Ten Ways to Cope With Grief

Posted by on Oct 29, 2014 in Depression, Existential, Grief, Holiday Stress, Loss | 0 comments

Grief over a loved one dying is a challenge that all of us face at one time or another.  The usual question is: “What can I do to get through this?!”  Time does not always heal all wounds, sometimes we need to actively attend to our grief and find ways to make meaning out of what is often a tragic and traumatic event.

One:  Allow Yourself to Feel.  Feel whatever emotions you are feeling at this time, and resist the temptation to label any of that as wrong, weak, or bad. You may go through the classic stages of: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – or you may go through some or all of these in a different order – there is no right or wrong.  Fighting against our feelings, or shutting them down, often drags the grief process out, or delays it.  People find ways to avoid feelings or numb them: alcohol or other drugs, throwing themselves into working long hours, over-using humor, or being too analytical.  Whatever your tactic, the longer you avoid these feelings, the more likely you will be faced with dealing with these feelings later on in a more difficult way.

Two: Express Your Feelings. You can talk to a friend, a relative, someone from your church, or a therapist.  Talk to someone. If that person isn’t helpful, talk to someone else. You can talk to yourself, or talk out loud, or talk to the person who has died (you’re not crazy!).  There is something about the process – what we call the “talking cure” that helps our brains process the information differently. Instead of going around in circles, repeating the same things over and over in our heads, saying things out loud tends to help us sort through complicated emotions.

Three: find a way to Express your Thoughts and Feelings Creatively.  Write a poem, write a song, draw or paint a picture, plant a flower or a tree, build something, make something, find a creative way to express your connection to the person who has died. These creative expressions help us feel closer to the person we’ve lost. It also helps us communicate to someone who we feel we need to communicate to.

Four: Confront Guilt. After someone dies we often feel guilty about things we did or didn’t do while our loved one was alive: We didn’t say things we should have said. We didn’t spend enough time with them. We didn’t make enough of an effort to have more contact. We didn’t help out enough. We said something angry and now there is no way to apologize.  We didn’t ask questions of a doctor, or we didn’t get them to the doctor soon enough. Guilt often involves us being extremely hard on ourselves.  In the end, we are only human and we make mistakes. We don’t have all the information, we hesitate, we have fears, and we get focused on our own lives – it’s unfair to be hard on ourselves for being imperfect.  In the end what helps us feel better is to focus upon the good relationship we did have, the positive connection we did have with the person we’re grieving about.

Five:  Live Your Life while you go through this.  Go to work – you may not be as productive at first, but the message to your brain will be “I still matter”.  Spend time with family or friends, if you isolate too much you are likely to wallow in sadness.  Exercise – our bodies store stress, we need to purge that and exercise is the best method.  Exercise won’t make you happy, but it will make your body feel better. It’s a part of the puzzle. Eat something healthy, even if you don’t have as much of an appetite.  Your brain needs healthy food in order for you to feel positive emotions.  In essence, you don’t have to overwork, or even enjoy normal activities, but don’t just sit on the couch or lay in bed for too long. Give yourself a few days, and then get up and get back to a routine.

Six: slowly, and little by little, Allow Yourself Permission to Enjoy small things. For a few moments, allow yourself to laugh or to enjoy something you’ve always enjoyed – whether it’s a sporting event, or a song on the radio, or appreciating a sunset. You do not miss your loved one less by enjoying a moment.  You’re not a bad person for enjoying something for a moment while you are going through what is mostly a sad time. You do not love your loved one less because you still love being alive.  You may not have these moments much at first, but when you do, it is ok.  Gradually you’ll be able to enjoy each day a little bit more.

Seven:  if you are feeling lost,find a way to Create More Meaning in your life.  Volunteer for an organization. Take a trip that holds special significance. Plant a tree.  Do a good deed that you know they would have appreciated.  Raise money for a cause related to an illness your loved one suffered from. We keep the spirit of people alive by allowing ourselves to live in a way that would honor what was meaningful to them.

Eight: Transform your Current Relationships.  How did your loved one live in a way that was positive? Could you interact with others in that way? They had a great sense of humor – could you allow yourself to laugh with others more?  If they made more of an effort to help people, perhaps you could consciously start to help others more.  If you had a difficult time communicating how you felt to the person you are grieving, perhaps it’s not too late to tell others that you love them now.  We learn from death the value of life and how precious our current relationships are.  Act in a way toward others that affirms the value of your relationships now– that’s part of living life to its fullest.  You can’t bring your loved one back, but you can be more connected to those who are here.

Nine: Celebrate! Have a party! Many cultures employ this ancient type of ceremony or wake.  Death is sad and we miss someone, but at some point we can honor that person’s life by celebrating who they were.  Laugh, sing, dance, eat, and drink.  How would your loved one celebrate? Do that! Toast them, leave them a seat at the table, play their favorite music, tell stories.  Cook a feast. Have a memorial sporting event.  Play music.  Enjoy old shared friendships. Have a celebration that your loved one would have enjoyed.

Ten: Be Silent, meditate, listen. Close your eyes and breathe. Think about the person who you miss. Imagine they are there with you. Ask them a question. Ask them what they would tell you now if they were here. It’s not uncommon for people to do this and say they felt the presence of the one they are grieving.  Sometimes there is no answer, sometimes people feel they are given a sign or a message. Sometimes we will later feel we experience something symbolic, or have a dream that is significant. By being silent we allow ourselves to experience that personal connection and it also allows us to be more in touch with ourselves, and what we need in this moment.

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