We all experience loss eventually. It can be especially difficult when we experience he grief and loss of a loved one. The past year especially has been a year of grief on various levels. Physically staying away from loved ones, losing loved ones, or not being able to attend a funeral because of restrictions has made our grief more complicated. Grief can be overwhelming, and sometimes it becomes unclear how to continue living with that pain. Everyone deals with grief and loss in their ways, and some might block off their emotions. If one gets stuck or ignores their grief, it might lead to various psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, or anger issues.
Healthy grief mainly means that one dares to open up to what the loss means and what it does to you. It also involves taking an active part in coping with the loss. Unfortunately, grief does not pass by itself. An emotional wound heals by time and by coping and taking care of the source of the pain. There are four main tasks for grieving to prevent getting: to accept the loss, to acknowledge the pain, to adjust to a new environment, and learn to enjoy life again.
Accepting the Loss
When a loved one dies, it can feel very unreal. Feelings of numbness from the shock can take over. The realization that the person you love is gone is not yet there.
Some people get in denial, for example, by leaving their room completely intact. Others remove all memories not to get confronted with the loss.
To mourn appropriately, it is essential to face the harsh new reality without your loved one. Your loved one is no longer alive. Once this realization is faced, the grieving process can begin. It is crucial not to force yourself because it might take time for the heart to accept what the mind already knows. Some might go through this phase slower than others. Be kind to yourself and take your time. It might be comforting to live in denial for a while because you do not have to experience and process intense emotions all at once as long as you will face and allow reality eventually.
Exercise – Share Your Loss
Sharing and repeating the story of what happened to your loved one helps process the loss. Write a short story or talk to someone about how your loved one passed away and what happened.
- What were the circumstances when your loved one died?
- Were you prepared for it, or did it happen unexpectedly?
- How did they pass away?
- Did they share any last words?
- Is or was there a ritual or a physical goodbye after their passing?
- How was that experience?
2. Acknowledge the Pain
We do not want to experience pain. Instead of feeling the pain, we rather walk away from it by throwing ourselves into our jobs or comforting others around us. This is a normal response, but it is better not to keep suppressing our pain. Eventually, the pain catches up to us. A thought that might help is to acknowledge and accept that it is normal to feel this pain. Mourning is inseparable from our ability to love.
Everyone experiences the mourning process differently. Besides feelings of sadness, one can feel angry, guilty, or rebellious. One can experience muscle aches, concentration issues, or feeling exhausted; once you realize that these are all part of the process, you permit yourself to share these feelings. Do not force these feelings and take breaks from the pain as well.
Exercise – Experience Feelings
- Recognize – Focus on yourself, on your thoughts, and your body. How do you feel?
- Understand – Why am I feeling what I am feeling right now?
- Labeling – What emotion do I feel right now? The more precise the word of the emotion, the better you can experience the feeling.
- Express – Talk to someone you trust, who asks questions but does not give advice, or write down your feelings and emotions.
- Regulate – Think of 3 ways to deal with your feelings and emotions. For example, breathing exercises or writing down what you are thankful for.
3. Adjust to the New Environment
The loss of a loved one can change everything. One of the most challenging things is that your role changes due to the passing of a loved one. It can be an intensive process to find out who you are without them. Suddenly, you need to do the finances by yourself, or you can not go to parties/movies/tennis together anymore. This person fulfilled an essential role in your life, a position that needs to be fulfilled differently. This change of roles might include learning new skills and finding solutions to help in this unfamiliar territory where you have to find your way. Many ways can help accomplish finding a new path or multiple paths. Eventually, you will find a new purpose and meaning in life.
A critical way of exploring this new path is to give them a place in your heart and examine how your loved one shaped you and what they meant to you. Even if they are not physically here anymore, they will remain an inseparable part of you.
Exercise – Adjusting Roles
Sit down and think about your deceased loved one. What roles did they fulfill in your life? Write down all the specific roles that you can think of. Next, think about redefining those roles and which concrete first steps you can take to adjust these roles. Write them down as well.
4. Learn to Enjoy Life Again
After losing a loved one, the bond does not end. Instead, you are giving them a place in your life differently. There are various ways to keep the relationship alive and feel connected, such as preserving memories and frequently commemorating them by creating a place with unique objects of the deceased or a playlist with their favorite music. Talking about them in conversations, and telling others about them helps to keep them alive.
Six Ideas to Commemorate a Lost Loved One
Choose a way of commemorating that suits you and keep the memory of your loved one alive. There are many ways to commemorate, for example, the following:
- Create a place of remembrance.
- Carry something from your loved one with you.
- Do something that they enjoyed.
- Have a memorial dinner on your loved one’s birthday or date of death.
- Do something that they wanted to do but never did.
- Write your loved one’s special days on your calendar and contact other relatives.
Commemoration means to cherish what your loved one has meant to you and feeling gratitude for the precious moments that you shared and that you get to hold on to the rest of your life. This way, you keep the bond alive while simultaneously continuing life with the things that you find essential and enjoyable. It is important to remember that you can always fall back on and remember the relationship you had with your loved one.
About the author – Reini Thijssen, BA is a therapist intern with Pacifc Mental Health, Seattle. She looks at personal challenges with an open, supportive, creative, and honest approach to support patient progress. Reini is a multilingual therapist and can treat patients in German, Dutch and English.