Coping with grief can last for many months or years following a loved one's death. The grief process develops differently for everyone. It should also be recognized that there isn't a right or wrong way to experience grief. Some days will be more challenging than others—this is just a normal part of the grieving process.
Your grief will manifest in different ways. It’ll resolve when the time is right for you, and there's no specific time frame for healing from your pain and sorrow. Learning healthy coping strategies helps you work through your grief as you progress forward from it. As you move through the different phases and try to cope with your loss, there'll be some days that will be harder than others. The following tips will help you get through some of the more challenging days.
1. Acknowledge Your Pain
It's easy to let your pain go unacknowledged when grieving, especially when others can't or don't understand your pain. Sometimes avoiding your grief seems like a better strategy than confronting it. Your experience is yours alone, and the way you choose to handle your grief impacts your behavior as it relates to mourning and bereavement.
Grief avoidance is a complicated concept. Many people try this coping mechanism only to find themselves making a pattern instead of working through their pain and suffering. It's completely normal to desire to avoid the unpleasant experiences and feelings associated with grief. Consider facing your emotions as they come up. Recognize what's triggering those feelings, acknowledge them, and work on avoiding the triggers instead of the feelings associated with your grieving.
2. Realize Grief Can Trigger Emotions
In talking about grief triggers above, grief in itself can trigger painful and uncomfortable emotions. It’s the mind’s way of helping you cope with the overwhelming feelings of loss. Releasing these emotions in an act of mourning helps your body to regulate the intensity and effect of negative feelings and emotions.
Hiding how you feel or suppressing the expression of grief-related emotions can take a toll on you over time. When left untreated, grief can progress into more severe complications such as chronic depression. Anything can become a trigger, from dealing with the sudden death of a child to saying goodbye to a dying friend whom you may no longer have been very close with.
3. Understand Your Grief Is Unique
Grief doesn't affect everyone in the same way or at the same time. Everyone will go through unique grief-related experiences and their own periods of mourning. Much like life, grief will move in a mismatched fashion for you or for anyone else. There's no format or timeline for grieving through loss. Some people will move through their grief in a linear or straightforward way while others will experience grief-related reactions in cycles.
As to when grief sets in? It largely depends on the nature of the death, how long a person suffered through death, if the death was sudden and unexpected, and the type of relationship with the deceased. The other complicating factors are too many to list, but know that small and big things will affect how someone grieves. It's important not to compare your grief to others and not to allow others to tell you how you should suffer through your loss.
4. Take good care of yourself
Taking care of yourself as you grieve can mean everything from eating right, getting exercise, and taking a break from your grief so you can rest. In the immediate days following a death or other traumatic event, grief-related feelings and emotions can seem overwhelming and exhausting.
You may go through an initial period of mourning as part of the customary rituals and traditions associated with death in your culture. In the days that follow, it's important to take breaks from your grief and allow yourself to rest so you can recharge and be ready to confront the next waves of emotions as they surface.
5. Recognize grief from depression
There is a subtle line of distinction that separates grief from depression. Most grieving people fail to recognize when their normal grief has progressed to chronic sadness and depression. Most people can attribute their emotions, mental state, and physical symptoms after the death of a loved one to a normal part of grieving. However, it's not always so clear to see the difference between the two. Here are some of the signs of normal grief versus depression:
Grief signs and symptoms:
- Change in sleep cycles
- Loss of appetite
- Sadness and crying
- Shock and disbelief
- Anger and regret
Depression signs and symptoms:
- Depressed mood and irritability
- Changed eating habits
- Chronic fatigue
- Recurring suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of hopelessness
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6. Seek support from others
There are many factors that come together in not wanting to seek support from others. You may be having feelings of shame, guilt, and regret or may not want to appear weak and unable to handle your grief.
Other stoic-mannered folks may especially find it difficult to open and talk about their feelings and emotions. Preferring instead to take out their grief on physical acts of avoidance such as building or constructing a memorial for their loved one who's died.
Some people on the other hand, tend to allow others to take over when they're grieving. Getting help with household chores, taking care of children, ensuring the bills get paid—these are all everyday things that others understand you may need help with after suffering the death of a loved one. Don't be afraid to ask for help even before you need it. There's no shame in needing and asking others to support you during bereavement.
7. Take things one day at a time
You can't rush through your grief. Every day will bring on new challenges and new sets of emotions. When you think you're getting through your grief, a new wave of grief-related sadness may sink you right back into profound feelings of pain and loss.
Expect your sorrow to ebb and flow as the weeks turn into months. Some days will be more challenging than others. When anniversaries, birthdays, and the holidays feel hard as they approach the calendar, brace yourself for your grief to resurface. Have a plan in place to get you through those days. Remember that your suffering doesn't have a specific timeline of when it'll end.
8. Be gentle with yourself
Forgive yourself for anything that may contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, and regret following the death of a loved one. Feeling responsible for not having done enough to protect your loved one from dying is a normal part of grieving. You’ll find it easy to go through all the what-if’s and I-shouldn’t-haves in your head.
If you give yourself enough time, your mind will think of reasons why you’re responsible for all the world’s hunger, death, and destruction. Sometimes despite your best efforts, there’s no changing the outcome. Learn to accept your loved one’s fate and go easy on yourself. Instead of focusing your energy on what you can’t change, honor your loved one’s memory by reading a goodbye poem. Let the feelings surround you as you think about how you feel, your regrets, and how sorry you are that they’re no longer here with you.
9. Think circular not linear
Grief will come and go in the weeks and months that follow your loved one’s death. Although grief experts say that grief follows a linear path that eventually you’ll work your way through, again remember that the grieving process isn’t the same for everyone.
Some people will experience grief linearly. They’ll go through all the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and continue on their way after they’ve experienced them all. For most, suffering doesn’t happen so cleanly. Consider that you’ll be grieving in some way for the rest of your life. Grief will leave you only to resurface years later when least expected. Accept that it’s all part of the healing process without focusing so much on when your grief will end.
10. Find new meaning in life
After a loved one has died, you may find yourself questioning the meaning of life and your existence here on earth. Everything will change from one day to the next, and your life will never be the same again. Grief usually brings on feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of ending it all so you can be with your loved one.
As hard as it may be to visualize your life one day returning to normal, it will. Maybe it’ll be a new normal, but you’ll get through your pain and suffering a little each day. Focus on finding ways to add new meaning and joy to your life after you’ve given yourself time to process your grief. Consider volunteering, lecturing, or bringing awareness to a particular cause related to your loved one.
11. Avoid making major decisions
The death of your loved one may contribute to a lot of changes in your life. You may find yourself having to deal with financial shortfalls due to the death of a partner whose income you depended on to make ends meet. Perhaps you may find that your home is now too big for you. Maybe you'll need to change jobs and move to a new city where you can be closer to your support group.
It's not unusual to feel panicked and anxious following a significant loss in life. Try and avoid making any big moves or changes in your life until you've allowed yourself time to go through the grief process.
Coping With Challenging Days
Not every day will feel overwhelming for you after the death of a loved one. There will be some good days interspersed with more challenging ones. Take each day as it comes without putting too much pressure on yourself to get through it successfully. One day you’ll recognize that your pain and suffering is no longer as intense as it once was.