Ways to Cope With Grief
"...there is no more ridiculous custom than the one that makes you express sympathy once and for all on a given day to a person whose sorrow will endure as long as his life. Such grief, felt in such a way is always "present," it is never too late to talk about it, never repetitious to mention it again." Marcel Proust - "Letters"
We have been discussing the topic of grief here on My Depression Connection over the past weeks. We learned about difference between grief and depression with my interview with author Kay Jamison , we talked about the grief experienced over the loss of a romantic relationship , and last week we shared stories about coping with the death of a parent. In listening to your stories about your personal grief and loss, it has become apparent to me that there is no one way to grieve. We simply cannot encapsulate our feelings into a textbook bullet point presentation of how grief is supposed to look. It is going to be a different experience for everyone. Yet we all are united by the fact that each one of us will experience some type of grief or loss in our lifetime. And when we are going through the process of grief, we wonder how we will survive.
The following list is born from my own personal experiences in dealing with grief. Some of the items on this list are thoughts or ideas which helped me to make sense of the grieving process and some are actions which have helped me to emotionally and physically move from acute grief to a place of peace and acceptance.
Remember that you are not alone.
When you have experienced a loss there are people to help. Reach out to friends and family. If the grief seems overwhelming contact a mental health professional to help guide you through this process. A person who is skilled in grief counseling is a real bonus. On the Association for Death Education and Counseling if you plug in your zip code, they will list bereavement counselors and educators in your area. Other ways to find a grief counselor is to contact your local funeral homes or hospitals.
Know that the emotions of grief can sometimes be unpredictable .
I remember one of my friends telling me that after his mother died he found it difficult to cry during her funeral as he was still in shock but that months later the tears would erupt in the strangest of places. He told me he would be in the supermarket shopping for food and the sight of lemons in the produce aisle would provoke him to tears. He explained that his mother used to put lemons in a bowl along with potpourri to brighten the kitchen. He explained that he would go through his days frequently interrupted by a sight, smell, or sound which reminded him of his mother and grief would burst through the numbness. The main thing I took away from my friend's story was that you can't imagine how you will feel during grief until you are in it. We cannot anticipate how we will feel.
It helps to have a tangible object to hold.
After experiencing the loss of a loved one, your arms can feel empty. You miss the physical essence of the person and touch. When I experienced a miscarriage, I had never gotten to touch my baby. But that longing was still there to embrace. What helped me through that time of grief was to hold the stuffed animal that we had bought for our baby. It was a little bunny which came to represent all my love for my unborn child. The sight and touch of it was both cathartic and healing.
Write a letter or message.
Writing can be therapeutic as a way to convey your feelings to the one you have lost. I find it especially helpful if there was anything unresolved between you and the departed. You can express anything which needs to come out including rage, confusion, despair, and also love. You can read the letter out loud if that helps. It is never too late to express what you want to say. A new ritual I have heard about is writing a message to the deceased on a helium balloon and then releasing it as symbol of letting go.
Visit the places your loved one liked to go.
One of the ways to really feel someone after they have gone is to visit the places they would go when they were alive. When one of my beloved cats died I would sit in her sun spot by the window just to feel her there. Whether your loved one is a pet or a person, I am sure they had special places they enjoyed during their lifetime. Visit their favorite park or quiet spot. Have a moment of stillness and reflection as you feel the contentment they felt upon visiting their special place.
When someone dies it is traditional to get all these flowers which will eventually die. I say that this is the time to grow something. Plant a tree in your loved one's honor. Watch it grow through your healing process. One of the ways I healed from my miscarriage was to plant a garden. It helped me to feel more as one with the universe and that we are all part of a whole. In watching the seasons of my garden from spring seedlings to the withered leaves of winter, I became more acclimated to the life and death process.
Volunteer or give to a charity in the name of your loved one.
When one of my best friends died I recalled his volunteering spirit working with stray animals. I decided to carry on his spirit by volunteering at my local animal shelter. I also periodically give money to his favorite charities including an AIDS task force. It felt healing that I was picking up where he left off and continuing his good works.
There are as many ways to grieve as there are people in the world. And likewise, there are many ways to cope with grief and make your journey towards acceptance and healing. If you have found ways to cope with grief please share your suggestions here in the form of a comment. You will help someone else who travels a similar path. And that is what it is all about, sharing, connecting, and helping one another.