Overcoming Grief: How to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One
Sad, but true, most of us will have to deal with the loss of a loved one during our lifetimes. While the grief this engenders doesn’t last forever, it can be particularly hard to deal with at this time of year, when thoughts like “the first Christmas without Grandpa” might come to mind.
Grief is hard. You might find yourself searching for – and even seeing!- your lost loved one’s face in crowds. Everything you see will remind you of this person in some way, even small or mundane things such as “she always loved that song….” or “he would always read these magazines in the supermarket line.”
You’ll likely experience physical manifestations of grief as well, which could range from a tight throat or heaviness in the chest, to heart pain or an upset stomach. You might be unable to sleep through the night, waking up at random times. But it’s okay. Grief is hard, but it’s natural, and needs to be allowed to run its course.
Friends and well-wishers who encourage you to “move on with your life,” or “keep your chin up,” should be taken with a grain of salt. This is your emotional process and no one else’s. Grief doesn’t really come in a set of predictable stages, so don’t worry if your feelings don’t line up with a predictable pattern.
All that said, there are plenty of things you can do to make overcoming the loss of a loved one a little bit easier to bear. Here are a few ideas:
1. Start a new tradition. Holidays and anniversaries can very poignant reminders of your loss. Be prepared to experience emotions, around these times, and turn them into occasions for healing. One way to do this is to start a new tradition, honoring this person’s memory, on those days. Plant a tree in his or her memory every year, or make a donation in their name to a charitable organization. While you’re remembering your loved one, you’re also making a positive contribution, which helps make you feel good. Staying busy on days you are likely to feel particularly sad can help you remember him or her, while staying positive. Plan a picnic with other loved ones in a spot he or she loved.
2. Rather than withdraw, reach out. Wanting to be alone with your grief is a natural reaction, but it can be pleasant to go over old memories of your loved one with others, who were also close to this person. Maintain your connections, particularly people with whom you can speak about your loss, like your friends, social groups or spiritual communities. Joining a support group can help you find other positive ways to make new connections, and cope with your grief, with people who understand your experiences. If your grief becomes worse, or makes it difficult to function in daily life, be sure to seek professional help.
3. Explore your feelings. Some people find keeping a journal can help them process their grief and understand it better. Exploring your feelings can be a little bit scary, particularly because it entails accepting your loss. Avoiding your feelings can at first seem easier than facing them, but this only leads to more pain, and possible mental and physical health problems down the road. Loss is a part of the natural life cycle. It’s okay to cry! The physical act of crying can be very cathartic. This is a much needed-release for some people, but if you don’t cry, it doesn’t mean you’re not “sad enough.”