How I Coped With Grief
Coping with the loss of a close friend or family member may be one of the hardest challenges that many of us face. When we lose a spouse, sibling or parent our grief can be particularly intense. Loss is understood as a natural part of life, but we can still be overcome by shock and confusion, leading to prolonged periods of sadness or depression.
The sadness typically diminishes in intensity as time passes, but grieving is an important process in order to overcome these feelings and continue to embrace the time you had with your loved one.
Everyone reacts differently to death and employs personal coping mechanisms for grief. Research shows that most people can recover from loss on their own through the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits. It may take months or a year to come to terms with a loss. There is no “normal” time period for someone to grieve. Don’t expect to pass through phases of grief either, as new research suggests that most people do not go through stages as progressive steps.
If your relationship with the deceased was difficult, this will also add another dimension to the grieving process. It may take some time and thought before you are able to look back on the relationship and adjust to the loss.
Human beings are naturally resilient, considering most of us can endure loss and then continue on with our own lives. But some people may struggle with grief for longer periods of time and feel unable to carry out daily activities. Those with severe grief may be experiencing complicated grief. These individuals could benefit from the help of a psychologist or another licensed mental health professional with a specialization in grief.
Moving on With Life
Mourning the loss of a close friend or relative takes time, but research tells us that it can also be the catalyst for a renewed sense of meaning that offers purpose and direction to life.
Grieving individuals may find it useful to use some of the following strategies to help come to terms with loss:
Talk about the death of your loved one with friends and colleagues in order to understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. Denying the death is an easy way to isolate yourself, and will frustrate your support system in the process.
Accept your feelings. People experience all kinds of emotions after the death of someone close. Sadness, anger, frustration and even exhaustion are all normal.
Take care of yourself and your family. Eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest help us get through each day and move forward.
Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well. Sharing stories of the deceased can help everyone cope.
Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Possibilities include donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed by your emotions, it may be helpful to talk with a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional who can help you cope with your feelings and find ways to get back on track.
(Adapted from a post by Katherine C. Nordal, PhD from the American Psychological Association)
On a personal note … as of this writing, I am one month on from my Mom’s death. For the first two weeks following her passing, I coped by not coping. In other words, I forced the issue out of my mind and put all my energy into maintaining control. I did this so that I could put on a strong front for my Dad, as I was worried about his reaction and did not want to compound the family misery.
In the last few weeks, I have allowed myself to indulge in sadness, and thankfully, it is not quite as raw as it threatened to be earlier. I don’t know if that was the “healthy” thing to do, but it felt appropriate to me then. I’m sure my feelings will evolve over time, and I am open to working through the process, which I will update in future posts.
Things which have helped me cope best are the support of my husband, spending time with my dogs and blogging. Blogging has been particularly cathartic for me. I want and need to discuss this topic, but it is not one that I can discuss easily (nor is it a topic which many people enjoy in conversation).
Writing this blog enables me to explore the topic of dying and grief through recounting my experiences with my Mom’s two years of progressive terminal illness and eventual death, as well as through researching what “the experts” say. I feel it is my new purpose to provide help and guidance for patients and loved ones who have questions they need (but perhaps don’t really want) to ask, or who feel they don’t have the right person to ask.
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