Dealing with grief is something that nobody wants to go through, but that most will walk through sooner or later. Grief follows loss, whether it be the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a missed opportunity, or a transition like moving away from your hometown.
Even good changes like getting married or becoming a parent can also come with a sense of loss of your old life, and there’s a grieving process you might have to go through as you let that go.
Just because grieving is healthy doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s different for everyone. Some people might be full of rage. Others might fall into severe depression. But in general, we can assume that denial, anger, bargaining, and some level of depression are familiar to the experience of grief for everyone.
One of the hardest parts of grief is not knowing how to move on with your life. And pain can be complicated. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to feel sad all the time. Mixed emotions don’t negate the reality of your loss.
Acknowledging and processing your loss is vital to healing. There are activities you can use to help you with both of those components of grieving. These activities won’t solve your grief or make it go away, but they will help you take the first steps towards a life of renewal after a loss.
Grief can be complicated and is not a singular event or linear process. There is no one way of grieving that is best. The experience of pain is unique to an individual, and no timetable exists for concluding it. Some people may be more emotionally expressive and desire to talk through what they are experiencing and hold close to things that remind them of pleasant memories and feelings.
The complexity of grief means that it’s not a linear process and that we can’t point to a specific list of things to do to grieve well. Everyone has their own way of grieving based on who they are and what they’ve lost. Some people are openly emotional and want to talk about it. Other people tend to be stoic, sometimes turning to distraction instead of emotional processing.
No matter what your style of grieving is, the goal is to acknowledge the reality of your loss, whether that be by yourself or with other people, or whatever is meaningful to you.
Types of Grief
Grieving doesn’t just happen after a loss. It can occur in anticipation of a loss as well. Sometimes closure even starts before death, especially when someone has a chronic disease like cancer.
Then there is sudden loss. A relationship ends unexpectedly, or a loved one dies in an accident. Sudden loss can feel like an assault. Often there’s trauma or shock associated with it.
Grief is often renewed when you experience the anniversary of a significant date or of the loss itself. This can catch you off guard when you feel like you’ve made progress in your processing.
Another reason grief is complex is that it often results in subsequent losses. For example, if your spouse dies, you might also experience financial loss, disrupting your life even further.
Grief is labeled “complicated” when there are elements that compound it like multiple losses, lack of support, trauma, etc.
Have you heard of disenfranchised grief? This happens when for some reason your sadness over a loss is socially unacceptable in your circle. This is also a form of complicated grief, where you don’t feel validated or acknowledged in your sorrow.
Helpful Ways to Handle Grief
Depending on which stage of your grieving journey you are on, different activities might help you as you process your loss. It might be helpful to have a counselor or a friend walk with you through these activities.
Create a ritual or symbol
When we talk about rituals and symbols for grieving, they can be simple. You can play a specific song, light a candle, plant a garden, or release a balloon – anything that intentionally honors your loss and helps you focus on living well now.
Sometimes, keeping a material object can also help. This could be a picture of the ritual (balloons being released, for example) or a memento of your loved one.
Join a support group
Grief is lonely. It can seem like the world is going on while yours has crashed to a halt. It might seem like no one understands what you’re going through.
A support group can be a safe place where you can have your loss acknowledged and find support. You won’t find easy answers, but you’ll be able to ask questions and share your experience along with others who are walking on their own grief journeys.
It’s not always easy to join a group like this. Sharing your sorrow takes vulnerability and courage, but it’s rewarding in the long run, because you’ll be reminded that you’re actually not alone. And it’s okay that you don’t have everything figured out. You’ll be able to accept where you are and how you’re grieving, without staying stuck in isolation.
Keep a journal
The thoughts and feelings in your mind might be overwhelming, and it can be calming to process them on paper. Once you’ve written them down, you can close the book and set it aside until you’re ready to revisit it.
Journaling doesn’t have to be daily to make an impact. Write out your thoughts and experiences whenever you feel prompted to do so. If you want to make a regular habit of it, try setting a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and writing stream-of-consciousness style until it goes off.
Write a letter
Real life isn’t like a movie with a plot that ties up neatly at the end. Sudden loss can make you feel like you were left hanging with unresolved issues. This feeling can prevent you from moving forward as well.
Taking these thoughts and putting them into an “unfinished business” letter can give you a chance to say what you wish you could have said.
You can write a letter to a person, an object, a lost dream, or a missed opportunity. You might consider using one of these prompts:
- “I wish I had…”
- “I wanted to say…”
- “I was afraid to mention this…”
- “I never got to ask you…”
After you finish writing your letter, read it to yourself. Did you learn anything new? What did you feel like while you were writing it? How did you feel after you were done?
You can do this once, or you can write a series of letters. You can do it in whatever way meets your needs. Like most other grief activities, this isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s just a starting point to help you name your emotions and organize your thoughts.
Stuffing your experiences does more harm than good, but staying in your own grief too much can also be harmful. Try reaching out to someone who has experienced a similar loss but isn’t as far along in their grief as you are. Empathy is powerful, and your experience has given you a higher capacity for it. Your pain can open you up to be a more loving and compassionate person, and to help someone else on their healing journey.
Tips for Coping
It’s so important not to embrace solitude to a fault when you’re grieving. It’s helpful only to a certain point. You need safe people to walk with you, whether at church, in your family, with friends, or with a counselor or support group. Sometimes people don’t know how to help, so reach out and tell them what you need.
Give yourself time. It’s okay that you’re still grieving. Be patient with yourself, and don’t compare yourself to other people and how they experience grief. Again, it’s not a linear process, and fluctuating emotions are completely normal. You can grieve at your own pace.
Make sure you take care of yourself on a practical level. Eat well, get enough sleep, and move your body. You might feel paralyzed and neglect the most basic self-care, but this will only make matters worse.
Treat yourself with kindness during this time. Let yourself get lost in whatever is helpful and healthy. Be creative as you express your grief if that helps you.
Identify the triggers that cause your grief to intensify temporarily, whether it’s a song or an anniversary or a milestone that creates a renewed sense of sadness. If you know these triggers, you can plan for how to deal with them instead of being caught off guard.
Not every loss requires counseling, but it can be beneficial and in some situations very much needed. If you’re having trouble taking care of yourself or if you are dealing with your grief destructively, or if you don’t have support from those around you, or if you’re feeling out of control and overwhelmed, it’s important to reach out for professional help.
Counseling can provide a space for you to share your grief story and find support throughout your process, helping with the progression from the pain to acceptance. Counseling can assist you in processing your feelings about the loss. Reach out to a counselor today to find a professional to walk alongside you as you learn about how to live with your new normal after a loss.
If you do seek counseling, know that you will have a safe space where you can share your story and receive support and help with your healing. We will honor your unique experience of grief and help you find other resources for healing. Life isn’t over after a loss, even though it can seem that way. We are here to help you find hope again.
“It Hit Me,” courtesy of Claudia, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Nathan Cowley, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “The Written Word”, Courtesy of Free Photos, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Hold On,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, cdn.magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License