Whether you’re seeking support to help yourself through the process of loss or wanting to support a loved one who is grieving, I hope this post helps you.
Know You’re Not Alone
The pain of loss can be overwhelming and unexpected. Many difficult emotions can arise, ranging from shock and anger to guilt, disbelief, and profound sadness.
The process of coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. Know that you don’t have to go through grief alone.
It’s important to note that ANY type of loss can cause grief, including:
- Divorce or relationship breakup
- Loss of health
- Losing a job
- Loss of financial stability
- A miscarriage
- Death of a pet
- Loss of a cherished dream
- A loved one’s serious illness
- Loss of a friendship
- Loss of safety after a trauma
- Selling the family home
“Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”Katharine Weber, The Music Lesson
The Grieving Process
The process of grieving is different for everyone. Many factors come into play, such as your personality and coping style, life experience, faith, and how significant the loss was to you.
There is no “normal” way to grieve – it’s a highly individual experience. Your grieving process is your own.
The Five Stages of Grief
Let’s take a look at the five most common grief stages, keeping in mind these stages may not all apply to you.
Stage One: Denial
Our reality can shift dramatically when we experience profound loss. We may not be able to absorb and understand what is happening. The stage of denial allows us to minimize the overwhelming pain of loss.
Denial is generally the first stage many experience in response to a loss. Through denial, we’re attempting to slow the overall process down, taking it one step at a time, potentially reducing the risk of feeling overwhelmed by our emotions.
Stage Two: Anger
Anger is commonly the first emotion evoked after loss. Adjusting and processing a new reality can cause extreme emotional discomfort and frustration.
However, be wary of remaining in this stage too long. Anger can have adverse health effects as it causes stress in the body. This stress can weaken the immune system. The release of high amounts of stress hormones can also lead to chronic health conditions.
Stage Three: Bargaining
When coping with loss, many experience feelings of desperation. This can lead to a willingness to do anything to alleviate or minimize the pain.
Recalling things from the past and feeling guilty about what we did not mean to do or say is also common during the bargaining stage.
Stage Four: Depression
There will be a point when our thoughts eventually calm down, and we’re able to take in the reality of our present situation. As the emotional fog begins to clear, the loss becomes unavoidable.
Depression is a natural stage of grief; however, dealing with depression after losing a loved one can be incredibly isolating. During this stage, it’s crucial to turn to positive outlets for coping. From physical activity to therapy to simply getting outside, there are many ways to process your depression healthily.
Stage Five: Acceptance
The Acceptance stage doesn’t mean that you’re no longer feeling the pain of loss. Instead, it’s about no longer resisting the reality of the situation. During the acceptance stage, the emotional tactics of denial, bargaining, and anger for processing the loss are less likely to be present.
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.”Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist
Strategies for Coping with Grief
Take Time Out
It’s essential to take time to care for your mental needs. There will be both darker and brighter days. It’s important to honor your personal limits and give yourself some grace. Start by separating the things that must be done from those that can wait. Focus your mental energy on what’s within your control.
Know that it’s okay to take time for you and not keep up with your usual schedule temporarily. Give yourself permission to cancel or reschedule commitments – just don’t cut yourself off entirely.
Avoid Making Major Decisions
In times of grief, it can be challenging to see beyond your pain. It can cloud your judgment causing impulsive decisions.
Making life-changing decisions – like moving or changing jobs, for example – can have far-reaching implications for which you may be unprepared. If a decision must be made, discuss your options with someone you trust, such as a friend or advisor.
Talk It Out
Keeping your feelings bottled up can adversely affect your mental and physical health, so sharing your emotions is part of healing.
It’s okay to take your time and share when you’re ready to share. It’s also okay to speak with a professional counselor or therapist, especially if you feel you need more support than your friends and loved ones can offer.
Express Yourself Creatively
Expressing yourself is part of the healing process. Keep a journal to share how you’re feeling or write letters to yourself or to your loss. Artistic outlets like painting or drawing can also help you communicate what’s in your heart. Even dancing, gardening, or redecorating a room can help you express yourself creatively.
Honor Your Loved One’s Memory
When experiencing a loved one’s loss, focusing on the good times shares and preserving your memories in comforting and meaningful ways can be helpful.
Host a small dinner or Zoom session to share favorite memories. Frame photos or compile a scrapbook of letters and mementos. Plant a tree to create a lasting tribute.
Take Care of Your Physical Health
Grief doesn’t just take an emotional toll; it also takes a physical toll. Sleep and rest, movement and exercise, and proper nutrition are all essential to healing.
Poor appetite is common among those who are grieving. Keep healthy foods accessible, and allow yourself to eat small amounts rather than preparing large meals.
Give yourself permission to take naps.
And don’t forget to move. Exercise is probably the last thing you want to be doing; however, movement is critical for our mental health. You don’t need to do a workout; rather, a gentle stroll around the block can help you as you process your loss.
Avoid Using Chemicals to Numb Your Feelings
Be mindful of how often you’re reaching for alcohol to cope. For some, a glass of wine now and then can help settle nerves, yet overdoing it can bring a host of new problems. A desire to numb feelings with alcohol, drugs, or medications will only prolong the pain. The only certainty is that you’ll eventually need to come to terms with your grief. This looks different for everyone, yet know that you have the choice to do so in a healthy way. If you’re having challenges coping with feelings on your own, there’s no shame in seeking a professional to help you.
It’s Okay to Have Fun
Grieving doesn’t mean you need to feel bad all the time. Know that it’s okay – healthy even – to take a break from focusing on your grief.
Find activities or hobbies that you enjoyed before your loss, such as reading a good book, watching a movie, playing cards. Resuming activities that you enjoyed before your loss can help you with the healing process.
Plan Ahead for Special Occasions
When you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, special dates such as anniversaries and holidays can be stressful. As these dates arise, you can use this time to celebrate the person you’ve lost.
If you’re struggling with how to handle a specific tradition, be open and talk with friends and family members. You may also want to use this as an opportunity to introduce new practices and traditions to mark special occasions.
It’s common to feel the urge to withdraw or isolate. Just don’t let this stage last too long.
Start slowly by making a date with a good friend or inviting a neighbor to lunch.
If you’re feeling up to it, try volunteering for a local organization. You’ll meet new people while helping others while giving yourself an emotional boost.
How to Help
In closing, knowing what to say to someone who’s experienced a loss can be difficult. While we want to do our best to offer support, our efforts can still feel inadequate.
However, be wary of providing advice or comments or even offering humor. While this may be coming from a place of good intentions, these can sometimes leave others feeling as if their pain is not seen, heard, or valid.
Recognize their need to process their emotions; don’t force others to talk until they’re ready. Instead, offer space while making yourself accessible. Make it clear that you are there when you’re needed.
“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”Helen Keller
Summary: Navigating Grief & Loss
- Know You’re Not Alone
- The Grieving Process
- The Five Stages of Grief
- Strategies for Coping with Grief
- How to Help