The death of people we know can hit us hard and in unexpected ways. It is not easy to feel the pain of their absence or know how to deal with it.
This article will explain how to deal with your grief in a healthy way.
What Is Grief
Grief is pain or sorrow caused by absence. It will occur many times in our lives, whether we lose our jobs, lose a relationship, or even a treasured belonging. The time when we feel grief the most starkly is when we lose a loved one. Grief is not one single emotion. It is a cluster of emotions, and at times it may include sadness, pain, anger, love, hate. At times you may even feel happiness or relief. Every emotion you may feel while grieving is valid. Many people experience different symptoms or manifestations of grief and may even experience grief in multiple different ways. Though the 5 stages of grief proposed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are no longer universally accepted, they do show some common symptoms of grief. It is important to know that everybody expresses grief in different ways, so do not compare your grief to that of those around you.
How to Deal With Grief
The loss of a loved one can hit hard, no matter how close your relationship was. If not managed properly, grief can cause massive disruptions in our lives. Follow these tips to handle grief in a healthy way and learn to live alongside it.
Make Space For Your Grief
A common mistake people make when grieving is to push their feelings down and attempt to “soldier on.” You need to make space for your grief and allow yourself to feel the feelings.
This is for 2 reasons:
- Your brain will run away from anything that it perceives as bad. If you try to run away from your grief or sadness, then your brain may see it as something bad and either create an anxiety response or adrenaline response next time you feel that emotion.
- The feelings will come out at some point. If you allow yourself to feel grief or sadness, no matter how those feelings manifest, then you get to experience those in a safe space. By pushing those feelings down, they are more likely to come out at times that are inconvenient or inappropriate.
Take time off work immediately after the death and allow yourself time to grieve. Allow yourself to come to terms with the loss of your loved one and remember them. Use the bereavement leave your employer allows and perhaps some paid or unpaid leave as well.
Unfortunately, the pain of your loss will always be there. It lives on with us in some form or another. Allowing yourself the time to initially feel those feelings will help your brain become comfortable with the feelings and know that they are okay. It will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed with grief when you return back to work.
Along with making time for your grief directly after the loss, you should put aside time for intentional grieving. Do what works for you. This may be an hour every evening, or you may just need ten minutes. Spend time remembering your loved one and acknowledging the feelings you had that day. Acknowledging feelings as they occur will stop an emotional explosion caused by bottling up too many feelings. Your intentional grieving needs will be different from other people, and it will change over time. It may even change from day to day. Do what feels right for you.
Do Not Compare Your Grieving to Others
This advice goes both ways. You should not compare your grief to other people and feel like you are grieving too much or too little. But you should also not compare other peoples’ grief to yours and tell them that they are grieving too much or too little. Everybody grieves in their own way in their own time. There are many different symptoms of grief, and people will feel them at different times. Some people may have a lot of responsibilities and need to cobble themselves together in public. That is okay too.
If you struggle to get out of bed some days, that is okay.
If you put on a brave face in public but have a little cry in the bathtub, that is okay.
If you are angry that your loved one is no longer here, that is okay.
Everything you are feeling is okay. Allow yourself to feel it. When you feel your emotions, it allows you to live with the emotion without it running your life. When you try to repress emotions, it just festers and takes over your life.
Know that some people will be doing better than you and some worse than you. Also, know that some people will only seem to be doing better than you. Allow yourself to grieve in your own way on your own time. Allow others the same luxury.
Do Not Put a Timeline on Your Grief
Your grief will always be there. Some may be comforted by that; some may be scared by that. But it is the truth. Over time it will fade and become something that is easy to live with on a daily basis. Some days it may raise its head unexpectedly and knock you down. Family events and special days will be the hardest. As will things and moments you would have wanted to share with your loved one.
Everybody grieves differently, and people take different amounts of time to feel okay with the grief. There is no magic formula where you calculate the closeness of your relationship to the age they die, and voila, you can plan your grief into a calendar. It may not be easy to hear, but it will take as long as it takes for your grief to become manageable. These tips will help you learn to be okay with the grief a little faster, but it is not an overnight cure.
Talk to Your Loved One
You don’t need to visit their grave or plaque as in movies. You can just sit in a quiet room or look at a picture of them, or hold something of theirs. Talk to your loved one as if they were still here. Share your feelings and why you are struggling. Share the memories that come up that make you miss them. Share your fears, your worries, the things that feel too hard. Most importantly, talk about the things that you wish you told them. The apologies you wish you made, the words of thanks or love, the tension you wish you had let go of before their death.
Regardless of your belief system, this is a comforting practice. It allows you to talk out your feelings and let go of any hurt, guilt, or pain that may be tied in with your grief. This is a great practice to make time for your grief and will help you feel closer to your loved one.
Find time and space where you can talk without fear of being overheard. You need to express all of your feelings, the bittersweet and the just plain bitter. Nothing should be off-limits during this time. If you do not have the space or time to talk freely, then consider writing a letter to your loved one or a journal. Do whatever helps you best.
Seek Out The Things That You Need
Everybody needs different things while they are grieving. Some people need a break from grieving and need to see their friends, to do normal things and talk about everyday trivial matters. Some people need to see counsellors to talk through all their feelings. You can and should seek out whatever you need. If you need to be away from your family so you can properly deal with the grief rather than it taking the backseat, that is fine. If you need to be around your family so you can lean on them or just for a sense of normalcy. That is also fine.
Do not hesitate to seek out the things that make you feel happy while you are grieving. Many people will take up activities they used to share with their loved one or pick up a hobby that the loved one enjoyed. Fond memories are blessings, and you should seek them out when you are ready.
Be honest with the people in your life. Tell them where you are and what you need. If you need a day out doing normal things with no death talk, then tell them. Most people have lost a loved one and will be extremely understanding.
Know What Is Grief and What Is Not
Losing a loved one can make us take stock of our lives. The death of a parent who had certain hopes for your life may tempt you to explore the path they wished for you. And the untimely death of someone may lead to the contemplation of the brevity of life.
Before you uproot your life, you need to really explore this urge for new directions. The death of a loved one can inspire positive change in our lives, but you need to consider whether you always wanted this change or if your grief is taking the wheel.
Take a little extra time before making huge decisions while you are grieving. Examine whether you would make the decision differently if you were not grieving. Where possible, you may want to put the decision on hold for a month or two to ensure your decision is not being driven by raw emotions.