Are you missing a loved one? When the pain sharpens in the middle of daily life, how do you cope? It’s not realistic to ignore grief’s crushing force, so what can you do?
Reflect on Your Experience
When you’re in the grieving process, the first thing to do is reflect on how it touches you, specifically. Check out some resources on grief, for hints about the path your feelings might take, or to understand where parts of your experience come from. Many of us have heard about the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We have to remember, though, that these stages are only guidelines, and we may experience them out of order: “Studies now show that grievers don’t progress through these stages in lockstep fashion,” according to Santa Clara University psychology professor David Feldman. This can be especially true at extra stressful times, or during the holidays – when we are out of our routine or when our time is spent recalling and creating memories.
Make A Plan
Once you’ve gotten in touch with your own emotional experience, you can make a plan for how to make the grieving process easier.
Think about addressing the biggest sources of your pain or reminders of your loss. Do you need to tweak existing traditions, so they’re less triggering?
You can do something special to memorialize your loved one, in place of an old tradition. Instead of eating ice cream on the bench you used to share together, maybe take a cone to her favorite scenic overlook. You’ll be thinking, “Wow, she would have loved this!” instead of, “Wow, we used to do this together and I’m sad and alone now.” This approach emphasizes moving forward, while trauma is known to keep people stuck in the past.
Be intentional and firm about what you need from friends and loved ones in order to cope. But, keep in mind that family members might disagree with what’s best for you – decide ahead of time what your boundaries will be, in case that happens.
Address Common Experiences of Grief
No matter how well you work on yourself and prepare, you’ve been through something huge. Nobody expects you to strut through it, all smiles, without suffering. Here are some ways your grief might show itself, and how you can address them.
When you lose someone, you’re likely to miss them and feel lonely, but you might find yourself withdrawing, instead of reaching out. You’ll need to find a new way “to be” without the other person. Thinking about this can be scary or sad, and magnify the person’s absence, but don’t be afraid to reach out to others or to accept help.
Sometimes friends or family avoid mentioning your loved one, or stay away completely because they don’t know what to say. If friends and family are quiet, assume the best, and help them to help you. Tell people what kind of support you would like to have, if you know. Can’t find the words, yourself? Try pointing them toward resources that explain what you’re going through or what you need right now.
“Love With No Place To Go”
Jamie Anderson puts beautiful words to the feeling: “grief is just love with no place to go.”
Losing a loved one leaves a hole, into which the love and energy you feel for them are lost. When we keep pouring our hearts into the hole, we lose that energy forever. Instead, it may help resolve the feeling of loss, to create something good out of the pain.
For instance, when New Jersey father Chris D’Amico lost his son in a tragic boating accident, he created a song and video (“My Love Will Find You”), to honor his son and express his grief. Or, even if you’ve never tried before, perhaps you could find some relief by remembering your loved one through visual art or writing.
A story, a moment, or even a fragrance can unleash powerful and unexpected feelings of grief. You might get through every hurdle without a tear, only to have your heart break over some unexpected trigger. No matter how hard you try, sometimes the plan no longer applies, the steps you took didn’t work, and you just need to be saved from an unexpected tsunami of grief:
- Keep funny pocket-pack tissues or special handkerchiefs handy
- Vent overwhelming feelings to a trusted loved one
- Don’t feel like sharing? Capture your rushing thoughts for later, in a notepad or cell phone voice memo
- Distract yourself! Start a new show, or watch some leaping baby goats
- Listen to music that might put words to your feelings and help you process
Most importantly, if your own feelings turn out to be different than what you expected, go with the flow and change your plans.
Take it one step at a time, and remember that your peer community at Supportiv.com is available 24/7 to lend an ear.