After the death of a loved one our minds are usually full of mixed emotions and thoughts. Because our minds are on “overload” so to speak, we often forget about our own needs. It is important to understand that grief manifests in various ways. Once you understand how to identify grief and normal grief reactions, then can you learn to cope with the emotions and feelings associated with loss. People grieve differently because, quite simply, people are different. Grieving styles may also vary among the same person but for a different loss. For example, people usually grieve the death of a child differently than the death of a spouse. One way is not better or harder than the other. It simply is different. Some people may find help in one of more of these healthy coping skills.
- journaling or letter-writing to the deceased
- artistic expression, such as music, art, or poetry
- physical activity
- memorial projects
- attend bereavement support groups
- get bereavement counseling and therapy
- become isolated
- become inactive
- keep emotions bottled up
- turn to drugs or alcohol
- make any major changes within the first year
Expressing your feelings through written words proves therapeutic for many people experiencing grief and allows you to express your feelings in healthy way. Remember it is normal to be mad at God or even the person who died. Anger, sadness, frustration, anxiety, shock, relief, and even guilt are normal reactions to grief. Try writing a letter to the person who died to let them know how you feel. Nobody even has to read what you wrote, so feel free to express your feelings truthfully as bad as they may seem to you. After you have written the letter either throw it away or meet with a grief counselor to review it.
Expressive art and music is an effective way to handle and express emotions. Expressive therapy is a form of therapeutic process that is meant to help you heal through the process of imaginative creation, rather than worrying about the finished product. So don’t worry about what you are drawing or painting is going to look like in the end. Instead, try to channel your feelings through drawing, painting, or writing, in order to help you examine and overcome your feelings, emotions, and overall thought process.
Educating yourself about grief and reading about others that grieve can help you understand what symptoms are normal when you are grieving. Reading about how others have coped can normalize what you are going through. It also lets you know that you are not alone and that everyone at one point or another in life will experience a loss. You can find helpful readings on Family Hospice & Palliative Care’s website. These are readings that have been examined by professionals in the field and have proven most helpful to the bereaved.
Exercise, even walking, is good for the mind and the body. A change of scenery, along with moving your muscles, provides increased energy and time to see things in a different perspective. If you are not able to exercise, try deep (diaphragmatic) breathing which can relax the body and mind.
Consider creating a memory box that contains some of your loved one’s possessions, along with special items that remind you of him or her. Include things like pictures, significant items that induce memories of happiness, jewelry, and anything that will help you remember the person who died. Creating memory boxes is appropriate for people of all ages. Children may wish to participate with you or even make their own under adult supervision.
Participate in support groups in order to remain social and gain understanding and useful tools to adapt to your new life. It doesn’t hurt to try out a support group, and if you don’t like the atmosphere you can always try another. Search online for support groups in your area and ask your friends and family. Local churches and places of worship most often have these types of bereavement support groups. Also try contacting your local community hospice agency for recommendations.
Individual bereavement counseling and therapy offers the opportunity to share your feelings and begin the healing process. Counseling and therapy also helps you realize that you are not alone in your journey and educates you on what you can expect while grieving. Seek out a professionally licensed mental health provider that specializes in grief. You can contact the mental health service number on the back of your health insurance card and ask them for at least three counselors/therapist in your area who are licensed and specialize in grief.
Often when we are sad and depressed due to a loss we want to isolate ourselves from the world. Avoiding the world and your emotions will only delay your grief. It is important to take sometime to be alone, but to also make an effort to socialize and leave the house.
Sometimes when we are grieving we do not want to get off the coach or we forget to take care of ourselves. Now is the most important time to care for yourself both physically and emotionally. Get out of the house and walk around your block or local park by yourself or with a friend, or even just go for a scenic drive. And if you can’t muster up the energy to leave the house, try doing some yoga at home by yourself or stretching exercises at home by yourself.
At times we may find ourselves hiding our true emotions because we do not want others to see we are upset. It is important to let yourself cry if you feel the urge. It is also important to demonstrate to children that it is okay to cry when you are sad and grieving. Sometimes you may need to cry with children and that is okay.
It is very important to remember drugs and alcohol are dangerous but especially while grieving. Even if you are a casual drinker remember alcohol is a depressant and therefore can make you sadder. It is normal to have sleep and appetite disturbances when you grieve. Remember to contact your physician first before taking medication on your own to help with these issues.
Because you are grieving your mind is not as sharp and focused as it could be. Therefore, it is important to allow yourself time to grieve before you make any changes in relationships, housing, or fiancés if you can help it. Oftentimes we can make impulsive decisions that we would not typically make when we are grieving because we are mixing up our grief reactions with other feelings.
Coping techniques may help you emotionally after someone dies. Help yourself by learning to identify what normal grief reactions are and then utilize the coping techniques that best work for you. If you are continuing to struggle with grief, please consider contacting a mental health professional who specializes in grief and bereavement.