Coping With Grief

Photography by  Arah McManamna

Photography by Arah McManamna

Grief, mourning, and bereavement. We all experience it but when a loss actually happens, few know how to feel or what to do to help cope. Grieving a loss can be a confusing and complicated time in life. Some of the most difficult aspects of grief is the feeling that there is a “right” way to grieve or an amount of time that is “appropriate” to grieve. The truth is, the process can be different between people and can even be different for different losses. Below are a few things to keep in mind to help you cope with your loss.

Let Go of the Shoulds

There’s no prescribed amount of time that’s appropriate to grieve, there’s no “right” way to process your loss, and there’s no manual to follow that will help you feel better. Grief is complicated and each loss means something different for all of us. Let go of the “shoulds” that your mind or outside influences are feeding you and start exploring your own needs during this difficult time.

Experience Your Grief

Mourning becomes an even more difficult process if you try to avoid facing the feelings that arise. Confront your feelings and allow yourself to express them in whichever way your body needs. This may mean crying, engaging in your culture's or family’s traditions like holding a service in the case of a death or wearing colors that symbolize your loss, or something else that may be unexpected by others but feels right for you. As long as you are not hurting or violating the rights of others or yourself, there is no wrong way to express your feelings.

Expect and Be Open to Mixed Emotions

Everyone expects to feel sad during a time of any kind of loss but many aren’t prepared for the whirlwind of mixed feelings that can hit you like a Mack truck. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross educated us on the stages of grief and helped us expect things like denial, anger, and bargaining. What we often don’t feel prepared for is the feeling of guilt that engrosses us when positive feelings like relief or alleviation come up, which is quite common for people whose lives have been so focused on taking care of a sick loved one. Since each loss means something different for each of us, it’s important to be open to and acknowledge all feelings that come up. Try to avoid passing judgment. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.

Be Kind and Compassionate to Yourself

Taking care of yourself during this difficult time is paramount. Get adequate sleep, eat nutritious meals, be sure to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, even if it’s a simple walk. This isn’t the time to push yourself to be more productive or beat yourself up for letting housework fall behind. Keep in mind not to let self-compassion turn into allowing yourself to engage in things that will hurt you in the long-run but to be something that nurtures you.

Reach Out To Loved Ones

Getting support from loved ones can mean having a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk with about what you’re going through but it can also mean having a friend or loved one sit with you and talk about things unrelated to your loss. It’s important to avoid isolating yourself and to spend time with people you find supportive.

Moving Forward Doesn’t Mean Forgetting the Past

So many fear that “moving on” means forgetting about what they’ve lost. Coping with grief isn’t about moving on but about moving forward. You can move forward in your life while still honoring what or who it was that you lost and are grieving. Find a way to commemorate or memorialize your loss. Be mindful of the memories you don’t want to forget. Then remind yourself that it’s okay to take steps forward.

Seek Support and Health from a Professional

Even with wonderful support from loving family and friends, the grieving process is very difficult and can be complicated. Reach out to a licensed mental health professional for help. It’s part of being kind and compassionate to yourself and can give you additional support and guidance during this difficult time.