By Lauren Wagner
Our lives are all shaped by grief in some way. An unavoidable cost we pay for the richest parts of the human experience. Grief can be experienced with many losses, but is most closely associated with death. Sudden loss and the unpredictable nature of it leaves you feeling woefully unprepared for navigating its uncharted waters. You think to yourself, I can’t do this, I don’t know how to do this. …but grief is the emotion we have when there’s no other choice than to face a loss, and we’re not quite as unprepared as we initially might think. Whether it was a breakup, move, job loss, or friendship ending we’ve all dealt with loss. We’ve grieved before, though on a smaller scale, and we already have some tools to help ourselves through the loss of someone we love.
Yes.…I said help ourselves. Just as every relationship is unique everyone’s experience of grief is too. Well intended friends and family can offer support, and their support will help, but ultimately bereavement is a road we go down alone, even when surrounded by others. It’s isolating, unpredictable and comes in sporadic messy gusts.
In the fogs of grief, it can be hard to find direction. Faced with my own grief I turned to research and writing…lots of writing. I remember reading that the first year was the hardest. I clung to that.
While reflecting on the first year of my grief journey I read back over pages and pages of my tear-soaked chicken scratch writing. I saw my own process through new eyes, and compiled this list based on what was most helpful to me. The things that helped me through won’t necessarily help everyone, but I share them with the hope that it might help someone.
11 ways to help yourself through grief:
- Simplify and delegate. This is especially important when grief is fresh. Accept help, and delegate as much as you can. The beginning is a fog, and it feels like the world has come to a screeching halt. It hasn’t though. It keeps moving forward with much to be done. Let people help you get it done.
- Do it your way. Some people are uncomfortable with open displays of sorrow; while others can’t comprehend a stoic silent grief process. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it’s important to give yourself and others acceptance and space for however mourning presents.
- Take your own time. Healing takes time and we all need different time for healing.Let yourself go where it takes you. The best advice I got was from a stranger who was in the car with a friend I was notifying of our loss. She said, “Grief is weird…accept the feelings that come up, and be nice to yourself about all of it.” I didn’t exactly know what she meant right away, but I thought of it many times. Grief is weird though, and everything from intense anger, to hilarious laughing came up for me. Be patient with yourself and your process.
- Forgive yourself. It doesn’t fit with all situations, but in many cases it can be easy to get caught up in “if onlys”. This is a natural emotion too, and part of bargaining, but it hurts the already aching heart. Try to see yourself with the same kindness you might apply to someone else in your situation. It took me a while, but talking to others about this side of grief was especially helpful for me.
- Don’t squelch the irrational or angry, but try not to misdirect it. Emotions that come up while grieving can be confusing and easily misdirected. Rage is normal, but also needs an outlet. I’m a fan of dawning safety glasses in the garage and smashing up scrap wood with a variety of tools. Yelling or running, or writing the anger out might work for you. No matter your method let it out.
- Keep a journal. It’s a great way to get emotions out and process the pangs of grief that can take your breath away. You can write to your loved one, or about them, or just about the change going on.
- Seek out help. Whether it’s a friend, family member, online support group or grief support in person, make sure you get yourself help. As a Swedish proverb says, “shared joy is a double joy; Shared sorrow is a half sorrow.”
- Tell your doctor. Grief can manifest physically as well as emotionally. Let your physician know what’s happening in your life so you can monitor your health together.
- Do some research. Either get a book on grief or search online for resources (I did both). It’s helpful for you and those you love to get familiar with the process you’re going through.
- Talk to the person you lost…out loud. I got this advice several times, but it took me a while to follow it. A close friend gave me a candle to light, and while it was burning I would talk, cry, laugh. By the time I blow it out the ache that caused me to light it is always a little duller.