Healthy Grief: How to Cope With the Loss of a Loved One

By Sabine Ferran Gerhardt

How to Cope With the Loss of a Loved OneCoping with the loss of a loved one may be the hardest thing you will ever have to do in your life.  I’m not sure anyone can relate to the experience without having gone though it personally.

When life steals your loved one, you get through it, not over it.

Losing a loved one means that the life which had previously seemed so normal becomes foreign. The very person you would turn to in order to help you cope with such a tremendous loss may be missing.

It takes energy to mourn, energy to heal. And your energy–physical, spiritual, emotional– is low. Feeling out of sorts is natural, so don’t let others determine how you should feel, or for how long. Mourning is a necessary part of healthy healing. After all, no one had the same relationship with your loved one as you did. So no one can know how you need to get through the experience.

If you are dealing with this crisis yourself, or are looking to help someone else who has experienced it, here are few things to keep in mind.

Tips for Grieving

There will be bad days.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and other days of significance may amplify your grief. Call upon a support group or friend to be with you during these times. Realize that you won’t always see the bad days coming, either. Sometimes it’s the regular, “everyday” days that mark a loved one’s absence more than the “special” days. After all, they were part of your regular, everyday routine.

Don’t compare yourself to others.

Your grief is yours. It can and should take as long (or short) a time as necessary to get through this. Don’t assume or allow others to convince you that your grief should follow the rules. There are no rules when it comes to death. Other people aren’t going through what you’re going through—even if they have had a similar experience. They aren’t you.

Be honest with yourself and others.

Don’t mask your feelings for the sake of others. It is the ability to share how you feel that will help you heal, and help others around you support your healing. Whether it be the specifics of the death itself, or the fond memories you have of your partner, it’s okay to share with friends and family. It’s okay to be angry at your loved one for being gone, and it’s okay to really miss them, even if you knew the end was coming. Don’t ignore the way you feel, and don’t try to diminish it to make other people more comfortable.

All emotions are OK.

And you’re entitled to all of them. This means if you have the overwhelming urge to laugh, go right ahead. If you can’t stop crying, it’s not a problem. If you’re furious with your loved one for dying, be furious. During this crisis, you’re likely to feel disoriented, just as you would if you’d been in a car accident. The impact of losing a loved one can leave you with feelings of guilt, relief, anger, sorrow, and plenty more emotions, some all at the same time. Every last one of them is normal, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Get support.

There may be a local grief or counseling group which offers support to those who have lost a partner. While no one will have experienced the exact loss you did, you may find comfort in those who have had a similar experience. Avoid those who tell you how to grieve, and stick with those who recognize and support your feelings as you grieve, whatever those feelings may be.

Make decisions at your own pace.

If it’s the bills (or other immediate decisions) that need to be handled, ask a trusted friend or relative to do it for or with you. For the decisions that don’t need to be handled immediately, take your time. Go through your loved one’s belongings when you’re ready.

Be kind to yourself.

Grief drains the energy you need to keep your mind and body healthy. You’re tired. You can’t think straight. Remember to rest. Even if you struggle to get to sleep, it’s important to at least let the body rest, even if the mind is alert.

Remember to eat.

The appetite often wanes or disappears entirely during high stress events. You need food more than ever during these times, to give you the energy to heal.

If you heal faster than you or others had anticipated, accept that as a blessing. Healthy grieving doesn’t mean that you didn’t care enough or love enough. It is a process that requires kindness and compassion. Whatever way you are doing it is the right way to do it.

When death steals a loved one, there’s no “right” way to grieve. But at least we can take comfort in the fact that there’s no “wrong” way, either. As long as the way you deal with grief is open, honest, and authentic, it’s healthy.

Sabine Ferran Gerhardt, M.A., CFCS is Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Development in the department of Public Services at the University of Akron. She specializes in trauma in young children. She also serves as socio-educational group leader for children of incarcerated mothers at Oriana House, a residential incarceration facility in Akron, Ohio. Recently, personal and professional experience has led to research and development of workshops on the effects of breast cancer on the family dynamic.

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