The death of a loved one creates many changes for surviving family members. These range from changes in household routines to changes in priorities or future plans. Getting used to new life situations may take months or years. In this article, we share some suggestions on how best to cope with your grief.
Identify Where You Are In The Grieving Process
How we cope with grief is unique and no two people grieve the same way, with the same intensity or for the same duration. The stages of grief are not meant to be a complete list of the emotions that can be felt. There is no particular order to the stages – even the progress through the stages is unique to the individual. Below is a normal cycle of grief. Take a look and think about where you may fall on this spectrum.
Denial lessens the immediate shock of the loss, numbing our emotions. For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary reaction that carries us through the first wave of pain.
Reality and its pain may begin to emerge when we are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected, redirected and expressed as anger.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as:
"If only we had sought medical attention sooner"
"If only we had tried to be a better person toward them"
You may feel like there is an empty space in your life, in your home, in your heart, and in your world.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal experience. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you.
Understand The Changes
Once you understand where you are in the grieving process, take some time to either reflect on the changes that have occurred, or have yet to occur as a result of your loss.
A death can provide a shock to your system that causes you to reflect on what truly matters most to you now. Previous goals you had may seem less important and you may begin to notice the development of new priorities like spending more time with your family and friends, or focusing on your health.
The death of a loved one can be a powerful reminder that our life on earth is finite. After the death of a loved one you may begin to question meaning of life, or your spiritual beliefs. Or, you may find that the passing of your loved one has grown your faith. You may find that this is a good time to lean into your beliefs or religious support system.
After the death of a loved one, you may notice some changes in your relationships with family and friends. Some may give you space because they don’t know how to act around you, or what to say. On the other hand, you may notice a much stronger bond forming between you and your closest friends and family.
If you have been taking care of a loved one with cancer, much of your daily routine may have involved hospital visits or caregiving tasks. When that person dies and this familiar routine ends, you may feel lost and miss your caregiving responsibilities. Over time, many people are able to develop a new routine that feels familiar and comfortable.
When a partner or family member dies, you may have to take on the tasks he or she used to handle. Some of these tasks may be completely unfamiliar and stressful to learn. Over time, these tasks will become easier as you adjust to your new role.
Activities and interests
You may no longer be interested in some activities you previously enjoyed, or you may develop new interests. These could include becoming involved in activities that were important to your loved one, volunteering at a local hospital, or getting involved in a cancer related non profit. Whatever you decide to do, jumping in and getting involved in something new will be a good thing for your mental health.
Implement Coping Strategies
The following strategies may help you better cope with the stressful changes that follow a loved one's death:
Take time to recover and reflect.
You may feel the need to bury your emotions and move on, but it’s imperative that you give yourself a proper amount of time to adjust to the traumatic event that you’ve been through. The year after the death of a loved one is very emotional. Immediately after the event, take some time off work if you can to give you some space to reflect on what’s happened. Many employers offer bereavement leave so you can check your company handbook to see if you have that benefit. In addition to taking some time off, postpone making any major decisions, such as moving or changing jobs. Mental health experts suggest waiting at least a year. Consider making a list of decisions and tasks, and figure out which ones must be completed immediately. Try to hold off on any important decisions that can wait.
While reflecting, get help handling financial and legal matters.
This is probably the last thing you want to think about immediately after a loss, but there will be many financial and legal tasks that follow a death which can seem overwhelming. If it’s possible, consult a legal or financial expert, such as a lawyer, accountant, or financial advisor about these pending tasks. Hiring a professional can take the stress and weight off your shoulders so you can focus on processing your grief.
Request and accept assistance.
Aside from the financial and legal matters that follow a passing, your friends and family will want to be there for you emotionally during this time. Although, they may not know exactly what you need or how best to support you. Be specific about ways they can help and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Remember, they want to be there for you as a support system.
Start keeping a journal.
Keeping a journal can help you process the changes that are going on and will provide a therapeutic affect. Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper is an excellent way to cope with your emotions and can help you work through the stages of grief. No one has to see or know about this journal, so make sure you set aside alone time while you write your thoughts.
Work with a grief counselor.
Consider working with a talk therapist to help you on your journey of processing your grief. A licensed talk therapist is appropriately trained in the stages of grief and can help you manage it. Opening up to someone who is not in your immediate circle can give you a safe zone to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It will make you feel better.
Consider joining a support group.
As helpful as your friends can be, they may not fully be able to understand what you’re going through. Surrounding yourself with those who are going through the same thing as you can help you extend your support network and better process your emotions.
Try to remain positive.
When you think of your loved one, remember the good times. As you adjust to these new changes, try to implement positive changes in your life that can help you feel good about yourself. Learning new skills and embracing new hobbies can help usher in positivity that can have a lasting affect.
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