coping with loss

The death of a loved one has a profound effect on us, both physically and mentally. In fact, Mental Health America describes it as “life’s most stressful event”.  Every one of us experiences the loss of a loved one differently, and the grieving process is also different.

While it may feel like the pain will never end and the tears will never stop, you can survive and thrive, even when you’re still coping with loss. Remember to take care of yourself while you’re grieving. You may also find comfort in the following suggestions.

1. Understand Grief Is Normal

After the death of someone close, you may experience emotions that scare you or make you feel as though there’s something wrong with you. There isn’t. Grief causes us to feel all sorts of emotions from sadness to anger to fear to…nothing. Some people are so numb after a loss, they don’t feel anything at all. 

You may have heard or read about the five stages of grief.  These were developed by a psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross back in 1969.

They are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

It’s important to remember that you can experience any of these stages at any time during the grieving process. There is no order to them, and you may not experience all of them. They’re simply a way for you to understand a little more about your feelings and hopefully, provide some reassurance that those feelings are normal. 

Your grief may even feel more like a roller coaster than a series of stages. You may experience ups and downs that make it hard to feel any progress in dealing with the loss. It’s perfectly normal to feel better for a while, only to become sad again. 

2. Be Patient with Yourself

As difficult as it may be, accept that you need to experience your pain, your emotions and your own way of healing in your own time. Try not to criticize your feelings or compare yourself to others. You may wonder how someone else can seem to “get over” the death of a loved one more quickly than you are. You may wonder if there’s something wrong with you. There isn’t.

Remember that no one else can tell you how you should grieve or when you should stop.  Acknowledge your feelings, even the ones you don’t like. Let yourself cry. 

You may experience any or all of these emotions:

  • Denial
  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Shock
  • Sadness            
  • Yearning
  • Anger
  • Humiliation
  • Despair
  • Guilt

Depending on the circumstances of your loved ones death, one of these emotions may be more pronounced than another. For example, if your loved one died unexpectedly, your shock may be significant.

If they died without a will or without making any other arrangements, you may experience anger or frustration. (You can find more information about wills and the importance of having them on our blog).

3. Express Your Feelings

This might take several forms. Some people write in a journal, for example. It might help to write out everything you’re feeling, especially if you’re experiencing emotions that you’re not ready to talk about yet.

You might draw or paint, if this is appealing to you. Sometimes art can help us express feelings we don’t have words for.

If the death was sudden, you may be feeling a sense of loss that you weren’t able to tell the person everything you wanted to before their death. It might help to write them a letter, expressing everything you would tell them if you could.

If your loved one was active in a cause or an organization, perhaps you could join the group as a way of honoring them. Nonprofits are always looking for volunteers, and you may find it comforting to continue your loved one’s work.

4. Coping with Loss by Talking to Someone

It helps if you can talk about your loss and share your memories. You may want to talk about how you’ve experienced the life and death of your loved one. Some people feel like they can’t or shouldn’t talk to their family and friends, but it can be therapeutic to share your collective grief.

You might seek out a professional to help you process your grief, especially if you don’t want to talk with friends or family members. 

If your loved one died as a result of someone else’s action or inaction, your emotions may be very different than what we’ve talked about. You may experience acute anger and a desire to right a wrong. You can find more information about that on this page.

5. Take Care of Your Physical Health

It sounds cliched, but it’s true. Make sure you’re eating healthy foods, even if you don’t feel like it. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Try to ward off stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep and exercising. 

Be careful not to turn to drugs and alcohol to help you cope, as tempting as it might be to try and numb the pain. It’s not unusual for people to develop a dependence on these things and not be able to stop using them.

6. Recognize the Difference Between Grief and Depression

Doctors classify grief as either acute or persistent. Most people experience acute grief, which occurs in the first six to 12 months after a loss and gradually resolves.

Some experience persistent grief, which is defined as grief that lasts longer than 12 months. You may have heard it referred to as “complicated grief”. That can happen when the pain of loss is so severe that it keeps you from resuming your life in any way. You may have trouble functioning at all. 

Other symptoms can include: 

  • Focusing almost exclusively on your loved one’s death
  • Focusing on reminders of your loved one or avoiding reminders entirely
  • Intense and persistent longing for your loved one
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning 
  • Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out for help from a professional. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with a counselor in your area, you can always call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-8255. You can also find other resources here.

7. Prepare for Anniversary Triggers

Important dates in the life you shared with your loved one can trigger an emotional response, and it help to be prepared. It could be almost any date that it important to you, although the most common are birthdays and anniversaries.

You might plan ahead to spend time with your family on these dates, or you may feel better if you spend the time alone. The key is to prepare for these days, so they don’t surprise you.

Final Thoughts

It’s also important to know that it’s OK to take a break from grief. Coping with loss is hard, but you don’t have to focus on grief all the time. Find distractions like going to a movie, dinner or a ball game. Even watching a movie at home or reading a book can help.

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