At some point in life, everyone loses someone they feel especially close to and we enter into grieving. The loved one can be a parent, child, spouse or a dear friend. The grieving that follows a loss is real, and can be very painful. While it may be tempting to deny grieving in an attempt to avoid the pain, it’s much healthier to accept those feelings of pain and loss, and to work through the grieving process in an intentional way.
Learn to accept that your loss is real.
For many people who are grieving a loss, the first impulse is to deny the loss. Grieving denial can range from downplaying the loss, as if it’s not important, to having the delusion that the person is still alive. Expect to be in shock for a while. You may struggle to believe that the loss could have happened to you. You may wonder if you are strong enough to bear such a loss. It has happened. It is real. Recognize that a loss has taken place.
It’s often easier for people who are grieving to have an intellectual understanding of the death (the person is physically gone) than an emotional understanding (the loved one is not coming back). So the first task for the grieving person is accepting that the loved one is really gone.
Make it OK to feel the pain.
The pain of grieving can be both emotional and physical, and unfortunately there’s no way to avoid it. Denying the pain of grieving can lead to physical symptoms and can also prolong the grieving process. You’re hurting. To feel pain after a loss is normal, a sign that you are able to respond to life’s experiences. Although you may find yourself frightened by it, be with your pain. It is important in the healing process that you experience the desolation and feel the hurt. Don’t deny it. Be with it. Accept it…and hurt.
Some people try to avoid grieving pain by being busy or traveling; others try to minimize grieving their loss by idealizing the loved one or refusing to allow negative thoughts about the loved one enter their minds. Some grieving people use drugs or alcohol to deaden the pain. Feeling the pain of grieving is difficult, but it’s an important step toward healing.
Adjust to living without the deceased.
When a loved one dies, we also lose the part of our lifestyle that included the deceased. So while we are grieving for the loved one, we are also grieving for the parts of our life that will never be the same. Sometimes it can take a few months following the death for this realization to sink in.
For example, if a man’s wife dies, he misses her physically and emotionally, but he may also have lost a dear friend, sexual partner, golfing buddy, and fellow grandparent. Part of his grieving will naturally include missing the parts of his life that have changed because of her death. Grieving the loss of shared activities can feel as painful as grieving for the person. So it’s a natural tendency for some people to feel that their lives are emptier following a loss. This is a normal feeling for a time, but part of the grieving and healing process includes acceptance, and shifting our focus to include other people and activities. This opens the door to finding new opportunities for love and companionship.
Give yourself a break
The self-esteem suffers a jolt, and thoughts may be full of guilt, anger, pain and hurt. Such thoughts are symptoms of stress being experienced. One should not punish self with thoughts that begin with “If only.” The bereaved should make his/her journey from loss to eventual gain as smooth and comfortable as possible.
Give yourself time to heal
The healing process takes time. The greater the loss, the more time it will take to heal. In the speed and immediacy of modern life, we are not accustomed to giving ourselves time. You require time to heal. Give yourself the luxury of healing time.
The process of healing is not the smooth progression many people assume. It has full of progressions and regressions, dramatic leaps and depressing backslides. Just when you think you did well yesterday, you hear a song that reminds you of your loved one and you’re off balance again. Accept this ‘roller coaster’ and keep in mind that the healing process will come and is under way.
Get enough rest, yet create and stick to a schedule
Include rest in your schedule as much as you need, but don’t be lazy. While your internal world is chaotic, keep your external activities in place. But do only as much as is comfortable. A balance of rest and productive work will help rest your emotions. The most efficient healing takes place when sufficient rest and dynamic activity are alternated.
Eat nutritious food
Be healthy with your food even if you have small appetite. In some cases, the reverse may be true with eating excessively to fill a void. Go slow with junk food, alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
Plan activities during the difficult times
- Saturday nights
- Early mornings or twilights
- Days of special meanings such as birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas
Try to avoid being alone during these difficult times. Activities particularly comforting should be planned and scheduled.
Avoid making major decisions
Judgment are more often clouded when in grief, therefore, major decisions should be avoided or kept to a minimum. It is best to postpone them if possible, at least for a while. Friends and family can make minor decisions, if the bereaved is comfortable with it.
Welcome offers of comfort
It’s okay to need comfort. Accept understanding and support from friends, family and coworkers. If they care, they will help. An emotional wound is real, disabling and painful. In addition to friends and family, other living things can be brought into life-space:
- A puppy or kitten
- A new plant
- New friends
- New social groups/activates
- New hobbies
This task can be especially hard for a grieving person because it can feel at first that you’re being disloyal when you start to think about enjoying a life that doesn’t include the deceased.
It’s likely that memories of the loved one will stay with you throughout your life, and sometimes, even years after the death, you may feel a stab of pain when you think about the beloved person that was so important to you. When this happens, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s a normal part of the grieving and healing process. Allow yourself to have these feelings.
Learning to cherish a memory without letting it control you is a very important step in the grieving process. By finding a special safe “place” for that person, you can heal from grieving and move back into your life. You begin to find joy in new experiences, and you can take comfort in the knowledge that you keep your cherished memories with you, wherever you go.
The “place” where you decide to keep your memories is up to you. You can visualize tucking your loved one into a space in your heart, or you can keep a box of cherished photos or mementos. Perhaps you’d like to find a special tree or nature setting that you can revisit. Give some thought to where you’d like to hold memories of your loved one. The important thing is learning how to cherish a memory without getting stuck there.