, also.
It’s always too soon.
You may never be fully ready to say goodbye to someone you’ve loved and who has made such a difference in your life. And yet, the circle of life continues, and after the shock and disbelief wane, it’s time to begin to imagine a life without your loved one.
Not everyone can move ahead easily. There is often an emotional roller coaster of overwhelm, anger, blame, sadness, guilt, exhaustion, relief or other feelings.
The critical thing to realize is that grief is a normal and natural response to loss. And how you experience it will be different than anyone else. Grief is your pain.
Your mourning will be influenced by many factors including your relationship to the person, the circumstances of their death, your personality, your past experience with loss, your spirituality, and your level of resilience.
Even though your grief is unique to you, there is such thing as functional grief. That is, grief that allows you to acknowledge your emotions and experience them, and ultimately integrate your loss into your ongoing existence.
It’s reasonable to take time to recover from what is a significant wound. Despite that, some people’s grief moves into unhealthy grief. Unhealthy bereavement happens when the suffering is prolonged, interrupts normal activities or daytime routines, or otherwise holds people back from living their lives. If this is you, or if you feel like life isn’t worth living, speak with a mental health professional immediately. With treatment, you can recover.
Maybe you feel like you are in between grieving and recovery now. Well, you don’t have to be the person who fails to adequately grieve because you cannot tolerate the associated pain or due to a misguided belief that mourning equals weakness.
You don’t have to avoid getting in touch with your feelings. You don’t have to remain stuck.
Instead, you can be patient and compassionate with yourself, be emotionally available to yourself and others, and welcome the return of joy - as well as honouring the sadness.
If you’re heartbroken and seriously missing someone you’ve lost, here are 15 ways to deal with your grief in a healthy way:
Contrary to the song “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” they do. And so do big boys. Tears are not a sign of weakness, but of love and strength.
So, go ahead and sob. Sob hard. Your body needs the physical release of your emotions. Crying helps to restore much-needed balance.
2. Talk it out.
Share how you’re feeling with a significant other, friend, or family member. This is particularly helpful for extroverts who process their thoughts as they speak (and be aware of withdrawing as a sign of stress). Introverts may prefer some time alone – and that’s ok, though you may extrovert your distress at times when you're feeling in the grip.
It’s important to acknowledge and express your feelings in some way. Have you noticed that when you articulate an emotion, it suddenly subsides?
3. Speak to a doctor, spiritual leader, therapist, counselor or coach.
If you already have a trusted professional in your life, they can be an unbiased ear. Enlist their support through this challenging time to explore your thoughts about life and death, and build strategies for moving forward.
If you are continuing to have difficulty, or your grief has become dysfunctional, get help from a professional right away.
4. Practice self-care.
Your body and mind are going through an intense experience. Make sure that you’re getting an extra boost of self-care, such as taking a nap when you need to, taking supplements if you’re not eating as well, or making an appointment for a massage to ease your stress and strains.
5. Do some deep breathing.
When grief hits it affects the heart, mind, and body. Sometimes something as simple as stopping to take a few deep breaths can allow you to get centered and cease the overwhelm. Sit with your back firmly against a chair and your feet planted on the ground. Place one hand on your belly and feel your breath in and out.
Do some deep breathing before an event or encounter that you anticipate being stressful, such as the funeral or sharing your sad news with someone else.
6. Write in a journal.
Go out and buy a notebook that reminds you of the person you’ve lost or something that brings you joy when you pick it up. Then, give yourself a few hours to sit by yourself and write freely.
Write about what happened, how you feel, all the things you remember about the person or your memories of being with them, and everything they did that touched your life.
As the days pass, continue to write in your journal about whatever is coming up for you. Expressing your thoughts and feelings without judgment is a way to move through them.
The other day I found my high school journal and in it an excerpt from the day my other grandfather passed away. I was flooded with emotion once again, but at the same time, I was so glad I had documented my loss. It allowed me to reconnect with him and the loss, as well as fill me with thankfulness.
7. Write a song or poem.
Express your feelings creatively in a poem or song about the person. This activity is especially helpful for children who are grieving and need an outlet. The night after my grandfather passed, my daughter picked up her guitar and wrote a song dedicated to her great-grandfather. It was beautifully touching, outlining her remorse for all the things she hadn’t yet got to do with him, sadness for losing him, gratitude for knowing him, and ultimately, hope that he will “keep going into Heaven.”
Writing a song or poem can be a journey that brings closure. The output is something so precious, that will continue to give.
8. Make a slideshow of pictures.
Though this can take hours and hours to put together, creating a slideshow of memories through pictures can be incredibly healing and rewarding. The act of sorting through albums – online or photo books, allows you to relive those experiences again and see what a magnificent life the person had.
You will not only help yourself to process your grief but in creating something tangible like a slide show, you will leave a legacy and share it with others who loved them. Show it at a visitation or memorial, or an intimate gathering.
9. Make a playlist of favourite songs.
Fire up YouTube or a streaming device and save all of the songs that remind you of your loved ones. If you have access to their CD or even their old record collection, play them. Don’t be surprised if you tear up! In time, they will be a comfort to you and even bring you a smile.
10. Create an in-home memorial or memory box.
On a shelf in your home, display objects that memorialize your loved one. This could be as simple as some photographs and a candle, a personal object of theirs, or some knick-knacks that remind you of them. It will live on for you as a tribute to them.
If you’d rather not display the items on an ongoing basis, keep them in a memory box where you can privately keep your mementos.
11. Wear their jewelry.
I lost my grandmother when I was pregnant. It was an emotional time, and for the sake of the health of my baby, I tried to smooth over my sadness.
One thing I have held onto is a necklace of hers. I wear it when I need that extra boost of self-confidence or courage – and it works. I know that she is with me.
Wearing something belonging to the loved one may give you comfort and strength to get through the passage through grief - and beyond.
12. Donate to a charity.
Pack up some of your loved one’s items and give them to a charity close to their heart, or someone in their life who is less fortunate. If they had a particular cause, provide a financial donation – whatever you can afford, or even better, donate your time. Helping others in their name is a doubly good deed!
13. Gather with friends and family.
Being with others can make you realize that you are not alone. Others are feeling the loss, too. Hear each other out, and be a shoulder to cry on. They will give you theirs.
14. Cook a special meal.
Invite friends and family over and make your loved one's favourite foods. It is a great way to remember and celebrate them. So, serve up your mother’s special lamb stew and recall how she used to savor every morsel of cherry cheesecake. Pass on these recipes to your kids, too, and create some new memories.
15. Participate in rituals.
Many death customs originated as a way for a family to heal from a loss.
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, after the body is buried, family and friends gather for a reception where mourners can connect with each other, reflect on the life of the deceased, and eat what is called the “mercy meal.” The mourning period lasts forty days, with further memorials at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, and annually for 7 years. Mourners continue to support each other over this extended time.
Other cultures and religions have their death customs, too. Do what feels right for you.
By articulating your feelings, focusing on self-care, creating something artistic and lasting, observing a person’s life through pictures or personal effects, connecting with others, and celebrating their life, you will process your grief in a healthy way and begin the journey of healing from the loss.
Try just one of these methods, then another, and see yourself through to a new day - one day at a time. Remember that when you're ready, there will be a time when you will think of your loved one with a smile – not just a tear. Hold them in your heart forever, and you will live your life to the fullest.