Some people literally do bounce back after the loss of a loved one. And this doesn’t mean they didn’t love the person any more than someone who is in the throes of painful grief for a long time.
Everyone has a different reaction to death. So, if you’re one of those people who bounce back fairly quickly, that’s okay. And if you’re one of those people who experiences grief for months and years, that’s okay, too.
2. Tell friends what you need.
Friends want to help, but sometimes you have to let them know the specifics of what you need. Here are some examples:
• Just sit with me. We don’t have to talk.
• Hold me.
• Tell me stories about him.
• Listen to my stories about him.
• Bring me meals out of the blue sometimes.
• Hang in there with me – this might take awhile.
• A year from now, still ask me how I’m doing.
3. Be around others who are in “The Club.”
Losing someone to death gains you automatic, unfortunate admission to The Grief Club. It’s really important to be around people who are in The Club once you’re in, though. These are the only people who will truly understand your thoughts, feelings, and experiences as you grieve.
When you tell them that you screamed into your pillow for an hour in the middle of the night, they will nod with empathy and understanding; they’ve done that, too. Sharing that you freaked yourself out because you didn’t think about your loved one all day will elicit, “Yes, that is weird when it happens for the first time. It’s okay, though. You’re not forgetting her.”
4. Have faith that time will heal you.
When you are in the midst of deep grief and pain, it’s very hard to imagine that the pain will ever subside. This is when you need to get into your head, your intellectual side, and remember that time actually does tend to heal all wounds.
Maybe not completely (see bonus #11), but you really will feel better in time.
5. Get through just this moment.
When you feel like your innards are being turned inside out from your grief, remember that emotions – even severe pain like that – are transitory. Keep breathing and wait for the severity of the pain to diminish. It will.
Notice when your pain has decreased. This will help you learn that you can get through this moment. Then work on the next moment . . .
6. Be okay with the depth of your grieving, whatever that may be.
Remember, people react differently to loss, so if your grief is not as intense as another person’s, that’s okay. You are doing what you need to do in your own way.
If your grief is very deep and painful, make room for that, too. Deep sorrow sometimes elicits behaviors you may not be used to such as keening, wailing, being on all fours on the floor, feeling crazy and out of control, and sometimes acting crazy. Remember that you’re not crazy, you just feel that way.
7. Don’t be surprised at the spiral nature of grief
One of the difficult aspects of grief is that you start to feel better and feel like you’re finally coming out of the fog and then – wham! – you’re back in it again. That’s because healing from loss doesn’t follow a linear pattern – your recovery doesn’t always move upward consistently.
Think of grief as an upward spiral. You really are improving, but sometimes as you follow the path you come across the same point of pain that you visited before. It’s okay. You will soon enough continue along the road to healing. Remember to have mercy on yourself.
8. Take a break.
I often encourage my clients who are grieving to allow themselves to take a break. It really is okay to distract yourself from your grief for awhile. It will be there when you get back!
Go to a movie, take a hike with friends, read a book, take a class, meet friends for dinner . . . you get the idea.
9. It’s okay to be sad and laugh at the same time.
One of my clients shared with me recently that she felt guilty because she went to dinner with friends and ended up laughing and having a good time. She felt guilty because she thought it might mean she was forgetting her mother who died over a year ago.
I explained to her the premise of #8 above and that it was okay for her to take a break.
Then she said she also felt strange because, on the inside, she still felt sad yet she was able to laugh with her friends and enjoy herself.
That phenomenon is just one of the weird times in life when we are holding two opposing emotions at the same time. They are probably being experienced at different levels, but it still feels odd.
But oddity doesn’t mean something is wrong, it just means that it’s, well, odd. And guess what? That’s okay, too.
10. Realize that you’re not going to be the person you were before.
Your natural inclination is to try to get through your grief and go back to normal. But you really can’t go back to normal, to the person you were before your loved one died. You and your world are different now without your loved one in it.
And keep in mind that different is the operative word here. Not bad, just different. Something to become adjusted to.
You will develop a new normal.
And a bonus tip:
11. You never get over it, but it does get better.
Don’t listen to someone who says, “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” That person likely does not have membership in The Club because that phrase is quite incorrect.
You never really get over it. You will always remember your loved one and there will always be some kind of pain, perhaps diminished to the point of wistfulness, but there nonetheless.
But it does get better. You will feel better. Your memories will change from those that trigger tears to those that elicit smiles and laughter.
And you’ll never forget. Don’t worry.