1. Take Time to Mourn
Grief is the internal experience of what you think and feel in response to the death of someone. You may feel pain and sorrow. You may feel numb. You may feel anger about what has happen or at being left behind. You may question Why? and think it is just not fair. You may have concerns about how you will carry on. You may not know who you are anymore.
Mourning is the outward expression of thoughts and feelings. Healing comes through movement, through outward expression, rather than holding inside yourself difficult thoughts and feelings. Expressing your grief through mourning brings healing and helps you to adjust to this profound change.
You may seek support from family or friends. Or, due to discomfort or their own feelings of grief, some people may not be able to provide the caring and understanding you need. Your sources of support may change, which makes sense because your life is altered after a major loss. It is normal to look at and even change certain relationships. You may join a bereavement walking group or a grief support group and find comfort in the company of other bereaved people.
You are a unique person and it may not be your way to join groups. You may write poetry or write in a journal or create music or sing a song. You may explore an online chat group or have a conversation with a supportive friend. Take time to express your thoughts and feelings so that you are not suffering silently with your grief.
Sadly, people can carry silent grief for years before they begin the healing process of mourning. Know that you can start to mourn at any time, no matter how long ago the death may have occurred.
And you may choose to seek professional counselling if you have concerns about yourself and your grief. You do not have to travel this journey alone. Compassionate support is available.
2. Be Kind to Yourself
It is normal to feel different from your usual self. You are bereft. You are mourning. You may experience intense emotions that you have never felt before. You may tire easily and feel fatigued. You may find your thoughts are scattered or that you are forgetful or absent-minded. You are not going crazy. These are all normal responses that result from your energy and attention being directed to grief and to adjusting to the loss.
Have compassion for yourself and adjust your expectations so you can be more gentle and kind to yourself. You may find it helpful to pace yourself and take breaks in recognition of a lowered energy level. Or choose to delay activities to another time when you energy level is higher. Or you may choose to ask for help so that you don't get overwhelmed trying to find you way alone.
Rather than endure or 'push through' or 'soldier on,' let yourself take a break every now and again. Make an effort to drink some water; sometimes when people are upset they forget to drink water and can even become dehydrated. Maybe you notice you are holding your breathe and you find it helpful to sigh as you breathe out. Take a bath or shower in warm water. Maybe have a sleep-in or go to bed early. You may not choose to fall asleep. Instead you may listen to music or watch television or a movie, or you may read poetry, a book, or a spiritual text.
Go outside and take an easy walk. Feel your feet on the ground. Look around you and notice the environment – colours, textures, scents, sounds. Is there a breeze? Can you feel it on your skin or in your hair? What is the temperature? Notice your feet again as they make contact with the ground. Remember to have some water to drink.
Do what you can to keep some of your normal routine for health and social contact. You may not have much appetite so it might be helpful to eat small portions of the foods you usually enjoy or to try something different. You may find it helpful to get information about grief to help you understand your responses.
3. Remind Yourself that You are on a Journey
You may feel unpredictable ups and down, experience sudden waves of grief (these are called 'grief bursts' ), and you may have good days and bad days. The death of someone affects all areas of your life. These are normal responses, even if it can be uncomfortable to experiences them. There are no time lines for grief or for mourning so you don't have to 'get over it' in a few months or by 'the first year.' The sharp pain of grief will soften. It takes as long as it takes, and often that is longer than you may expect or other people may wish. The process of mourning helps to ease suffering. You will always have times when you miss the person who died and think about them.
You may be questioning Why? and be experiencing painful or unexpected thoughts. What is the meaning in loss? Why is there sorrow and suffering? Questioning is a normal part of the journey. You may find yourself questioning what you truly value. You may feel called to experience healing and personal growth as you seek to understand the profound change.
Be gentle with yourself. You are in the process of healing, of re-creating your self and your life, and re-entering the world.
The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Darlene Cripps is a clinical counsellor in Vancouver, BC. She works with teens and adult individuals as they explore grief and loss and provides compassionate bereavement support.