There isn’t a right or wrong way to mourn the loss of a loved one. But there are healthy ways to deal with death, grief, and loss and move forward with your well being in mind.
While death is a part of life, it can of course bring up stressful experiences and a challenging emotional crisis. How do you handle the roller coaster of feelings as you move through the stages of grief? Learning a few coping strategies can be essential to help you find healing in the experience.
How to Cope with Death
Time is often the most effective healer for grief. As you are navigating the journey of life after losing a loved one, coping strategies are crucial to help you manage and emotions that come up in this chapter of life:
Choose a Ritual
Grief therapists agree that having dedicated time to honor a loved one is essential in the healing process. It’s helpful for family and friends to find closure in the situation by spending time together at a funeral, memorial service, or another type of ceremony based on the family's preferences.
Being in the presence of others can be reassuring. Plus, it’s often comforting to maintain the family or religious traditions that the family cherishes through the generations.
Maintain Healthy Habits
Too often, the loss of a loved one results in a loss of self. It’s easy to let daily habits and routines fall to the back burner because the grief and pain engulf you.
Caring for your physical health is one of the best things you can do to maintain good mental health as well. Get plenty of rest, include fresh foods in your diet, and move your body regularly. Exercise is particularly beneficial to give you a physical outlet as you are moving through the emotions.
If you need to, consider adjusting your habits to this new experience. For example, it might feel too painful to visit the same Crossfit gym you attended with your loved one. So, you might choose a new location or try a different type of exercise as you are processing the grief.
Express Your Emotions
When the emotions start to bubble to the surface, you might feel the temptation to push them away. Sometimes, this avoidance results in “numbing out” through unhealthy coping methods with death – drug abuse, alcohol dependence, or food addictions.
Instead of avoiding the feelings, it’s better to acknowledge each emotion so you can release it and move forward. Find the most effective methods for you: cry it out, go for a drive, start a grief journal, or even yell into a pillow.
Remember that it’s natural and normal to feel this way. When you can, try to look at your emotions with curiosity instead of judgment, and allow yourself to feel everything in the moment.
Talk to Someone
A kind and concerned ear can be helpful when you are feeling lonely and lost. Look for someone who wants to support you in your time of grief. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Some people find it beneficial to talk about their memories or tell the story of their loved one’s life. When you desire to talk about the situation, find a friend or family member who will listen too--and really hear--you. That kind of support can offer true help with grief.
If you can’t face the topic of death and loss, then ask this person to talk to you about something unrelated. Find a topic you can connect on--it may help to focus on the companionship instead of on your grief, even if only for a short time.
Don’t underestimate the benefits that come from professional therapy. When the grief is too much to handle, a trained therapist can be a valuable resource to help as you are working through the ups-and-downs of this healing journey. Ask questions about grief and look for personalized advice for handling each step of this process.
If one-on-one therapy services aren’t a good fit, then you might consider joining a support group. It can be helpful to share experiences, especially when these people can relate to your loss and grief.
Honor the Memories
How are you holding onto the memories that you share with this person? Create a memorial or tribute to show how much you care.
Sometimes, this memorial is in the form of a tree planted in honor of a family member. Or, you might find it healing to work on a project, such as a scrapbook, writing a song, or creating a photo wall in your home.
Knowing What to Expect After Losing a Loved One
The mourning loss of a loved one is always a harrowing experience. The reactions and experiences vary depending on your relationship with the person, as well as the circumstances of death.
- A child’s death: Families often feel a strong sense of injustice when a person dies young. Not only are you grieving the loss of the child, but there is also a feeling of unfulfilled dreams and lost potential. This experience can bring about an identity crisis for the parents. It can be helpful to channel the emotions into another project or focus.
- A parent’s death: When a parent passes away, it can leave a hole as the rest of the family navigates the new situation without the head of the household. Even grown adults feel a gap when their aging parent passes away. This death represents the end of a lifetime of shared experiences. Families can find healing by strengthening relationships with siblings and other remaining family members.
- A spouse’s death: In addition to the emotional shock of losing a life partner, the loss of a spouse often has a financial impact on the family as well. As you are coping with loss, be proactive about the social adjustments that are required to adjust to the single life, parenting, and new work circumstances.
- A suicide death: One of the most challenging losses to face is when a person takes their own life. After a suicide, family members often feel the burden and guilt – asking themselves if there is something they should have done differently. It is particularly beneficial to seek professional counseling services in the first few weeks after a suicide death.
As you are learning how to deal with loss, it’s essential to have compassion for yourself and others. Remember that this process will get better with time. Using these coping techniques can help you find a way to move forward while honoring your loved one's life at the same time.