IN YOUR TIME:
Death, whether expected or sudden, is always unfair. It is unfair to the person who died and to all those left behind. If you are recovering from the loss of a loved one, you might be going through the most difficult experience of your entire life. While you will always miss your loved one, there are ways for you to move on with your life so that you can both honor your loved one and be fully present in the world of the living.
1. Tell yourself that grief is normal. Grief is very, very painful. However, working through this pain is necessary in order to heal and move on from a great loss. Try to resist the urge to shut down, go numb, or pretend like your loved one has not died. Do not deny that something bad has happened to you and that you are hurting. Grieving is healthy: it is not a sign of weakness.
2. Expect to experience the five stages of grief. While everyone grieves differently, grieving people often have stages of grief in common. The stage theory of grief is not supported by all psychologists, though recent studies show that it effectively captures the experience of most grieving people. If you learn about these stages of grief, you will be prepared for the strong emotions they evoke. Knowing the stages of grief in advance will not eliminate your pain, but it might make you more equipped to face the pain.
Note that you might not go through these stages in the typical order. Sometimes grieving people repeat steps, remain in one step for a long time, experience multiple steps all at once, or go through the stages in a completely different order. Sometimes the bereaved are able to move on very quickly with their lives without going through the steps at all. Remember that each individual grieves differently. But identifying the stages of grief can still help you understand your experience.
3. Prepare for denial or disbelief. Immediately after your loved one dies, you might feel numb. You might also not be able to believe that your loved one is really gone. These feelings are more common in those who are grieving the loss of someone who died suddenly. Because of this disbelief, you might not be able to cry or show much emotion. This is not a sign that you don't care: indeed, this is a sign that you care very much. Denial can help you get through the early days of your grief by allowing you to plan a funeral, contact other bereaved people, or handle financial matters. Often the memorial service or funeral can help make the death seem real.
If you have been preparing for your loved one's death for a long time, you might not experience denial or disbelief. For example, if your loved one experienced a lengthy terminal illness, you might have processed your disbelief before their death.
4. Expect to feel anger. After the reality of the death sets in, you might feel angry. You might direct your anger at anything: at yourself, at your family, at your friends, at people who have not experienced a loss, at the doctors, at the funeral director, or even at your loved one who is gone. Do not feel guilty about this anger. It is normal and healthy.
5. Expect to feel guilt. If you have just lost a loved one, you might fantasize about everything you could have done to prevent the death. You might feel remorse and try to make deals to bring your loved one back. If you find yourself thinking, "If I had only done something differently," or "I swear I will be a better person if my loved one comes back," you are probably in this stage of grief. Just remember that your loved one's death is not a karmic punishment for you: you didn't do anything to deserve this pain. Death can be random, sudden, and illogical.
6. Prepare to feel sadness and depression. This stage might be the longest one in the grieving process. It can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and crying jags. You might feel the need to isolate yourself as you mourn and confront your sadness. Sadness and depression are completely normal, but if you find yourself engaging in self-harming behaviors or losing your ability to function, you will need to talk to a doctor or therapist.
7. Learn to accept the death of your loved one. This is usually the last step in the grieving process, and it means that you have learned how to live without your loved one. While you will always feel the loss, you will be able to establish a "new normal" without your loved one in the picture. Sometimes people feel guilty about being able to reestablish a normal life after the death of a loved one and believe that moving on is somehow a betrayal. However, remember that your loved one wouldn't want you to be depressed forever. It is important that you live your life in a way that will honor the memories and gifts that your loved one gave to you before she died.
8. Don't put yourself on a timeline. Much of the grieving process can take place over the course of a calendar year. However, grief can also reappear at sudden moments for many years after the loss: at holidays, anniversaries, or even during a particularly sad day. Keep in mind that you cannot get through grief on a schedule. Different people will progress differently through grief, and you might continue to grieve throughout your life.
While some grief and sadness is normal for many years after a loss, these feelings of sadness should not keep you from leading a normal life. If you are unable to function because of your grief--even years after a loss--you might want to consider grief counselling or therapy. These sad feelings might always be a part of your life, but they should not be the dominant force in your life.
9. Reach out to other mourners for support. Many of the stages of grief encourage you to feel isolated and alone. While much of your grieving process will be solitary, you will likely find solace in the company of other mourners who miss your loved one just like you. Share your own painful emotions with your support network as well as happy memories of your loved one who is gone. They will be able to understand your pain in a way that nobody else will. Share this pain together so that you can all begin to move on.
10. Ask for help from people who are not mourning. Other mourners will be able to help share your pain. But other people in your support network who are not in mourning will be able to help you get your life back on track. Don't hesitate to reach out to your network if you need help taking care of your children, taking care of your house, or distracting yourself.
Feel free to be specific about what you ask for. If you have no food in the fridge, ask your friend to bring over some take-out. If you cannot muster the energy to drive your children to school, ask a neighbor to pitch in. You will be surprised by how many people will step up to support you.
Don't be embarrassed by your mourning. You might find yourself crying unexpectedly, telling the same stories over and over, or processing your anger in front of others. Don't feel ashamed of these behaviors: they are normal, and your loved ones will understand.
11. Seek professional help. While most people can grieve on their own and with the support of friends and family, about 15-20% of mourners will need to seek extra support. If you are feeling isolated, if you live far away from friends and family, or if you are finding it difficult to function, you will likely need professional support. Ask your doctor to give you a recommendation for a bereavement counsellor, support groups, or a therapist who can help you process your grief.
If you are a religious or spiritual person, consider contacting a religious organization for guidance. Many spiritual leaders have experience counselling the bereaved, and you can gain solace from their wisdom.
Part 2: Adjusting to Life Without Your Loved One
1. Take physical care of yourself. In the days and weeks immediately following your loved one's death, your physical routine might get disrupted. You will likely have trouble eating, sleeping, and exercising. After some time has passed, you will need to reestablish your healthy habits in order to get your life back on track.
2. Eat three healthy meals a day. Even if you are not feeling hungry, try to eat healthy meals at regularly scheduled intervals. Eating nutritious foods at regular times will help elevate your mood and will establish a sense of normalcy after a traumatic event. Resist the urge to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. While they might seem to provide some relief, they might make it more difficult to recover in the long run. Healthy habits will be more effective at letting you move on with your life.
3. Exercise regularly. Exercise can serve as a welcome distraction from your grief. By focusing on your body, your mind will be able to take a much-needed break--even if only for a few minutes. Exercise can also help keep your mood elevated, especially if you exercise outdoors on a sunny day.
4. Sleep 7-8 hours nightly. While you might not be able to sleep well while you are grieving, there are steps you can take to try to get a good night's rest and reestablish healthy sleep patterns.
-Try to sleep in a cool, dark place.
-Avoid bright screens before bedtime.
-Establish bedtime rituals, such as reading a book or listening to a soothing song before bed.
-Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evenings.
-If your loved one slept in your bed with you, consider sleeping on their side of the bed for a while. You will feel connected with them and will be less likely to be startled that their side of the bed is empty.
5. Establish new patterns. If your old habits are making it difficult for you to move on with your life, find some new patterns for a while. This doesn't mean that you are abandoning your loved one. Instead, it means that you are planning for your future.
-If you feel like you cannot move on because everything in your home reminds you of your loved one, consider rearranging the furniture.
-If you watched a television program with your loved one, try to find a new friend to watch the program with you.
-If a particular street corner is a painful reminder of your loved one, find a different walking route.
-Remember that you can return to your old activities once your grief has subsided. You are not forgetting your loved one. Instead, you are allowing yourself to move on. This will allow your memories of your loved one to bring you joy instead of crippling sadness.
6. Return to your favorite activities. After the initial loss and pain, try to reintroduce your favorite habits and routines back into your life. These will serve as a distraction from your pain and will allow you to get to a "new normal." These activities are especially important if they are a source of friendship and companionship.
7. Return to work. After some time has passed, you might want to get back to your job. Maybe you wish to return to work because you love your job, or perhaps you have to return to work for financial reasons. While the initial return might be difficult, getting back to your job will also allow you to think about the future instead of your past.
Ask if you can have a lighter schedule at first. It is possible that you will not return to full work duties right away. Perhaps you will be able to work part-time or have reduced duties for a while. Talk to your office about accommodations they can make.
Communicate with your work about your needs. If you do not wish to talk about your loved one at work, you can request that your coworkers avoid the topic. If you wish to talk about your loved one at work, a grief counsellor might be able to teach your colleagues about appropriate ways to discuss such a sensitive issue.
8. Do not make permanent life-changing decisions right away. It is possible that you will want to sell your house or move cities after a loss. However, these are not decisions to be taken lightly, especially if you are in emotional turmoil. Before making any major permanent decisions, take some time to consider the consequences of those decisions. You might also want to consider discussing them with your therapist.
9. Embrace new experiences. If there is a place you've always wanted to visit or a hobby you always wanted to try, now might be a great time to do something new. These new experiences won't eliminate your pain, but they might allow you to meet new people and find new pathways to happiness. You can also consider undertaking new activities with others who are mourning a loss, so that you can process the experience of moving on together.
10. Forgive yourself. After a loss, you might find yourself getting distracted, making mistakes at work, or letting things around the house slide. Forgive yourself for any errors you might make. These are normal and to be expected. You will not be able to pretend like nothing has happened, and it might take a long time to feel normal again after a loss. Give yourself that time to recover.
11. Understand that grief will not disappear entirely. Even after you reestablish your life after a loss, your grief might come back at unexpected times. Think of grief like a wave that sometimes subsides and sometimes returns. Let yourself feel these feelings whenever they occur, and reach out to friends when you need to.
Part 3: Honoring the Memory of Your Loved One
1. Engage in public mourning rituals. The process of mourning does not only honor the dead but also allows the living to accept a loss. Many rituals of mourning occur during a funeral or memorial service. For example, wearing a particular color of clothing or reciting a particular set of prayers can allow a group of mourners to perform their grief together. No matter your culture or the culture of your loved one, a mourning ritual can help start the healing process.
2. Establish a private mourning ritual. Studies show that continuing ritual behaviors can help a mourner move on with life, especially when these rituals occur well after a funeral. These rituals are often unique to the mourner and the person mourned, but they can be an important way to honor the memory of the dead while allowing the living to heal. You might consider private rituals like:
-Touching an object owned by your loved one every time you feel sad.
-Sitting on your loved one's favorite park bench once a week.
-Listening to your loved one's favorite album when you cook a meal.
-Saying good-night to your loved one before bed each night.
3. Preserve memories of your loved one. As you move on with your life, you might find that you can think of your loved one and feel happy instead of sad or pained. Embrace your feelings of joy and happiness, and think of all the gifts your loved one has provided for you. In order to help your memories feel happy instead of sad, consider finding ways to preserve the memory of your loved one's life. You can then return to these memories and share them
4. Create a memory book of your loved one. Talk to friends and family members about their favorite experiences with your loved one. Did your loved one have any favorite jokes or stories to tell? Are there any photographs that capture your loved one's laughter? Gather images, memories, and quotations together into a memory book. On days that are particularly sad, you can read the memory book and remember the joy your loved one brought into the world.
5. Integrate photos of your loved one into your home. Consider hanging a picture of yourself with your loved one on the wall or putting together a photo album. Remind yourself that your loved one's death was not the defining moment of their life. The time they spent with you was much more important.
6. Gather friends and family together to share memories. You do not necessarily need a physical object to preserve a loved one's memory. Instead, you can gather together everyone who cared about your loved one and share your experiences. Remember the good times, the laughter, and the wisdom imparted by your loved one.
7. Keep a journal. When you find yourself thinking of your loved one, write your thoughts and memories down in a journal. Perhaps you will remember a wonderful experience that you hadn't thought of in a very long time. Or perhaps you will remember a time when you felt angry at your loved one, and you need to process that anger. Do not push thoughts of your loved one away: embrace these memories as a part of your life and your future.
If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of keeping a journal, set a structure for yourself. For example, write for 10 minutes each day, use guided prompts to organize your thoughts, or start off by writing lists instead of full sentences.
8. Think of the future. Above all, continue to move forward with your life and seek your own happiness. Your loved one would not want you to get stuck in a cycle of despair. Grieve, move on, and live your life. You can move into a bright and happy future and take the memories of your loved one with you.
These articles will help you understand something about the grief and how we can help ourselves and others through the difficult process.