Grief affects us all, eventually. Whether it’s losing a loved one, a job, a relationship, or even your health, all people experience grief many times throughout their lives. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier.
Grief can be all-consuming. When you’ve lost a loved one, it can feel very much like the Earth has stopped spinning, that time is frozen, and you’re trapped in a painful state of searingly intense grief. It is during this initial period of acute grief that bereavement strategies can be the most helpful to get you unstuck and moving through your grief process. Of course, grief is not a linear journey, so you may find that bereavement strategies are more useful to you later on.
Each experience with grief is unique, and everyone processes grief in their way. But we have found that there are a few key bereavement strategies that can serve as a lifeboat in the ocean of grief for almost anyone.
Here are some of the most effective coping strategies that we share with our patients and their families to help them get through the grieving process.
- Give yourself permission to grieve
In our fast-paced society, sometimes we feel the need to “pull ourselves together” so that we can get on with the business of life. But as much as you may want to speed up the process of grieving, it’s just not possible. You can’t go around grief. You have to go through it.
Permit yourself to grieve, for however long it takes. You may feel emotions like sadness, anger, emptiness, or disillusionment more intensely at first, or you may not. They may come on later. You will probably have good days and bad days. This is all completely normal and healthy. How you feel your emotions will likely change quite a bit throughout your bereavement period. Accept them, and permit yourself to feel them all. Emotions are your brain’s way of processing what you’re going through.
- Realize that grieving is a long process
How many years did it take to build your relationship with your lost loved one? Then you can’t expect to adjust to a new life without them overnight.
Grief is a long process. It can take months to feel like yourself again. It’s completely normal to have a good week and then wham, you’re hit with a wave of grief that seems to come out of nowhere. Then the next week, you’re suddenly more chipper than before.
Grief is not a linear process. Give yourself time and space to travel the long, winding road of bereavement on your own time. Eventually, the intense feelings will really, truly pass. But the memories of your loved one will last forever, and only get sweeter with time.
- Do what makes you happy
You already use coping mechanisms every day. After a stressful day at work or an argument with your spouse, what do you do to relax and regain a healthier mental state? The same coping strategies that you use for daily stressors are likely to help during your bereavement period, too.
On the flip side, the things that once brought you joy may also feel bland and colorless while you’re grieving. That’s perfectly normal. Try something different – a new sport, hiking, painting, Sudoku, binge-watching documentaries, etc.
Beware of “quick fix” but destructive coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs. Coping mechanisms are meant to help you ride the waves of grief, not dull your senses to the point that you’re no longer aware of the journey. You can’t make progress in your grief if you’re not present in your own life, which can leave you stuck in grief for even longer.
- Join a support group
There is something about being in the company of others who are dealing with what you’re dealing with that is infinitely comforting. When you join a grief support group, you’ll get the gift of seeing other people experience the same symptoms of bereavement as you are, such as tears, emotional overwhelm, insomnia, appetite changes, mental fog, and more. Just knowing that these symptoms are normal and common will make them seem less threatening.
Talking to others in the group about their grief can help you put your own into perspective, helping you reframe your grief as part of a greater picture. You can find support groups both online and in person. We have a long list of grief support groups that we’d be happy to share with you, too.
- Seek out grief counseling
The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult situations a person can ever experience. Don’t go it alone. Working with a grief counselor can help you process your grief and make sense of what is typically a confusing and devastating period in life. Grief counselors also have access to a wide variety of resources to help you make this transition to your new life without your loved one, and they can help you find meaning and purpose in your life going forward.
Grief is hard – Go easy on yourself
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, or you expect to lose someone you love soon, give yourself a bit of grace. The death of a loved one is a universal experience that everyone goes through in life, and it’s one of the hardest moments you’ll ever experience. There are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Take your time, feel your feelings, and reach out to those who can support you.
And take comfort in the fact that eventually, you will get to the other side of grief. Of course, life will never be the same, as someone you loved deeply is no longer in your day-to-day life in a physical sense. But you will eventually adapt to having your loved one in your life in the influence they’ve had on who you are, the memories you carry, and the way you honor their memory going forward.