Coping with the Loss of a Loved One and the Grieving Process

Not long after losing my son, my neighbors also lost theirs. I waited a few days to stop by because I know from experience the shock of the first few days. I remember the mom asking me how you “get over” this, then she looked at me and said, “you don’t do you?” I hated to tell her that no, you don’t. But you can find a way to live around it and find joy. Grief is the price of love. Your love for someone doesn’t go away, just because they are no longer here to talk to, laugh with or give a hug. It gets softer, and easier to move through, but it will always be a part of you. This “new normal” (I really don’t like that term), is now your reality.

It’s been 6 years now. Are there days when it still kicks me in the gut? Yes! But thankfully it’s rarer and not as hard a hit. My son has been on my mind every day since he left, but most days, I can remember something he said, or did and smile, thankful for the time I did have with him.

Losing a loved one is undoubtedly one of the most difficult experiences we can go through in life. Whether it’s a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or anyone else, the void that is left behind can be incredibly painful to deal with. Grief is a natural response to loss, and it can be a long and complicated process. Here are some tips to help you cope with the loss of a loved one and navigate the grieving process.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

It’s essential to understand that grief is a necessary process that can’t be rushed. Everyone grieves differently, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people might feel intense emotions right away, while others might experience a delayed response. It’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, whether it’s sadness, anger, guilt, or anything else.

Take Care of Yourself

It can be challenging to focus on self-care when you’re grieving, but it’s crucial to make an effort to take care of yourself. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. Taking care of your physical health can help you feel more resilient and better able to cope with the emotional impact of your loss.

Connect with Others

Grief can be incredibly isolating, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Reach out to friends and family members for support, and consider joining a support group or talking to a therapist. Connecting with others who have experienced a similar loss can be incredibly helpful in navigating the grieving process. No one can fully understand what you’re feeling. Even someone who has had the same experience (loss of a child, spouse, etc) has a different personality, frame of reference, and beliefs…. But finding a way to connect with others who have been through the same thing helps you know that someone “gets it”. Among moms who have lost children, the saying is “this is a club that no one wants to join, but I’m thankful there are others in it who understand”.

Be easy on your family and friends. Some are afraid that mentioning your lost loved one will upset you and avoid it completely.  Others may say the “wrong thing”. Try to remember that they probably have the best of intentions. After all, you didn’t understand until you experienced it yourself. I know that even though I’d lost my nephew, who I was very close to when he was growing up, 6 months earlier, I still didn’t understand until I lost my own son.

Express Your Feelings

It can be tempting to bottle up your emotions when you’re grieving, but this can make the process even more challenging. It’s essential to express your feelings, whether it’s through writing, talking to someone, or engaging in creative activities like painting or music. Expressing your emotions can help you process them and move through the grieving process. One of the best gifts someone gave me when I lost my son was a journal and the instructions to write to him, not just about what I was feeling, but what I would talk to him about if he were still here.

Honor Your Loved One

Honoring your loved one can be an important part of the grieving process. This might mean creating a memorial or tribute, writing a letter, or engaging in activities that your loved one enjoyed. Honoring them can help you feel connected to them and provide a sense of closure.

My son was always gifting me some unique stone he’d found in the yard or on the creek bank.  I used to say that instead of bringing me wildflowers, it brought me rocks. When he passed away, what started as a way to keep some of his stones with me, became not only the realization of a dream I’d had for years of designing jewelry but a way to share something he loved with others. In the process, not only is it healing for me, but my son is still bringing a smile to people’s faces, I’ve been given opportunities to connect with others who’ve experienced loss and create something meaningful for them in remembrance of someone they’ve lost.

Be Patient with Yourself

Grieving is a process that takes time, and there’s no set timeline for when you should feel “better.” Be patient with yourself and understand that healing is a gradual process. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up and give yourself permission to take as much time as you need to grieve. I went back to work right away. There were people depending on me and I knew it was what my son would want me to do. So I’d do what I had to and then find a private spot to fall apart for a while, whether that was my car or a different room. That’s not the right thing for everyone. Do what you need to get through and keep moving forward.

The Five Stages of Grief

While everyone grieves differently, there are five common stages of grief that many people experience. These stages were first identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and they include:

  1. Denial: The first stage of grief is often denial, which involves a sense of shock or disbelief. It can be difficult to accept the reality of the loss, and you might find yourself feeling numb or disconnected.
  2. Anger: As the reality of the loss sets in, many people experience anger. This anger might be directed at the person who died, other people, or even yourself. It’s important to acknowledge and express this anger in healthy ways, such as through exercise or talking to a therapist.
  3. Bargaining: In the bargaining stage, you might find yourself trying to negotiate with a higher power or asking “what if” questions. This stage is characterized by a sense of desperation and a desire to regain control over the situation.
  4. Depression: The fourth stage of grief is often marked by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. It’s important to allow yourself to feel these emotions and seek support from others.
  5. Acceptance: The final stage of grief is acceptance, which involves coming to terms with the loss and beginning to move forward. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you’re “over” the loss or that you won’t feel sad anymore, but it does mean that you’ve reached a level of understanding and peace with what has happened.

It’s important to remember that the stages of grief are not linear and that you might experience them in a different order or cycle through them multiple times. Grief is a complex process, and it’s okay to feel a wide range of emotions as you navigate it. I remember wondering how anyone survived this, even though I knew countless people had. One of the best, and scariest things I read early on was not to expect to move through the 5 stages of grief and be done. Especially when losing a child. Instead of being “finished” with grief, it was more like a looping roller coaster. You may move through the stages in order or you may not and you keep looping through them. Just when you think “Ok, I might survive this” one stage may hit out of the blue without any warning. The good news is that eventually, at some point, the hits become less intense and easier to move through.

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most challenging experiences we face in life. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve and to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Connecting with others, expressing your feelings, and honoring your loved one can all be helpful in navigating the grieving process.

If you’re struggling with grief and finding it difficult to cope, consider seeking support from a therapist or grief counselor. They can provide you with tools and resources to help you through this challenging time and support you as you heal.

Remember that there’s no “right” way to grieve and that healing is a gradual process. Be patient with yourself, allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, and trust that you will eventually find a way to move forward while keeping your loved one’s memory alive.

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