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
- Survival Tips for Coping Through Grief After the Suicide Death of a Loved One
- 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.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
— Vicki Harrison
Survival Tips for Coping Through Grief After the Suicide Death of a Loved One
The initial shock and sting of hearing about the death of our loved one brings a sudden pain of grief that can become too much to bear. When you are feeling bombarded by many unfamiliar emotions, how do you best cope with the loss of someone who has died by suicide?
The first action we take is to turn to our family and friends for support; but what if the words that each person shares does not comfort you, or make you feel as though you can’t go on? The advice in this article will provide you with helpful survival tips for coping through the grief after the suicide death of a loved one.
A few of the big questions often heard after someone has died by suicide include:
- Why did this happen?
- Did I do something to make him or her do this?
- What went wrong?
There are no easy answers to these questions. In her book “Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss,” Pauline Boss explains that ambiguous loss is inherently traumatic because the inability to resolve the situation causes pain, confusion, shock, distress, and often immobilization.
The significant part about grieving a loss to suicide is that we want to heal past the pain. Remembering the cherished memories of good times and laughter you shared with your loved one is part of the healing journey through grief.
Listed below are a few tips to help you cope with your grief. Please note that the following tips are provided simply as a guide. It is understandable that some of the tips offered will not work for everyone. Because everyone grieves differently, each tip is a starting point for your emotional journey toward healthy self-care.
- The first tip is to take time to connect with others. Begin by being social even when you may not be feeling up to it. That may feel like more stress is being added to your grief, but as you plan your grief journey, it is important that you always do what works best for you and what fits well with your lifestyle. Changing scenery and getting out to have rewarding conversations with the people who care about you is great. Boss writes that “after trauma and loss, the feeling of being connected to loved ones is essential for healing. The best approach is to join a familiar and trusted community group — family, close friends, and familiar clergy.”
- Avoid unnecessary stressors. This is the time to set healthy boundaries for yourself. Do things that keep you motivated, such as exercise and your favorite hobbies. Let go of unnecessary guilt by re-directing blame. Too often, loved ones say, “I was the one who caused this to happen.” Take time to be mindful that just as you would not want someone to control your actions, even when we would have wanted to control our loved one’s actions, the reality is that our loved one had the right to choose which action he or she has taken.
- Find within yourself what you want your healing journey to look like. Often journaling your thoughts can help. Journaling not only helps you to look at the surrounding circumstances that led up to your loved ones’ death, but it also documents patterns you have seen over the years. This will help you gain better insight into your loved one’s life that may help answer many of the questions about which you have been thinking. I often suggest not just looking at the current year or two but look back five to 10 years to see what you had seen and experienced.
- The next tip is acceptance. Are you willing to accept that you were not able and did not have the ability to change the situation even by your most caring interventions? Put your acceptance into practice and share your story with others. By talking about your deepest pain with others whom you trust, you will give yourself a way to express your emotions and give you an outlet of release. This is healthy on your journey through grief.
- Find ways to release the pain that is held on a shelf inside your heart. One way to do this is to memorialize your loved one through a ritual. This act is something special and unique that connects you with your loved one and is beneficial to lessening your pain and releasing those unsaid words you have not shared with another. Writing a letter to your loved one is one way that helps many. The letter signifies how much you love the person that is missed and speaks of the hurt and pain that you are holding deeply inside. I encourage you to do something that is meaningful for you. Don’t go with the crowd of what others have done. You are unique and everyone has their own varied opinions. Your healing is very important and how you get through your grief is what matters the most.
- Finally, be around those who value who you are. The grief you are carrying may feel very heavy at times. You want to feel a connection with others who are not afraid or tired of hearing you talk about your story one more time. In “Suicide Survivors Handbook: A Guide for the Bereaved and Those Who Wish to Help Them,” Trudy Carlson shares that being able to say your loved ones’ name without someone changing the subject helps. When Carlson would get letters from people expressing their sympathy, it helped because she felt like they were acknowledging the pain.
The grief journey is difficult, but doable as you find ways to cope through your pain. I hope that you have found this article beneficial. I encourage you try something different that you have not done before to help you cope on your journey toward healing through grief.
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.
“Coping With Grief: Why Is My Grief Worse at Night?” Eleanor Haley. What’s Your Grief?
“Grief and Sleep: 7 Tips to Cope with Insomnia after Loss.” Heather Stang. Mindfulness and Grief Institute.
“Grief Is Love: Living With Loss.” Marisa Renee Lee. Legacy Lit.
“How to Carry What Can’t Be Fixed: A Journal for Grief.” Megan Devine. Sounds True.
“It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” Megan Devine. Sounds True.
“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 Loss of a Life Partner: Narratives of the Bereaved.” Carolyn Ambler Walter, PhD, LCSW. Columbia University Press.
“The Unspeakable Loss: How Do You Live After A Child Dies?” DeCapo Lifelong Books.
“What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help You Through Any Loss.” Eleanor Haley, MS, and Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C. Quirk Books.
“When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times.” Pema Chodron. Shambhala Publications.