5 Things to Do When Grieving the Loss of a Loved One6 min read

by Darcie
sunrise above the clouds

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

Loss triggers grief, which can lead to feeling numb and disconnected from reality.

I know what that’s like, and more than likely you do too because

loss is universal.

When you are in the midst of grief, you shut down. It’s hard to concentrate on anything – at least anything other than what happened and how much you miss the person you lost. You might ruminate on last words, missed opportunities, and what-ifs.

Grief says nothing is permanent. And I am not guaranteed more than the present moment with anyone.

It can make you want to hide away in your home, afraid to get too close to anyone because the longevity of the relationship is unknown.

Grief is also proof of the power of human connection.

It says I loved deeply. And this person impacted my life in a way that will stay with me.

From this perspective, each moment with another person is a way to further understand your existence, make meaning of your life, and grow in a way that means you care about something other than yourself.

But when you are in the thick of grief, the benefits of connection feel minimal, maybe even nonexistent. And you may wonder if love is worth the risk of loss.

Grief makes you feel like you’re in quicksand.

It’s an awful feeling, and you might not know what to do to get out.

Based on my own experience with grief and my work as a psychotherapist, I created this list of 5 things to try when you are in the thick of grief and need a boost to push your way through it.

1. Write in a Journal.

Power exists in the written word. Journaling helps to clarify thoughts and process traumatic events like loss.

Allow yourself 15-20 minutes a day to write whatever comes to mind. You may notice that you feel anger, sadness, disappointment, regret, or guilt. These emotions are not only understandable but expected in the wake of loss.

Over time, you will notice an evolution of your emotional state, as you flow through the different stages of grief. Journaling serves as a way to track the healing process and see how far you’ve come.

2. Explore your loved one’s legacy and your own.

Everyone wants to be remembered for something. And everyone wants to know that their life mattered.

Regardless of whether or not your loved one is gone from this world, or only from your life, it can be useful to think about how that person wanted, or still wants, to be remembered.

Reflection can lead to an understanding about the meaning of your loved one’s life and your own, as well as your purpose here on earth. It can also aid in clarifying the reason that person was in your life, and the impact he or she had on you.

Consider the following questions:

  • What did/does he or she love to do?
  • What was/is he or she passionate about?
  • What were some of his or her notable accomplishments?
  • What did/does your loved one want to be remembered for?

Regarding yourself…

  • What steps can you take to ensure that the legacy you leave behind is one you feel proud of?

If you struggle to answer this, ask yourself the same questions you reflected on above for your loved one.

3. Weave in and out of the sadness.

It’s okay to be sad.

In our culture, emotions like anger and sadness are uncomfortable, and a natural reaction is to push them aside and pretend like they don’t exist.

But in reality, they do exist, and they are affecting you.

Don’t be ashamed of your grief,

you are brave for loving someone.

Don’t get stuck in your grief.

The brain has a negativity bias, which means that it is trained to be sensitive to negative events. This biological mechanism is useful to alert you to danger.

But when it comes to grief, this bias can lead to dwelling on the loss. While it’s okay to be sad, you don’t want to get stuck there. If you do, it can be difficult to get out.

One way to avoid getting stuck is to make a list of 5-10 things that you like to do, or used to enjoy doing before the loss. It’s hard to feel “normal” when you aren’t doing the things you usually to do to make yourself feel happy. Just doing one or two of the things on the list can make a difference in your mood and keep you from getting stuck in sadness.

4. Go to your happy place.

When you feel overwhelmed by negative emotions, it can be useful to go to your happy place. Known as guided imagery, this technique can be used to calm your physiological state by engaging your senses.

Imagine a real place where you feel calm and at peace. It might be a place you frequent or a spot you visited only once. It doesn’t matter for the purposes of this exercise.

Close your eyes, relax your shoulders, and take a deep breath from your belly.

Then answer the following questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you smell?
  • What do you taste?
  • What do you feel?
  • What do you hear?

Savor the moment, fully engaging with the sensory qualities that make this place so special to you.

Then, when you’re ready, open your eyes.

How do you feel now? More than likely, you feel calmer and more relaxed. Your muscles feel looser, and your breaths are steadier.

This can be done anywhere, only take a few minutes, and can provide fast relief to the heaviness of grief’s coat.

5. Remind yourself that there’s no right way to grieve.

Well-intentioned friends and family members may have all sorts of advice and ideas about how you should grieve. Take them with a grain of salt because

there is no ‘should’ when it comes to grief.

Some people find it helpful to talk about the loss, while others rely more on personal reflection. While one person might want to stay busy, another might retreat from usual activity.

How you cope is matter of personal preference and is nobody’s choice but yours. The only caveat being unhealthy or dangerous behaviors like numbing out with drugs or alcohol or complete isolation.

There is also no timeline for “getting over it.” Processing loss looks different for everyone, and the pace at which a person moves through the different stages varies greatly. No one but you has the authority to put an “end date” on your grieving period.

Hope for the Future

Humans are resilient. Even when it feels like you won’t bounce back, you will start having happy moments. At first, these joyful moments might make you feel guilty, particularly if you lost a loved one to death. That’s normal and will dissipate in time.

Recovering from loss is a gradual process, much like recovering from an injury, which makes it hard to notice progress.

But it’s there. Hold onto the hope that things will get better. That hope is what will keep you moving forward.

How have you coped with grief and loss? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

The information shared in this blog post is not a substitute for seeking help from a licensed mental health professional.

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