Coping with Grief: every one of us will have to deal with loss at some time in our life. Losses come in many forms both large and small, such as loss of a job, a dream, a way of life, a relationship, or loss of a significant other, spouse, or family member. Experiencing a loss triggers a grief process. Grieving is a natural and healthy reaction to a loss. It is our psyche’s way of understanding what has occurred and learning how to adapt to a new set of circumstances in our life. What makes the grieving process so challenging is that many of the emotions we experience are painful and most of us are not signing up and eager to feel painful emotions. Another challenging piece is that many of us are not prepared for the variety of emotions that occur. Most people expect to feel sad, but may not expect to feel angry, anxious, hopeless, terrified, confused, frustrated, lonely, etc. The emotions will feel do not occur in a predictable pattern and we often tend to cycle through them throughout the grieving process. For example, you may feel angry after a divorce, but you are not likely to feel it only once throughout the grieving process. It is much more likely that you will deal with periods of anger.
So, how long is the grieving process? How do you fix grief and make it go away? The answer to how is long the grieving process is often unsatisfying. Basically, you grieve as long as it takes you to come to terms with your loss and the impact that it has had on your life. Everyone is different and comes to terms with loss in different ways, so it is difficult to say how long your process will be. Losses that are smaller and have less of an impact on your life will take a much shorter time to resolve emotionally than more significant losses (for example, loss of parent, comes in waves). The important thing is to be patient with yourself. As long as you are not denying your loss, you are working through it. Which brings us to the next question: how do you fix it and make it go away? Again, the answer to this is also often unsatisfying. Grief cannot be fixed and we cannot take a pill to make it go away. We need to experience the loss and all the negative emotions that result in order to accept it. Grief cannot be medicated. In fact, individuals that do attempt to medicate it are using their own form of denial which will likely lengthen the process and may even add a drug or alcohol addiction on top of their grief. The good news is that there are things that you can do to help you cope and work through the grief process.
- Take care of yourself. Even though this one is obvious, it needs to be mentioned. Get regular rest, eat regularly and maintain a regular routine. Regular exercise is also helpful. You may find this to be challenging especially early on in the process, but it is essential.
- Talk about your loss. Many people need to talk to others about the loss, but still others do not find this helpful. Journaling is also helpful to get your thoughts out. If you like to talk about it and you have no one to talk to or you can’t bear to talk about it with your friends yet again, use a tape recorder. It may sound silly, but it gets your thoughts out verbally and you don’t have to worry about it getting bored or annoyed.
- Make a collage. Sounds like art class right? Well, it can be but it doesn’t have to be. Basically the idea here is to gather all your pictures and other things that remind you of the person, or phase of your life that you have lost. Try writing down or talking to someone about some of these things: favorite memory, funniest moment, worst moment, favorite tangible thing you have, etc. Anything that you want to share about your loss is helpful.
- Pick and play some music that reminds you of your loss. Music is a powerful memory. How many times have you heard a song that reminds you of someone or a certain time in your life? On the flip side, you can also pick and listen to music that makes you feel good or that is comforting to you at this time, or you can create a playlist of music that symbolizes this new period of your life.
- A powerful technique for those whose loss is a relationship or a marriage is to create a ceremony. A ceremony is a concrete way to punctuate an end and provide closure. Your “ceremony” could be inviting a few friends over and getting rid of pictures or items that symbolize your old relationship and are not supportive of you moving forward.
- Share an activity with someone else that may have been your activity with the person you lost. For example, maybe you used to have coffee every morning with your best friend at Starbucks. Now, that your friend has passed away, the thought of going into the Starbucks alone, makes you feel really sad and upset. Consider having another person accompany you to Starbucks. It will not be the same and it may stir up some painful emotions, but you are establishing a new routine and understanding your new circumstances. That is what grieving is all about: facing and dealing with your new circumstances rather than avoiding them.
- Get a transitional object. You are going through a transition. Find something that can be the start of that transition for you that will be constant. Examples are starting a new activity, growing a new plant, getting some new clothes, etc.
Many of these suggestions are easy things to do. What is not easy is managing negative emotions. The grieving process does take time but you can get through it and it gets easier. None of these suggestions take grief away, but may help you to manage it and to feel like you are taking an active role. Remember, having feelings after a loss is normal. If your feelings become overwhelming or significantly interfere with your life (can’t go to work, feeling suicidal, panic attacks, etc.), you would likely benefit from seeing a therapist to assist you with the grief process. Grieving is difficult and you don’t have to do it alone.