One of the most difficult parts of living life is losing somebody we love. The pain and grief can feel like an ever-present weight that pervades every moment. Learning to manage grief in a healthy way can be a struggle. Everyone processes loss and grief differently. Healing occurs at different rates. Some people feel that certain forms of grieving are disrespectful to those we have lost. Despite this, the most important part of handling grief is realizing that there is no one correct way to do it.
What Grief Brings
The raw, intense emotions that grief brings may, to some, seem impossible to handle. Others may not even realize they are grieving. Loneliness is common, as is withdrawing from social situations and other people. Guilt frequently accompanies grief and is one of the hardest feelings to bear. Some people feel anger targeted at whomever they hold responsible. That can be themselves, the deceased, a friend, a family member, or another target. Many people experience a loss of appetite, feelings of apathy, and sadness.
Some individuals experience feelings of grief that do not appear to ease with time. In some cases, the symptoms may even worsen. The medical community refers to this as complicated grief. Many people with complicated grief feel extreme guilt and wish they had passed along with their loved one. They experience deep sadness and depression and may completely isolate themselves for months and years following their loss. Treating complicated grief is similar to learning to manage normal grief, but it may require additional support from friends and family. Additional professional care may also be beneficial.
The First Steps
One of the first things to do when feeling grief recognizes that it’s normal. Almost everyone experiences grief following a loss. Different cultures and societies grieve differently, but nobody should ever feel pressured to grieve in a manner that isn’t comfortable. If a person needs to grieve loudly and openly, that’s perfectly normal. On the other hand, some people may need to go about their day-to-day activities and grieve internally — and this is also ok. It isn’t a matter of learning which emotions to suppress or subdue, but rather allowing the grief to come and go naturally. Pressure to grieve a certain way can prevent a person from ever properly learning to live with the loss.
Expressing Grief and Mourning
Grief is unavoidable and trying to repress it or ignore it can lead to feeling even worse. Many outside influences affect the way we feel we should grieve. Allowing ourselves to mourn openly and outwardly without feeling restrained or restricted can release many of the emotions we may bottle up inside. Some people cry, some people yell, and some people laugh. Whatever form our mourning appears in, it’s an integral part of reducing the intensity of grief and expressing ourselves.
After a loss, many people begin to withdraw from others, especially individuals they associate with their grief. However, one of the best methods of learning to live with loss can be confiding in other loved ones. They provide a support structure that can help us continue forward. Even people who have never experienced a loss can act as an anchor for those lost in their grief. The support can come from friends, family, support groups, or communities.
After a loss, many people lose their will to continue. Beyond removing themselves from society, they may even withdraw from activities as basic as getting out of bed in the morning — these actions feel almost impossible when weighed down by grief. Allowing ourselves to continue and try to live normally isn’t disrespectful to those we lost. Living normally isn’t a sign that we are forgetting them or leaving them behind. They will always be a part of our lives. However, nobody should force themselves to do anything with which they are not comfortable. If performing daily duties is too difficult, it’s fine to start small and slowly work back up to a normal level.
Disrupted sleep, loss of appetite, and a general loss of interest accompany grief. These can all dramatically affect our health and ultimately prevent us from healing. Living a healthy life may seem irrelevant and useless after a loss, but it does help many people. Exercise routines provide structure during a disorienting time. Healthy foods provide the energy necessary to continue. Involving a friend or family member with meals or exercises can provide additional motivation and alleviate feelings of loneliness or abandonment.
Find a Balance
Grief and its accompanying emotions have a way of spreading through every moment of our lives. However, healthy grieving is often an active process — finding a balance between grieving and not grieving can be the difference between healing and letting grief swallow us. Gently finding moments and pockets where we don’t actively grieve can help us slowly move forward. Many people find it helpful to carry keepsakes so that even when not actively grieving, they can feel like they are honoring the loss.
Because there is no one way to grieve, it can be difficult for many people to discover the best method for them. The training professional counselors receive allows them to help people discover their own healthy way to grieve. For some people, this may take the form of exercises or routines. Others may simply need a person with whom they can talk through their feelings. Counselors can also help with other aspects of life that may have become difficult since the loss.
Regardless of how we handle our grief, it is a completely unpredictable force. No matter how much time has passed since the loss, grief can swallow us suddenly like a tidal wave. All it takes is a single memory to return the pain. Ultimately, the best thing to do is not allow these moments to dictate our lives. Grief is a part of life, but it does not have to define who we are or how we live day-to-day. Instead, treat these moments as signs that the loss has become a part of you and that your loved one is always close.