Recovering from Grief

Although you will always grieve for your loved one, the intensity of grief should fade over time. As with the experience of grief, the rate at which that happens is individual and depends on the circumstances. You cannot have any expectations when it comes to grieving. You can’t force grief away, especially by ignoring it, but there are ways to cope with grief and help it fade more quickly. An important thing to consider is that others cannot always perceive how you feel, so it is important to express your grief to others when you need their support.

Talk About It

Talking to others about your loved one’s death and your grief can be awkward for all involved, but it is vital to the coping process. Initially those you talk to should focus on listening, not try to take away your feelings, or burden you with theirs. There will be time as you recover for sharing each other’s feelings and supporting each other.

There is never a best thing to say, so no one should be afraid of saying the wrong thing. However, cliched reassurances should be avoided, such as ‘your loved one is in a better place now,’ ‘look what you still have to be thankful for’, or ‘maybe it was for the best.’ It helps to share positive feelings and memories of your loved one. Even talking about anything else can be helpful.

To successfully talk about your grief, allow yourself to feel and openly express the pain and other emotions that come with grief. Find those who can understand your feelings of loss and avoid putting on a brave face to protect them .

  • More than likely, it will be with others who knew your loved one and share your grief.
  • Talking to others who are not grieving your loved one, but who will be sympathetic, can also be important.

Support groups can be very helpful, especially if they include others who have similar losses or experience and understand what you’re going through at a closer level.

  • Many groups are monitored by a counsellor, who can help direct the conversation.
  • Some groups are available online, where you may have access to chat rooms or message boards.
  • Your primary healthcare provider or hospice can make recommendations or you can look for local resources yourself.

Counseling

Professional help is available if you want or need it. Grief counsellors are trained to help you through the grieving process and will identify and treat any psychological symptoms that develop as a result of your grief.

  • Grief counsellors are empathetic and non judgmental.
  • They may offer different types of therapy, such as traditional counselling or cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Counselling may include medication if the symptoms are severe enough.

There are many situations where you should seek help. Some may be quite urgent.

  • Seek immediate help if you are desperate and/or are thinking about hurting yourself or others. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or a state-specific hotline.
  • If your loved one’s death was sudden, violent, or otherwise extremely stressful or disturbing, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
  • You should seek counselling if you are overwhelmed, have significant anxiety or depression, or have complicated or unresolved grief.
  • You may benefit from counselling if you are having trouble adapting, which can be indicated if you:
    • Do not want to leave the house or participate in daily activities;
    • Are having difficulty returning to work;
    • Get easily angered, feel tired all the time, have no motivation, or other signs of depression;
    • Are confused about your feelings for your deceased loved one and can’t move on;
    • Feel disconnected from your close relationships, feel as if they don’t understand you, or that what they say or do is not helpful; and/or
    • Feel numb and disconnected from family and friends for more than a couple of weeks.
  • If you are a single parent you may need professional help for your children and teens to process their grief.

Your primary care provider may be able to help or contact local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers. The Resources section lists some online sources to help you look.

Adapting

An important part of coping with grief is to adapt to the changes in your life brought on by your loved one’s death. Once you have accepted your loss you will need to adjust to daily life, seek ways to deal with your new reality, and make plans for life without your loved one. Enlist as many people as possible to help you adapt.

Most of this will involve adapting emotionally, but will also involve adapting to your new day-to-day life. This may include:

  • Sleeping, eating, or watching TV and movies alone;
  • Starting to do certain chores, handling finances and bills, or making all the plans;
  • Changes in your relationships with friends and acquaintances; and/or
  • Finding a new job or going back to work because of your new financial status.
  • In fact, you may have to significantly restructure your life. When you do this, try to include regular and sometimes familiar routines, such as meals and bedtime at the same time you previously did, regular exercise and recreation, and/or group activities you enjoy.

Adapting occasionally results in something termed post-traumatic growth. This is where you experience positive psychological, social, or spiritual changes after emotional trauma. You can become a better person through the experience.

Your family and friends will also have to adapt to your new identity and changes in your life. Their identity, roles, and day-to-day life may change as well.

Ask for Help

It can be hard to process and cope with grief when you are overwhelmed with things to do. The list of every need to be done can be very long. You will need emotional support during this time. You should build a support network that can help you and be there when you need them.

  • If you have had time before your loved one’s death, let your friends and family know you will need help in the future. If not, contact them as soon as possible to request their aid.
  • When the time comes, you may ask others to help with specific tasks.
    • Many tasks, like childcare or financial help, will need you to assign the most qualified and trustworthy person to do it.
    • For other tasks, such as grocery shopping, it is not so important who does it.
    • You may want to keep a running list or online registry of these tasks.
    • You may want to assign your closest friend or family member to coordinate this.
  • Other common tasks include transportation, help with cooking or providing meals, coordinating out-of-town guests, housekeeping, laundry, and grocery shopping or other errands. See the Steps to Take After a Loved One Has Passed Away section for a comprehensive list.

Other Measures

Express your memories, feelings, hopes, and goals. This can include:

  • Keeping a journal or diary;
  • Writing a letter to your loved one saying the things you never got to say and telling them how you are doing;
  • Making a scrapbook or photo album celebrating their life;
  • Painting or other forms of expressive art;
  • Getting involved in a cause or organization that was important to your loved one; and/or
  • Planting gardens, flowers, or trees in their name.

Spending time with others doing things you enjoy will help you move through your grief and overcome any sense of isolation.

  • You may need to reach out to them as they may be waiting for you to be ready or be unsure how they can help.
  • This is true especially of those who may not entirely understand what you are going through and initially are awkward with approaching you.
  • Use this time as a way to strengthen your relationships with them and to form new ones.

Take care of yourself, including your physical and emotional health.

  • Be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest and exercise.
  • See your healthcare provider regularly.
  • Make healthy choices regarding alcohol and other drugs to avoid developing a dependence on them to deal with your grief.
  • Find ways to relax, such as with a long bath, meditation, music, quiet time, reading, watching TV or a movie, or spending time in nature.
  • Continue your favorite activities and/or try something new, like a class or a different hobby.

Times of grief are not a good time to make any major life changes. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss and get a sense of what your new life will be like.

  • Big changes you should avoid are remarrying, having another child, or making any large purchases.
  • Hopefully your new financial situation will not necessitate you to sell your home or move. Most states have laws that protect your home under many circumstances. For specific protections in your state see Homestead Exemption in the Inheritance Law section for your state.
  • The same would be true about changing jobs; don’t make such drastic decisions without proper consideration after a traumatic loss.

Seek new meaning in your life and/or for meaning in your loved one’s death.

  • Like many life-altering events, it is fairly common for the death of a loved one to result in soul-searching. Meditation and similar disciplines can help.
  • You may want to re-examine the things in life that meant the most to you or gave you the greatest sense of joy and accomplishment.
    • You may want to spend additional time on those things to give your life more meaning. 
    • This can be a fond reminiscing of their life with family.
    • It may involve fulfilling activities, self-reflection, seminars, or spiritual contemplation.
  • You may use your discoveries to guide your plans to move forward.

Reach out for spiritual support.

  • You may want to talk with clergy who will be able to listen to you, offer support, and put your feelings in context with your spiritual beliefs.
  • Read the Bible, Torah, Koran, or other religious text.
  • Attend religious services.

You may want to search for other inspirational readings.

  • Look for articles or books about coping with loss and grief.
  • Subscribe to caregiving newsletters; some may be found at disease-specific websites.
  • Ask hospice or other professionals or search Listservs for literature that has advice and support for you.

Social media sites have become a popular way to deal with grief.

  • Some sites allow you to share your grief with others in a similar situation in chat rooms or on message boards.
  • Others, such as Memorial pages on Facebook, provide a place for you and others to share information, reflections, and feelings about your loved one that can help support you.

Unfortunately, aside from the usual risks of posting sensitive content on the internet, using social media for this purpose can be risky for a number of other reasons.

  • Unless you opt to create a closed group on Facebook or other social media sites, your loved one’s memorial page is open to anyone with a Facebook account.
    • You may get postings from those who hardly knew them that are well-meaning but inappropriate.
    • Memorial pages can attract Internet trolls. These are strangers who post cruel, irrelevant, or abusive messages on your loved one’s memorial page.
    • To gain some protection, you can opt to create a closed group on Facebook rather than a public page, which means people have to be approved by a group member before they can access the memorial.
  • Many open forums for sharing personal information are monitored by specialists that check the postings for harmful or inappropriate content.
  • Those without monitoring may post inappropriate comments, misinformation, and incorrect information, some of which may be hurtful or outright dangerous.
  • Most postings on these sites are based on opinion and personal experience.

It’s important to remember that while social media can be a useful tool for reaching out to others, it can’t replace the face-to-face support you need at this time.

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