I recently lost my mother after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. The event wasn’t unexpected but that didn’t make it any easier. I flew home to be with my family and spent two weeks hanging out with my brothers and sisters. We found comfort in each other’s company. Sometimes we hung out and did nothing. We spent a day at the Philadelphia museum and looked at art. We also floated in my sister’s pool, drank lots of wine, ate comfort food, looked at old photos, cried, and then allowed ourselves to be happy at a big family wedding. That’s how we cope with grief.
No matter how much it hurts, no man or woman is immortal. But we have the comfort of knowing that babies are born every day. People meet and fall in love and get married. The cycle of life goes on. These babies will have our features and our personality traits and mannerisms. They will learn from us and pass that learning on. They will find cures for diseases that will extend our time on Earth. But we will never stop aging and dying. It’s the nature of life.
When the time comes to grieve, there are ways to make the process gentler.
In this post I’m talking specifically about the loss of someone dear to us. But there are many reasons we grieve that are not always about death. The loss of a job, loss of financial stability, health issues, divorce, becoming an empty nester, retirement, having your dreams crushed, any number of things can cause us to grieve.
The important thing is to allow yourself time to feel these feelings. Don’t try to lock them away. Let them pass through you so you can move on. Allow yourself time to heal.
The loss of a loved one will never go away, but it can get further away and less painful. You will eventually be able to look back with fondness instead of tears.
There are generally believed to be five stages of grief. Not everyone will go through all of them, but the five outlined below are a common experience for many people.
At first we may experience feelings of denial, shock, or numbness. Each person will deal with the event in their own way. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. You have to be able to function, so these feelings help us to be able to act in the midst of tragedy.
I promise to volunteer at the hospital every week if only…I will give all of my money to charity if only… Not everyone goes through this stage, but it is normal to have thoughts of trade-offs that run through your mind.
This sometimes hits us later, when the reality of the event comes into focus. It can sometimes involve guilt but not always. When you realize that you really must go on without that person, it may affect your sleep, appetite, energy level, ability to concentrate. It’s perfectly normal to cry. But you must not let depression set in for a long time. Grieve and work through it. Grief can become a strange comfort in itself. Tears can feel good; they are a release. But you can’t wallow in grief. It can become the new norm and that’s dangerous. Keep on watch for this type of behavior. It can’t slip into self-pity or keep you or someone close to you from functioning. Seek professional help if necessary. Even when you are grieving, you will have moments of happiness as you remember the good times, or your child does something cute, or you watch a funny movie. If the sadness is overwhelming and there are no happy moments, then you or a loved one may have slipped into depression.
This is also a normal reaction. You may feel angry that your spouse didn’t take better care of themselves and this led to their illness. Or angry at god for taking them away. Or angry at yourself for not doing more. You have to learn to forgive and move on.
In time, all of these emotions will lead to acceptance of what happened.
Healthy ways to cope with grief:
- Surround yourself with family and friends.
- Remember the good times, the fun times. Cherish the time you had.
- Talk about your feelings or write your feelings in a journal.
- Feel the beauty of tears, they can be a blessed relief.
- If you don’t have family, find a bereavement group.
- Take care of your health. Don’t neglect yourself or your spouse/children.
- Find comfort in nature or art.
- Don’t make major decisions until the grief has subsided.
Unhealthy ways to cope with grief:
- Don’t throw yourself so far into your work that it consumes all your time.
- Do not abuse alcohol or drugs.
- Beware of overeating or undereating. And look out for eating patterns in other family members.
- Do not avoid emotions and feelings. Bottled up emotions will eventually explode.
- Do not fall into compulsive behavior like shopping or promiscuity.
Remember this quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.