Resources for Coping With Grief
Click on the articles below to learn more about topics related to coping with grief.
- The Loneliness of Loss
- Planning for Difficult Days
- Make Self-Care a Priority
- Facing the Problem of the “Stuff”
- Sleeplessness: A Common Concern
- The Cemetery: To Visit or Not To Visit?
- Giving Sorrow Words: The Practice of Journaling Through Grief
- Signs of Healing
- What Others Need to Know
- Bereavement Resources: Books and Internet Links
The Loneliness of Loss
Loneliness is an integral part of grief. Someone very precious has been lost and the companionship, comfort and purpose they provided are suddenly gone, replaced by a sense of emptiness and aloneness. In the beginning, the loneliness may not be quite as noticeable when supporters are still providing the “Three C’s”: Calls, Cards and Casseroles. But as time goes on, longing for your loved one and the resulting loneliness may grow very heavy indeed.
Loneliness is part of the transition from the past to the future. The ending of the previous life with your loved one forces you into a “new normal” and also new beginnings. But until that new life fully develops, clinging to endings is natural and may be filled with loneliness.
How does one cope with the loneliness? In learning to be alone, there is not one “right” plan. However, there are several guidelines which might prove helpful.
A first step is accepting that you will feel lonely. You miss your loved one and long for things to be the same once again. Acknowledge the loneliness as being a natural part of the grief process.
A second step is to reach out. Reaching out is a good cure for loneliness. It will probably be difficult, as the loss of a loved one leaves us drained and often feeling insecure about ourselves. Many bereaved individuals report great satisfaction in volunteering, taking classes, or renewing old or forming new friendships.
Joining a grief support group is a great way to connect with others in a meaningful way. Grief often makes one feel alienated from others as they feel “no one could possibly feel as I do.” Gathering with others experiencing similar losses provides a safe environment to express your deepest feelings and concerns. It also gives an opportunity to comfort others.
Understand that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Most of us need some time to ourselves to recharge and renew. Time alone is often a necessary part of the adjustment process. Learning to distinguish the difference between the experience of being alone and the experience of loneliness can help you identify appropriate coping tools.
“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief — but the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”
— Hilary Stanton Zunin
Planning for Difficult Days
The first year following the death of a loved one is full of “firsts” involving birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions. Memories of past times stand in stark contrast to the present. Facing these “firsts” without a loved one predictably heightens awareness of loss and feelings of grief and anxiety. For many, the anxiety associated with anticipation of the upcoming “first” turns out to be worse than the experience itself.
By recognizing that certain days can be difficult and planning ahead, you can make a choice to live with your grief rather than be consumed by it. First of all, acknowledge the day and its special meaning and special memories. Give yourself permission to be sad — leaning into grief can be less exhausting than trying to avoid it.
Many have found it helpful to plan an activity that acknowledges the loss and honors your loved one’s memory. Lighting a remembrance candle, releasing balloons, visiting the cemetery, printing a memorial in the newspaper, planting a tree or other plant, wearing something that belonged to your loved one or writing a letter are but a few of the options you might choose.
Some find that planning a trip to a new and different place or planning activities that are different from what was done in the past can be a good choice.
Have faith in your decision-making and trust your feelings. You can rest assured that your loved one will continue to influence you for the rest of your life. Acknowledging and experiencing the special “difficult” days honors their memory and your enduring love.
Make Self-Care A Priority
You may find it difficult to take care of yourself while grieving. Business details to deal with, lack of energy, and lack of desire can present significant challenges to walking positively and deliberately in the early days of grief. Paying attention to the basics of self-care — nutrition, hydration, exercise, rest and social support — is essential.
Strategies that can help in the healing process include:
- Take care of yourself physically. Have a check-up with
- Exercise daily. Even a slow, peaceful walk can help you relax.
- Eat well and wisely.
- Lower expectations of yourself.
- Take one day at a time, one goal at a time.
- Keep a written journal. It doesn’t have to be ‘professional,’ just honest.
- Trust your own sense of timing.
- Participate in pleasant activities you enjoy.
- Seek new routines and interests.
- Discover what you need from others and ask.
- Embrace your spirituality.
- Pamper yourself. A massage can do wonders!
- If possible, avoid making major decisions like moving or changing jobs during the first year of grief.
- Join a support group.
- Don’t hold back your tears – crying can be very therapeutic.
- Find ways to hold on to hope.
“Little by little, we let go of loss … but never of love.”
— Renee Daniels
Facing the Problem of the “Stuff”
As we move through life, most of us collect an array of personal possessions and “treasures” that link us to fond memories and our personal histories. Wedding rings, photos, mementos and souvenirs are all examples of “linking objects” that ground us in our past while making it psychologically safer to move into the future.
One of the most difficult tasks facing bereaved survivors involves deciding what to do with the deceased loved one’s clothing and personal possessions. Unfortunately, the bereaved often feel pressured by others to dispose of these very personal belongings before they are ready. The unsolicited offer of help to “clean out the closets” carries with it the message that grief can be “cured” by eliminating the physical reminders of a loved one. Attempts to quickly erase personal reminders of a precious relationship cannot heal the empty void created by a death.
Part of the healing process involves making decisions about what is important to retain and what no longer is needed or wanted. Learning how and when to “hold on while letting go” is an integral part of the healing process. Decisions that are made under the cloud of fresh grief are too often cause for later regrets.
One helpful strategy for deciding what to hold on to and what to let go of involves the use of three sorting “piles” — what you definitely do want to keep, what you definitely do not want to keep, and what you’re not sure about. Box or bag up what you don’t want and either pass it on to others or to a charity that accepts used goods. Some things you may simply want to discard to the trash. Expect that on the first go-round you are likely to find a lot that you just aren’t sure about. That’s fine — just box it up and pack it away for a few months and then repeat the process.
For many people, letting go of personal effects is a gradual process, most easily handled in stages. One widower decided that he could start by donating his wife’s socks to a homeless shelter. “I know that socks are desperately needed and besides, I’m not too attached to her socks” was the equation that it made possible for him to start the process of deciding what to hold onto and what to let go of. As he continued his donations over a period of months, he found comfort in knowing that his wife was continuing to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
For some, identifying the clothing that is connected to the most cherished memories is a starting point. One woman found great comfort in wearing her mother’s coat — “It has helped me to imagine I was wrapped in her arms as I went through the hard times that followed her death.”
Choosing favorite pieces of clothing to save or to convert into coverlets, quilts, throw pillows or teddy bears is a comforting option for many. For some, the creation of memory boxes filled with treasured mementos can be of value. One widow had Santa Claus dolls created for each of her children and herself by a talented artisan, who fashioned beautiful keepsakes out of the clothing of the deceased and small mementos such as cuff-links, fishing lures and other personally meaningful items.
As with all aspects of grief, there is no timetable or one “right” way that suits everyone. When and how you meet the challenge of “holding on while letting go” will be influenced by the type of person you are and your own personal grief experience.
Sleeplessness: A Common Concern
Problems with sleep are commonly an issue during the early stages of grief. You may have trouble falling asleep or may awaken frequently in the night, unable to fall back to sleep. These problems often resolve as the grief process progresses. But lack of sleep can cause a multitude of challenges. Grief, in itself, is exhausting and emotions and decision-making are more difficult when sleeplessness and physical fatigue are present.
If you have persistent insomnia, a complete physical exam is probably a good idea. In some cases, your physician may prescribe medication temporarily to help you sleep. But the following strategies may also prove to be helpful:
- Try to keep to a sleep schedule — go to bed and get up at the same time every day to help set healthy body rhythms.
- If you have trouble getting your mind to “shut down,” play relaxing music.
- Avoid smoking or drinking caffeine several hours prior to bedtime.
- Avoid the stimulation of exercise within two hours of bedtime, but do find some time during the day to exercise.
- Avoid stressful conversations or decision-making before bedtime.
- Don’t go to bed “overstuffed.”
- Practice simple relaxation techniques and start winding down at least one hour before bed.
- Ban anything stressful!
Continued sleep problems may be an indication of underlying grief issues that are not being handled in a healthy manner. Speaking with a bereavement counselor or attending a support group may assist in putting you on the path to a healthy grief journey.
“May love be what you remember most.”
— Darcie Sims
The Cemetery: To Visit or Not To Visit?
Once the funeral is over and their loved one is laid to rest, grieving people often find themselves struggling with guilt and other uncomfortable feelings related to cemetery visitation. There are no set “rules” about how to handle this aspect of loss. People differ widely in how they cope with this as well as the other challenges of grief.
For some people, frequent or even daily trips to the gravesite are an important part of their healing process. As the acute symptoms of grief begin to abate, the need for daily or weekly visits may decline, to be replaced by more flexible patterns of visitation.
For many others, visiting the cemetery provides no solace. It is not at all uncommon for grieving people to avoid revisiting the gravesite for some time after the funeral. When ready, the first visit to the cemetery after the funeral can be an important milestone in their grief recovery.
For others, visiting the cemetery brings neither comfort nor aching pain, but rather a sense of emptiness. For these people, the cemetery may serve more as a site where a life lived is permanently recognized and memorialized rather than a place of emotional or physical connection to a deceased loved one.
It is important to remember that visitation practices are in no way reflective of the intensity of someone’s grief or the love and respect accorded to the deceased. Respecting and supporting the different needs, views and preferences of ourselves and others in the grief process is the key.
Giving Sorrow Words: The Practice of Journaling Through Grief
Journaling has been an age-old practice used to express thoughts and feelings during difficult times. Writing can allow us to organize our thoughts so they don’t feel so overwhelming. A journal can become a friend — a place to express emotional pain you might not feel comfortable expressing to others.
The act of thinking intentionally about what you’re feeling can help you sort those feelings out and come to an understanding of how to handle them. Journaling is not only writing about the negative, but reflecting on the positive, which can boost your mood. Just the act of slowing down to write has been shown to be beneficial in managing stress.
Writing can be a gift we give to ourselves. Some things to consider before you start:
- Buy yourself an attractive journal.
- Understand there are no rules for journaling. There are no rights or wrongs.
- Try to quiet yourself before writing. Prepare your environment for relaxation.
- Try not to censor yourself. Tell it like it is.
- If you are comfortable, write in a free-flowing style.
- Write letters to your loved one in your journal.
- Or use some of the following prompts to start writing:
- Today, I miss …
- This experience is teaching me …
- I’m struggling most with …
- This memory of you makes me smile …
- A regret that I have is …
- One thing I learned from you …
- To keep myself healthy, I will …
- I am learning …
Please remember that there are no rules in journaling. You don’t have to write every day. Don’t write for anyone else but yourself. You can be creative. You can draw in your journal instead of writing. As you move forward in your grief journey, you may be amazed to look back at earlier entries and realize how much you have progressed and grown.
Signs of Healing
Grieving people are often fearful that the intense pain of early grief will never abate. Pain, whether emotional or physical, focuses attention on itself, causing us to overlook the signs that healing is proceeding, despite the presence of pain and sorrow. Like the “hidden pictures” in a child’s puzzle book, when you know what to look for, it becomes easy to see what was right in front of your eyes. A few of these signs include:
- You realize that the time spent crying is decreasing.
- You become aware that your physical energy is slowly returning.
- You recognize that you can remember what you just read.
- You can concentrate on something other than your loved one for longer periods of time.
- Your appetite starts to return.
- You can laugh at a good joke.
- You realize that you are sleeping a little better.
- You feel comforted by sharing memories with others.
- You realize that you are no longer crying every time you hear or speak your loved one’s name.
- You can reach out to help another person.
- You feel less need to visit the cemetery.
- You notice a decrease in the feelings of fear and anxiety.
- You recognize that you don’t have to hold on to the pain as a way of staying emotionally connected to your loved one.
- You can experience a memory that warms your heart.
- You are able to take pride in your success at meeting new challenges.
- You are more willing to visit the grave site when it had previously been too hard to go.
- You can forget the loss for a short time without feeling as if you are betraying your loved one.
- You can enjoy the small pleasures of life — a sunny day, a beautiful sunset or time with friends or family, without feeling guilty.
- You begin looking forward to future events and plans for the future.
“Grieving is a necessary passage and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow – it is not a permanent rest stop.”
What Others Need to Know
- Listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent of the time.
- Allow the mourner to talk about their loss.
- Accept their tears.
- Talk about your losses and what helped you adapt.
- Use appropriate physical contact.
- Be patient with the griever’s story.
- Use the deceased’s name.
- Offer specific help.
- Force the mourner to put on a happy face by saying “You’re doing so well.”
- Tell the mourner what they “should” do.
- Say “Call me if you need anything.”
- Delegate others to help.
- Say “I know how you feel.”
- Use abrasive consolation, by saying “There are other fish in the sea,” or “God works in mysterious ways.”
- Try to hurry people through their grief by pressuring them to get busy or give away a loved one’s possessions. Their grief must be done on their schedule, not yours.
Books for Adults
Given the wide range and variable quality of books about grief and loss, choosing a book about grief can be a daunting task. The following is a list of books and internet resources that may provide a helpful starting place. Books may be found at your local library or can be purchased through local or on-line booksellers.
“Ambiguous Loss: Learning To Live With Unresolved Grief.” Pauline Boss. Harvard University Press.
“Bearing The Unbearable: Love, Loss, And The Heartbreaking Path Of Grief.” Joanne Cacciatore, PhD. Simon & Schuster.
“I Wasn’t Ready To Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, And Healing After The Sudden Death Of A Loved One.” Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, PhD. Sourcebooks, Inc.
“Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy.” Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Penguin Random House.
“Shattered: Surviving The Loss Of A Child.” Gary Roe. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
“The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons On Surviving From The Front Lines Of Grief.” Simon & Schuster/TED.
“The Unspeakable Loss: How Do You Live After A Child Dies?” DeCapo Lifelong Books.
“When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times.” Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publications.