Information & Advice
Ultimate Guide for Coping with Grief and Loss After Losing a Loved One
Is there an effective way to manage and cope with the grief of losing a loved one?
Information & Resources
Coping with Grief and Loss
The loss of a loved one is a truly heart-wrenching experience. Leaving you alone, confused, shocked and at times regretful as the grief settles in.
The grief journey is a process that can feel like the most tragic event of life, as you carry the weight of shattered dreams, loss, love, children, family and financial worries without your loved one.
It is one of the biggest adjustments in life. As time goes on, even those close to you will begin to ‘expect’ you to move on. However remember that the hole in your heart and the memories you once shared can not be healed using a timeline set by others.
The main purpose of this guide is to provide grief information support for anyone who is affected by the death of a loved one.
In this guide, we will summarise what you should expect from grief, what are healthy grieving factors and how to cope with some common myths regarding grief.
We will also give a detailed note on short term energy relieving behaviours, flawed coping strategies and why they aren’t effective.
If you have been recently or ever bereaved or a friend/family wanting to help their bereaved loved one, then this article will give you the proper inspiration and the grief support you may require. Below is the table of contents so you can directly visit the questions you have in your mind.
In this guide you will find:
What to expect when grieving the death of your loved one?
In this section, we explore what to expect when you’re grieving?
What to expect when you’re grieving?
Grief is one of the harshest realities of life, but we will all have to go through it one way or another. Grief is unpredictable and evokes hard to manage emotions due to its variation in intensity and duration. Therefore, here are some grieving expectations / tips that will prove useful in your grief journey:
Grieving is normal: In many cases, when grieving, you are shocked and overwhelmed with emotions that you may start feeling like something’s wrong with you. Whatever feelings you feel while grieving your loved one, let them flow freely.
There is no set way to grieve: Everyone grieves differently, and there is no set way one should grieve? These can’t be compared to someone else’s grief, so take each day as it comes and at your own pace.
Grief has no timeline: Grief is not a stationary point where you are destined to remain forever nor a battle that you must win. Grief is a heartbreaking journey of growth. It’s a journey to rearrange all the broken pieces of your heart one by one. By taking a step each day, you keep transforming and learning how to walk with grief. Eventually, you learn to live with the grief, and the loss you suffered becomes a part of you.
Be prepared for emotional triggers: You may feel overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, pain, regret, and anger. You may also feel numb or disbelief at certain times. You may also encounter sudden intense outbursts of emotions. All these overwhelming emotions are a part of the grieving process and a natural reaction to intense trauma.
Be prepared for physical exhaustion: Grieving the loss of a loved one is one of the hardest challenges of life that you will ever go through. Grief does not only target emotional behaviour but also puts high stress on the body. You may have trouble sleeping, experience chest tightness, weak immune system, nightmares, migraine, loss of appetite and nervous/ anxiety attacks.
Be prepared for behavioural changes: Grief also targets behavioural/social responses of a person that include social withdrawal, avoiding places or reminders of the loved person, massive changes in activity level, a complete focus on the reminders of the loved one and having unrealistic expectations from others.
Expect existential questions: After such a loss, you may begin to question your mere existence. You start thinking more and more about your faith and belief, this will either decrease your faith in religious beliefs or strengthen your religious beliefs.
Grief is the price of love we shared with our lost loved ones. By knowing the expectations of grief, you can’t dull the pain or the throbbing love for your loved one but it can help reassure you that all this is a part of life and you are going to revive your life once again.
Common myths and misconceptions about grief
Although grief happens around us at every moment and has been around as long as mankind. There’s still a lot of misconception regarding grief. We have listed some of the most common myths regarding grief that need to be clarified:
Grief follows stages, and they are the same for everyone: You might have come across the five stages of grief: 1)Denial; 2) Anger; 3) Bargaining; 4) Depression; 5) Acceptance; Now what needs to be clarified is that grief doesn’t follow these stages linearly as everyone has their unique way of grieving and, no one has similar grief. Similarly, it’s also possible that every person experiences a random stage of grief at any point of their grieving process or even misses a particular stage.
Grief has an endpoint: Grief doesn’t have an endpoint. It is an emotion that can’t be consoled or eliminated in an instant, it’s a process from the death of your loved one till the acceptance you make with that grief. You can not conquer or kill grief, as it’s the love for your loved one throbbing in your heart. The only solution is to absorb the pain, cherish all the memories of your loved one and look forward to living life the way you wanted to live in their presence.
Grief heals over time: Grief does not follow a specific timeline or an endpoint. According to an unknown author: “Grief never ends. But it changes. It is a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith—it is the price of love.”
There are right and wrong ways to grieve: Everyone grieves differently, and there is no set way to how one should grieve. The way you handle your grief depends solely on your relationship with the lost loved one. This can not be compared to someone else, so take each day as it comes, and grieve at your own pace.
Grief and mourning are the same: These terms tend to be used interchangeably by many people despite having a critical difference. Grief is like a container storing all your emotions, feelings, and visual memories of the trauma. Grief is a personal experience and is an internal meaning to the experience of loss. Mourning, on the other hand, can be described as “grief gone public” or the external manifestation of grief. It is also associated with various rituals performed in each different religion.
Women grieve more than men: Grief is not gender biassed, and the intensity of one’s grief is dependent upon his/her relationship with the lost loved one and the circumstances surrounding his/her death. Women tend to be more expressive of their emotional behaviour while men grieve more cognitively through problem-solving and taking actions.
If you are not crying, you are not grieving: This is certainly not true as grief activates a mixture of different emotions in a person based on a person’s shock or the circumstances surrounding the loved one’s death. One of these emotions is numbness or feeling devoid of everything or every emotion. The shock of trauma leaves the person numb. In this state, the person is in intense pain and distress. When you feel nothing, the world becomes confusing and, soon after the death of a loved one, this numbness makes it more disturbing as you expect to feel so much.
If you ignore your pain, it will go away: Grief is not the type of emotion that you can just shut down or put a lid on. As in the case of physical pain, you can’t leave the broken bone or hurt body part to start healing by itself. Similarly, the same rule applies to emotional pain. Ignoring such emotions and the whole natural grieving process will only make matters worse and can lead to complicated grief/bereavement or long term depression.
Grief hits hardest in the first year: There is no timeline or an average span to conclude or map grief. Grief doesn’t follow any pattern that the first year will be hard, then the second will be a bit lesser and so on. It doesn’t work like that. Over time, for some people, grief can also turn into complicated grief/bereavement if the natural grief process is not allowed to flow freely.
“Getting over it” is the solution: In dealing with grief there is no such thing as “getting over it”. A bereaved individual can not just get over their loved one’s memories or the love throbbing in their hearts. Grief can’t be just pushed outside or killed, it’s a process of healing from the heart-wrenching event of your loved one’s death till the acceptance of the death and finally making grief a part of yourself.
Strategies for Dealing with Grief
In this section, we explore tips and some strategies that may assist in managing your grief. We’ll also explore healthy and unhealthy grief coping stragies.
What strategies can help manage grief?
Losing a loved one is one of the most heart-aching experiences one goes through in life. It’s an overwhelming burden of uncertainty and confusion. These are some strategies that may assist in managing your grief:
Give yourself space: Losing a loved one is one of the most tragic events of life. So, it’s natural to feel confused, overwhelmed, and lost. Allow yourself to mourn, as it will help you express your pain and is an essential part of healing.
Everyone has their unique way of grieving: Your pain is based upon your circumstances and feelings for the loved one. These can’t be compared to someone else, so take each day as it comes.
Express your emotions: You can share your feelings with someone you trust or in a space you trust. In addition, you can express your grief in other creative ways. It is important not to suppress your grief.
Be ready for jumbled-up emotions: There will be times when you will be overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, pain, regret, anger etc. Don’t be too hard on yourself by ignoring self-care or blaming yourself continuously. All these overwhelming emotions are a part of the grieving process and a natural reaction to such a trauma.
Be a part of a support system: Become part of a grief support group, share your experience, feelings and learn from other people’s life experiences. Consider the help of a therapist and share all your emotions and get professional help.
Be compassionate towards yourself: Respect what your body and mind are telling you and accept those limits. Get rest, maintain a healthy diet, and lighten your schedule.
Treasure the memories: Share the memories of your loved one and keep them close to your heart. They are the legacy of them that will always be a part of your heart.
Grief is a journey: Remember, grief is not an event but a process that takes time. Be tolerant of yourself and respect your limits. Take one step at a time and gradually move forward.
What is Unhealthy Grief?
Unhealthy grief strategy is also known as maladaptive coping mechanism which refers to compulsive behaviour that can help lower your anxiousness or grief for a short period, but it can have worse long-term effects than the grief itself. These mechanisms can have a massive impact on your social, physical, and emotional life.
Some examples of maladaptive/bad coping behaviour are :
- Eating disorders
- Withdrawal from society
- Shopping addiction
- Promiscuous sex
- Sex addiction
- Substance abuse
- Alcohol abuse
- Compulsive lying
Grieving can be unhealthy if one chooses to use maladaptive coping behaviours or complete avoidance of the grief. These strategies halt the healthy grieving process, and this can lead to complicated grief/bereavement. The grief would keep getting prolonged over time and more harmful for your mental and physical health.
What are short-term energy relieving behaviours (STERB)?
Short term energy relieving behaviours are any action, behaviour, or activity that we perform to distract ourselves from the pain and grief. It creates a momentary illusion to relieve us from that suffering and grief for a short while. You are merely deceiving yourself by using STERB’s that can have adverse effects in the long run.
Why don’t short-term energy relieving behaviours work?
These behaviours or actions can ease the pain for a while, but they merely envelop the pain, not end it. Whenever you are going to remove the envelope, the message on the letter will be the same.
By resisting your emotions, you’ll be engaged with an inner-conflict with yourself that can potentially destroy your peace of mind. If we become dependent on our STERB’s, they can become unhealthy and our grief remains incomplete.
Below is a list of some of the most common STERB’s:
- Over the Counter (OTC) drug overuse and abuse
- Over Eating
- Not eating
- Eating disorders—bulimia, anorexia nervosa, binge eating
- Illegal drug abuse
- Anger issues/Tantrums
- Acting out
- Isolation and Avoidance
- Excessive Exercise or Extreme Sports
- Shopping (sometimes jokingly called “retail therapy”)
- Video Games
- Social Media/Playing on the Internet
- Keeping Busy
- Binge-Watching TV/Movies
- Helping Others
- Fantasy (video games, computers, books, television, movies)
- What does healthy grieving look like?
- Why should you consider healthy coping strategies & mechanisms?
- What are some coping strategies & mechanisms to prevent unhealthy grieving or to help you grieve in a healthy way?
Grief is our natural way of healing from a traumatic loss, specifically the death of a loved one. Healthy grieving enables ones emotions to flow freely, work for self-care, acknowledge all that’s lost as part of life, embrace the grief as memories of “their ” lost loved one, and allows the bereaved person to learn how to live without their loved one.
If the grief process gets halted, it starts to affect your mental and physical behaviour. It will keep interfering with your day to day tasks and your mental capacity to perform any healthy activity. A negative cycle will keep you stuck and prevent you from moving forward with life.
We have analysed major coping strategies and listed five major coping strategy themes to help you in your grief journey:
Don’t be hesitant to lean on your loved ones/friends: This theme focuses on the value of social support. We humans are social animals, and when we share our grief or pain with our loved ones, it can at times be overlooked or diminished. You don’t specifically need to share your mourning or pain with just anyone if you don’t feel comfortable. But, stick to close friends and beloved family members to help you get through such a tragic phase of your life.
Self-care is compulsory: Taking care of your physical and mental health is one of the most important steps in coping with grief. Adopt healthy habits like exercising, long walks, a healthy diet, meditation, avoiding alcohol and other STERB’s that can prove harmful for you. Examine your thoughts, feelings and analyse what feelings and emotions are proving to be a hurdle in your path of self-care adoption. Keep a check of emotions such as guilt, shame, sense of lost self and the loss of will to live life.
Be connected to life and embrace the lost loved one: Embrace and cherish the memories of your lost spouse/loved one. If you can stay connected to them by visiting their grave, talking to them, doing good deeds in their memory, assembling photo albums, and writing letters. You can also visit the places that you used to go with your loved one and embrace these moments as part of life. You will get a lot of help in relieving your grief by following these steps.
Face challenges and seek comfort: This theme features two distinct yet, opposite thoughts: 1) Don’t be too hard on yourself; 2) Forcing yourself to take some challenges outside of your comfort zone. When we talk about challenges, a grieving person needs to examine the thoughts that fuel all the negative emotions such as fear, avoidance, the belief that they don’t deserve to stay or be happy and that life will never get better. This train of thought needs to be challenged and tackled even before the acceptance phase. If you keep thinking like this, then surely no coping strategy will ever be able to help you.
- Invest in healthy relationships: Loneliness adversely affects our wellbeing in many ways: our health declines earlier and life expectancy can be shortened. Our bodies and minds are protected by good, supportive relationships. A bereaved individual becomes accustomed to isolation and loneliness after losing a loved one, so getting social again can be challenging and awkwardHere are five tips to consider when investing in a healthy relationship
- Give time: Schedule time to spend with friends and family.
- Be present; Focus on being there in the moment for those who matter to you.
- Listen; Focus on what others are saying without judging them. Actively listen to what they are saying and pay attention to their needs at that moment.
- Be listened to; Give yourself a chance to express yourself honestly, and to be heard and supported.
- Identify unhealthy relationships. Being around positive people can make us happier. Grief may be prolonged or made worse by unhealthy relationships. Recognising this can help us move forward.
Moving forward: This theme focuses on moving on in life and creating a future worth living. Even in this theme, you need to reflect back and analyse all your blocking thoughts such as : “Moving on in life would be dishonouring my loved one’s memory”, “being happy means my lost loved one is no longer important for me”, or ” my love for my loved one is fading”.
Dealing with such blocking thoughts is critical because happiness and true acceptance could only be achieved if you believe that you are worthy of happiness.
What are the signs that you need professional grief support?
The process of grieving and mourning a loved one is a very tragic yet inevitable experience of life. Grief will take the time it needs as it can’t be accelerated or pinned according to a map.
The time also varies based upon your relationship with the loved one and the circumstances surrounding their death. In many cases, a grieving person can achieve acceptance after healthy grieving, but if the feelings listed below persist, then you might need to seek professional help:
If you are having issues with your sleep such as insomnia, oversleeping, and waking up in the night etc, these can disturb the flow of your life and make it difficult to concentrate on real-life responsibilities. For this case, proper consolation can help you develop certain habits that will help you have a good night’s rest.
Lack of social support:
Grief can be a lesser burden if you have family and friends who understand your pain, but sometimes this is not the case. In such circumstances, you can take help from a grief counsellor who will share in your pain and find ways to soothe your heart. Grief counsellors may also connect you to various grief support groups where you can share your loss and learn from others that are grieving
Stress and new role adaptation:
After the loss of your loved one , you may need to make changes in your life and adopt roles that you were never comfortable with. This can be stressful and you may need a professional’s help to set things out for you and console your stress and grief.
Sometimes due to certain addictions, actions, adopted habits and hidden grief, other issues can make the grief more complex and painful. At this stage, you may need assistance from a therapist. Some of these symptoms and conditions are:
Any addiction of drugs, alcohol, smoking or any STERB’s that have become a nuisance in your life and you can’t quit them. A therapist can assist you in overcoming these habits and addictions and give you a new healthier way of coping with your grief.
Loss of a loved one can be very heart wrecking and the grieving person is left with all sorts of insecurities and confusion. The sense of security, protection, and love we felt with our loved one is now gone and the person keeps trying to run from this reality. The bereaved individual gets stuck with anxiety and trust problems. In this case, a therapist can change your perspective and provide you with a healthier way of living your life.
Grief is normal, and it’s an expected way of reacting to such a heart-aching loss. However, some people face a more significant and prolonged level of grief known as complicated grief/bereavement.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned below then grief therapy can help you. Complicated grief/bereavement may have some of the same symptoms as depression:
- Intense sorrow, pain over the loss of your loved one.
- Not able to accept that your loved one is dead.
- Grief gets worse day by day.
- Numbness and feeling that your life has no meaning.
- Being Stuck in the moments of your loved one’s death or memories.
- Depression, self-guilt, and sadness.
- Isolation and not being able to trust others.
- Recurring suicidal thoughts.
The types of grief Professionals who can help
- Grief counselling
- Grief Theraphy
After losing your loved one, it can feel like one of the cruellest realities of fate. Life gets very tough without the supporting hands that you once dreamt of. You go through a stage of uncertainty, constant grief, anxiety, and the constant reminder of your loved one who was once there.
In this context we have answered many major questions like ‘What are some misconceptions regarding grief?’, ‘Are there healthy and unhealthy ways of grieving?’, ‘What are short term energy relieving behaviours (STERB’s)’, and how are they ineffective for dealing with grief.
We have also provided lists of STERB’s, maladaptive coping mechanisms to help you identify them and make positive efforts to free yourself from them. As well as also provided specific healthy grieving themes to set a path for you in your grieving journey.
Hopefully, our efforts in this informational post will help you in your grief journey.