Losing a loved one is among the most difficult of human experiences. Regardless of whether a loved one passes suddenly, or after a long illness, the loss is equally heartbreaking and those left behind can feel both mental and physical pain.
How a person processes grief is as unique as that person’s fingerprints. There is no “right” way to grieve. Some people grieve for a few weeks, others grieve for months or years. The stages of grief are not linear, and there is no timeline to follow. It’s common to cycle through anger, acceptance, and depression again and again. And it’s important to talk to someone about your feelings.
“In this culture, we don’t like to express our emotions. We don’t spend time really discussing our deep feelings. We feel like we don’t want to burden our friends and family. We might mention our pain in passing and then move on,” says Charles Nechtem, whose company, Charles Nechtem Associates, provides counseling services through the Dignity Memorial Compassion Helpline.
Grief will eventually wear you down, leading to physical and mental health problems. “You can’t press the delete key and restart yourself,” Nechtem says. “And you can’t ignore your feelings without consequences. You have to find positive ways to cope.”
5 Positive Ways to Cope With Grief
Nechtem’s advice for positive ways to cope is:
- Acknowledge the reality of the loss. Whether it's sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may take weeks or months. Moving back and forth between protesting and acknowledging the reality of the death is normal.
- Move toward the pain of the loss. Expressing intense thoughts and feelings about the death is difficult, but important. You will probably need to “dose” yourself when experiencing the pain of your loss. In other words, you cannot or should not try to meet this need all at once.
- Embrace memories to continue the relationship. Embracing memories – both happy and sad – can be a very slow and, at times, painful process. But remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.
- Search for meaning. Questioning the meaning and purpose of life is a natural reaction to loss. Coming to terms with these questions is key to progressing through a grief journey. Move at your own pace. Recognize that allowing yourself to hurt and find ongoing meaning in your life will eventually allow healing to occur.
- Continue to reach out to and receive support from others. You will never stop needing the love and support of others because you never “get over” your grief. As time passes, learning to reconcile grief means you will need help less intensely and less often. Friends and family members can play an important role listening and providing support on a grief journey. Support groups can be another long-term helping resource.
Why Caregivers are Especially at Risk of Becoming Overwhelmed by Grief
A Massachusetts woman named Anne Richie* knows about grief firsthand. She was very close to her elderly mother when her mother passed away a couple of years ago. “I thought I’d be fine,” Richie says. “But as time went by, I got more and more depressed. My mother was my best friend, and I didn’t want to do things with other people.”
Richie says she was consumed not only by sadness, but also by anger. Richie called the Compassion Helpline for the first time at 3 a.m. — and then seven more times in the weeks that followed.
“It was a godsend,” Richie says. “I didn’t have anywhere else to turn. My counselor, Liz, helped me understand my grief and know that I wasn’t alone. She slowly helped me look at things differently, and I was able to shift my point of view from angry to grateful.”
Nechtem often answers the phone himself. He remembers a recent caller, Lucy*, who was a caregiver to a grandparent who had just died at 103. She was experiencing a great loss while also caring for her octogenarian parents.
“Lucy was exhausted. She needed a break but was afraid to leave her parents alone for even a weekend. She had it in her head that she had to be there with them all the time to ensure that they would be okay,” Nechtem said. “We feel like we have control over things, but the reality is that we don’t.”
How a Strong Support Network can Help Provide Relief
When someone you love dies, confusion, shock and disbelief are normal. Unexpressed grief can lead to extreme fatigue, crying fits, nightmares, anxiety and depression.
On the day of a funeral or memorial service, you will likely find yourself surrounded by friends, family, clergy, and others who provide comfort and support. As time passes, you may feel like no one understands what you’re going through. You may feel you are burdening your support system.
A grief hotline can help with readily available support resources. Hotlines are convenient, available any time day or night and especially valuable for anyone without a built-in support system. For those not yet ready for a support group setting, hotlines are a great option for confidential, one-on-one advice and guidance.
To learn more about our partnership with Dignity Memorial, please visit: https://hca.dignitymemorial.com/
*Not their real name.
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