The death of a loved one is one of the most profoundly painful experiences humans must bear. The feelings of sadness and pain may never completely dissolve. Over time we move on, at our own pace, as we find ways to incorporate our loss into our lives and continue to love and honor our loved one(s). What can we expect when grieving? Denial, anger, asking “what if?” questions, thinking about all the things we could have done differently or better. Depending on how we negotiate the loss, depression or anxiety can begin to sneak up on us.
What might we do to support our healing? (This information is true for the death of a beloved pet, as well.)
Accept reality. When we learn of a loved one’s passing, our initial response is one of disbelief. Even when the death is expected due to illness or fragility, we still can’t quite believe that we will not see the person again. Sometimes we hear her voice or think we see him walking ahead of us on a city sidewalk. We may dream about the person or daydream conversations with him/her. Experiences like these are part of our adjustment to life without our loved one. There is no timeline for acceptance. Practice kindness to self, avoid comparison with others, and talk to a friend or counselor if suffering becomes too painful to manage alone.
Feel. Know that life is changed. Over time, feel the loss. The loneliness, anger, and sorrow seem unbearable at times and yet it is through the actual feeling of the emotions that we move through our pain. If our tendency is to stuff feelings by compulsively eating, drinking, shopping, gambling, exercising, having sex, staying busy, etc, begin to become aware that we are using these behaviors to avoid feeling. A listening witness, friend, or therapist can support movement through the waves of grief and offer connection and ritual to help healing happen.
Come Alive. We won’t believe it in the early stages of grief, but eventually we will once again follow the thread of our own lives. For some, grief opens us up and our lives change in unexpected, positive ways that we could not have anticipated. For others, grief leads us down a road of anger and bitterness. When we find the latter happening, we can get some help. Over time we may learn to let go of the pain of the loss and begin to resolve feelings about the relationship.Sometimes the feelings about the person are complicated and need sorting out. Some people continue in relationship with the person in a new form on a new level or lean into religious beliefs to offer comfort and reassurance that the connection will be renewed in the future.
Take time to heal. Accept. Feel. Come alive again.