Someone you love died. You are now faced with the difficult, but important need to mourn. Mourning is the open expression of your thoughts and feelings regarding the death and the person who has died. It is an essential part of healing.
You are beginning a journey often frightening, painful, overwhelming and sometimes lonely. This article provides practical suggestions to help you move toward healing in your personal grief experience.
Realize Your Grief is Unique
Your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your experience will be influences by a variety of factors: the relationship you had with the person who died; the circumstances surrounding the death; your emotional support system; and your cultural and religious background. As a result, you will grieve in your own special way. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of other people or to adopt assumptions about just how long your grief should last. Consider taking a “one-day-at-a-time” approach that allows you to grieve at your own pace.
Talk About Your Grief
Express your grief openly. By sharing your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control, or going “crazy”. It is a normal part of your grief journey.
Find caring friends and relatives who will listen without judging. Seek out those persons who will “walk with” not “in front of” or “behind” you in your journey through grief. Avoid persons who are critical or who try to steal your grief from you. They may tell you, “keep your chin up” or “carry on” or “be happy”. While these comments may be well-intended, you do not have to accept them. You have a right to express your grief; no one has the right to take it away.
Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions
Experiencing loss affects your head, heart and spirit. So you may experience a variety of emotions as part of your grief work. Confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relief or explosive emotions are just a few of the emotions you may feel. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time. Or they may occur simultaneously.
As strange as some of these emotions may seem, they are normal and healthy. Allow yourself to learn from these feelings. And don’t be surprised if, out of nowhere, you suddenly experience surges of grief, even at the most unexpected times. These grief attacks can be frightening and leave you feeling overwhelmed. They are, however, a natural response to the death of someone loved. Find someone who understands your feelings and will allow you to talk about them.
Allow for Numbness
Feeling dazed or numb when someone dies is often part of your early grief experience. This numbness serves a valuable purpose: it gives your emotions time to catch up with what your mind has told you. This feeling helps create insulation from the reality of the death until you are more able to tolerate what you don’t want to believe.
Be Tolerant of your Physical and Emotional Limits
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low-energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible. Caring for yourself doesn’t mean feeling sorry for yourself; it means you are using survival skills.
Develop A Support System
Reaching out to others and accepting support is often difficult, particularly when you hurt so much. But the most compassionate self-action you can do at this difficult time is to find a support system of caring friends and relatives who will provide the understanding you need. Find those people who encourage you to be yourself and acknowledge your feelings — both happy and sad.
Make Use of Ritual
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. Most importantly, the funeral is a way for you to express your grief outside yourself. If you eliminate this ritual, you often set yourself up to repress your feelings, and you cheat everyone who cares of a chance to pay tribute to someone who was, and always will be, loved.
Embrace Your Spirituality
If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you’re angry at God because of the death of someone you loved, realize this feeling as a normal part of your grief work. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
You may hear someone say, “With faith, you don’t need to grieve”. Don’t believe it. Having your personal faith does not insulate you from needing to talk out and explore your thoughts and feelings. To deny your grief is to invite problems that build up inside you. Express your faith, but express your grief as well.
Allow a Search for Meaning
You may find yourself asking, “Why did he die?” “Why this way?” “Why now?” This search for meaning is often another normal part of the healing process. Some questions have answers. Some questions have answers. Some do not. Actually, the healing occurs in the opportunity to pose the questions, not necessarily in answering them. Find a supportive friend who will listen responsively as you search for meaning.
Treasure Your Memories
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after someone loved dies. Treasure them. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry. In either case, they are a lasting part of the relationship that you had with a very special person in your life.
Move Toward Your Grief and Heal
The capacity to love requires the necessity to grieve when someone loved dies. You cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it become more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.
The experience of grief is powerful. So, too, is your ability to help yourself heal. In doing the work of grieving, you are moving toward a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
Dr. Wolfelt: Understanding Grief: Helping Yourself Heal
PROMOTE THE “GRIEF WORK”
- Face the crisis actively so as to realize the full reality of what has happened. By discussing the death with friends at the visitation, you can begin to accept the permanency of the loss. Although it is painful, it is this pain which activates the healing process.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
- Begin during the acute phase to accept the sympathy of people. You need their warmth and support at the critical moments and throughout the grief stages. Do not be afraid to cry with them. Receiving friends at the funeral home is one way to allow others to show they care. Let them know you appreciate their concern.
AVOID MEDICATION SUCH AS SEDATIVES
- Although drugs may provide some needed relief, they must not be taken for the purpose of avoiding grief entirely. Remember, the “grief work” must be done in order to make the adjustment.
REFRAIN FROM MAKING HASTY DECISIONS
- Immediately taking a trip or changing your residence is not the answer. You must cope with the loss first, knowing that “running away” will not help. Avoid making serious financial decisions until you have had time to secure proper advice.
RECALL THE UNFORGETTABLE MEMORIES
- Sometimes bereaved individuals feel the solution to the grief is to attempt to “forget.” However, it is good to recall the life of the deceased. By recognizing the wealth of the past, you can understand the grief is worth the time spent together.
CONSULT THE PROFESSIONAL IF GRIEF BECOMES INTENSE
- Feel free to contact your clergyman, physician, or funeral director. They are excellent listeners. Those familiar with the grief process may provide counsel.
AVOID RELYING TOTALLY ON THE ADVICE OF FRIENDS
- Often, well meaning friends may be unfamiliar with the stages of grief or unaware of your true needs. Realize their intentions are certainly in your interest but sometimes their advice can be misdirected.
SHARE YOUR FEELINGS WITH OTHERS
- Relate your problems and memories to those who will listen. Do not hesitate to repeat these time and again. Revealing your thoughts openly helps to alleviate emotional pain.
ESTABLISH GOALS FOR YOURSELF
- Concentrating on serving others and developing new interests will relieve your loneliness and give new purpose to your life. You may volunteer to serve in a charitable organization or help individuals in need. Consider seeking further education, increasing your involvement in work, and joining service or travel clubs as ways of adding new meaning to your life. At first, don’t be surprised if your enjoyment of these things isn’t the same. This is normal. As time passes, you may need to work on some longer range goals to give some structure and direction to your life. You may need guidance or counseling to help with this.
- Paint a realistic picture of what pain you may face. The “grief work” will help to overcome the intensified pressures of grief. Eventually you will remember the good times, and the bad ones will fade. Remember, when death comes, part of the deceased lives on with the survivor. You may find hope and comfort from those who have experienced a similar loss. Knowing some things that helped them, and realizing that they have recovered and time does help may give you hope that sometime in the future your grief will be less raw and painful.
- Do not underestimate the healing effects of small pleasures as you are ready. Sunsets, a walk in the woods, a favorite good — all are small steps toward regaining your pleasure in life itself.
PERMISSION TO BACKSLIDE
- Sometimes, after a period of feeling good, we find ourselves back in the old feelings of extreme sadness, despair or anger. This is often the nature of grief, up and down, and it may happen over and over for a time. It happens because, as humans, we cannot take in all of the pain and the meaning of death at once. So we let it in a little at a time.
- Time alone; and time with others whom you trust and who will listen when you need to talk. Months and years of time to feel and understand the feelings that go along with loss.