Coping with Grief

She dialed the same number again and again. It kept going to voicemail.  “Hi, this is Kate, I am not available right now, please leave your name and number and I will get back to you soon”,

This is her routine now. Linda lost her 19-year-old daughter Kate in a  car accident a month ago. This unfortunate incident plunged her into inconsolable grief. She calls Kate’s number every day just to hear her voice. She still can not believe that she will never see her daughter again.

All of us have or will experience the loss of our loved one. Words can not express the grief, pain, emptiness …or the void that’s created after your loved one leaves you.

Sometimes you think why didn’t it happen to me, why am I still living? Is it just a bad dream and will it be over once my eyes are open? But unfortunately, we can not change reality, and everyone has to learn to live with that loss. Life never stops for anyone.

It’s important to learn to deal with this grief in a healthy way. Below I have listed are some small steps that you can take to come out of that pain, face the reality and avoid going into a grief-related depression. These worked for me and I hope they work for you.

1. Acceptance is Key

It is not at all easy to accept that you have lost your loved one forever. It is difficult to accept that he/she will never come back, that you will never be able to see or will never be able to feel their touch., It isn’t easy to accept that heart-wrenching reality. It takes time and a lot of effort.

There is a fable about a lady who loses her young son. She is shattered and contemplates committing suicide.   She is told by a friend that there is a monk that might have the power to make her son come back to life. She goes to the monk and she demands that he bring her son back to life or she will kill herself in front of him. The monk listens to her story and says, “I can make the medicine for your son but for that, I will need you to bring me  mustard seeds from the house where no one has died.” The women searches for days but she cannot find a  single house free from death. The fact is,  where there is a life, death is inevitable.

The sooner we accept this reality, the sooner we overcome our grief.  We must accept that they will never come back but will live with us through our memories. Acknowledge the pain and all the negative feelings that arise from the grief – these are perfectly natural emotions.

It is equally important to accept the help and support provided to you by your family and friends. Sometimes we enter into a ‘denial mode’ and isolate ourselves from everyone. In order to avoid this trap of isolation, take the support of your friends and family to come out of the misery.

Grief is like the ocean
it comes on waves ebbing and flowing
sometimes the water is calm,
and sometimes it is overwhelming.
All we can do is learn to swim.
Vicki Harrison

According to Stroebe and Schut’s“Dual Process Model,” the grieving person oscillates between experiencing the painful intense feeling of loss (Loss-oriented phase) and avoiding those emotions (Restoration-oriented phase). In other words, sometimes an individual faces the intense emotions of grief and sometimes they work to avoids these feelings. During the restoration process, the person tries to adjust to a world without the deceased by taking a short break from focusing on the grief for a short period of time. This is a natural and healthy way to cope with grief.

2. Help Others

“Some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion.” “You show your humanity by how you see yourself, not as a part of others, but from your connection to others.” – Dalai Lama

We all are connected through the bond of Humanity so serving others will not only help you to overcome your sorrow but will also give you new purpose and a direction in your life. Helping people who are facing the same pain is an extremely powerful method to heal yourself from grief. There are a lot of people who need your help and compassion. Helping those people helps us regulate our emotions and improves our mental health while reducing the symptoms of depression.

3. Be Physically Active:

Research has shown that exercise helps to improve your mental health and overcome negative emotions (such as those of grief).

Sometimes the loss can also affect your physical health. This includes a loss of appetite, sleep deprivation, weight loss, and muscle tension/ache. Pay attention to your physical health. Eating right, having enough sleep, and staying physically active are vital for maintaining your physical health.

Go for a walk, spend some time in the gym every week. If working out isn’t your cup of tea, yoga, meditation, and breathwork are also great tools to improve your health and alleviate your emotional pain. By the same token,  your mental health can also greatly benefit from mindfulness, spiritual and/or religious activities.

4. Cultivate a Hobby / Get  a Pet:

Having a hobby will help you to spend your time creatively. Hobbies like writing, painting, gardening, and music will allow you to express your feelings creatively and soothe the symptoms of grief.

Research also shows that having a pet can reduce the incidence of stress, anxiety, depression. Their unconditional love and affection not only reduce loneliness but helps to improve mental health.

5. Seek  Professional Help:

Please remember that there is a difference between Grief and Depression.

According to Dr. Sidney Zisook, a grief researcher and professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, “In normal grief, the sad thoughts and feelings typically occur in waves or bursts followed by periods of respite, usually peak within days to weeks to months. Painful as it can be, grief is the way bereaved individuals come to grips with their loss and ultimately transition to a life where deceased loved ones are not forgotten, but rather find a comfortable place in the bereaved individual’s hearts and memories”.

Grief reduces over time whereas depression is a long-term disorder and it is more persistent and pervasive. The symptoms of depression may include guilt, excessive eating or excessive sleeping, self-doubting, feeling of worthlessness, etc.

Psychotherapy can be very useful in both cases. Experienced psychotherapists (psychologists or psychiatrists) can help you to cope with the mental and physical symptoms of grief and depression.

You can also join support groups. Talking with people with similar losses can help in ways that sometimes nothing else can.

In all…

When you lose a loved one, that emptiness can not be expressed with the words, but we have to learn to move on with our lives. Always remember that there is no right or wrong method to grieve. The length of your grieving process and the ideal coping method changes from person to person. However,  but it is important for everyone to accept the reality, acknowledge the emotional and physical symptoms of grief and then identify your own coping method. Please be self-compassionate, take care of your physical and mental health, don’t hesitate to take help from friends and family and if required, seek professional help.

God didn’t promise
days without pain,
laughter without
sun without rain
but he did promise
strength for the day,
comfort for the tears
and light for the way.

I am sorry for your loss. I wish you the best for the days ahead!

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