Losing a loved one can be a highly charged and very traumatic time. And coping with the loss of a close friend or family member may be one of the hardest challenges that many of us face. When we lose our partner, sibling or parent, our grief can be particularly intense. Though loss is understood as a natural part of life, we can still be overcome by shock and confusion, leading to prolonged periods of sadness or depression.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to loss—and the more significant the loss, the more intense your grief will be.
Though coping with loss can be a deeply personal experience, there are a few basic and universal steps to the bereavement and grief process. Knowing these steps can help you to work through your grief over the loss of a loved one:
Allow the feelings.
Coping with the loss of a loved one brings up almost every emotion imaginable. There are times when more than one emotion seems to take hold at once, and you may feel as if you’re “going crazy.” You may experience a wide range of emotions from sadness, anger or even exhaustion. It’s natural to feel this way, as it’s normal to experience a number of different feelings.
Gently remind yourself in your time of bereavement and grief that your feelings are yours, and they are well within the norm. It’s important to your process to understand that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to your feelings about losing a loved one.
Let your emotions be expressed and released.
People react to grief in different ways, but it’s important to let yourself feel all of your feelings. Don’t stop yourself from having a good cry if you feel one coming on. Don’t worry if listening to particular songs or doing certain things is painful because it brings back memories of the person that you lost. It’s natural to feel this way. After a while, it becomes less painful.
Remind yourself grief is a difficult process as well as a painful one. Try to not let the opinions of others sway you. Know that you can (and will) feel better over time.
Talking to family members and other loved ones about what that person meant to you and sharing stories can help keep their memory alive. It might feel painful at first to reminisce, but you may find that your grief begins to ease as the stories start flowing.
If you feel unable to openly talk about them for the moment, it can also help to collect photographs of special times or write them a letter expressing your grief about their passing.
Life doesn’t always give us the answers we seek or the solutions we crave. Sometimes you just have to accept inadequate conclusions, however unfinished or painful they feel. Knowing you can no longer address the past might leave you feeling as if you’re doomed to carry that hurt forever. You might even feel cheated of the opportunity to address past trauma or unresolved hurt.
Instead of clutching tight to any lingering bitterness, try viewing this as an opportunity to let go of the past and move forward — for your sake.
Take care of yourself.
The grieving process can take a toll on one’s body. It might seem difficult, even inconsiderate, to dedicate time to self-care, but prioritizing your health becomes even more important as you recover from your loss.
Eating healthy foods, exercising and getting enough sleep can help your physical and emotional health. Stay active to energize yourself and help raise your spirits. Even a daily walk can help. Rest and recharge with fulfilling hobbies, such as gardening, reading, art, or music.
Reach out and help others dealing with the loss.
Friends and loved ones may not know exactly what to say if they haven’t faced the same type of loss, but their presence can still help you feel less alone. It’s normal to need time to mourn privately, but at the same time, completely isolating yourself generally doesn’t help.
The companionship and support of those closest to you can help keep you from being overwhelmed by your loss. Spending time with loved ones of the deceased can help everyone cope. Whether it’s sharing stories or listening to your loved one’s favorite music, these small efforts can make a big difference to some. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well.
Focus on having a routine and making plans.
While initially, you may not want to do anything, after a couple of weeks of mourning, getting back into a daily routine helps reset our habits and helps our minds move forward.
Routines and goals can be useful when you’re mourning, to reintegrate back into your community and remind you of the meaning in your life
Do something in their memory.
Many people find that specific actions can help honor the deceased and offer a measure of comfort. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.
You might consider:
- creating a small home memorial with photos and mementos
- planting their favorite tree or flower in your backyard
- adopting their pet or plants
- continuing work they found meaningful, like volunteering or other community service
- donating to their preferred charity or organization
Talk to a therapist.
There’s no shame in needing extra support as you begin processing your loved one’s death. A therapist can offer validation and guidance as you begin working through the complex emotions that tend to accompany grief. Grief counselors can also teach coping strategies you can use as you begin adjusting to life without your loved one.
Therapy also offers a safe space to unpack any guilt, anger, resentment, or other lingering emotions around a deceased member’s toxic or hurtful behavior, and to achieve some level of closure.