The death of a loved one is a terribly traumatic experience. All the shared memories and all the things you are yet to share come crashing into the mind.
There is no right or wrong way when dealing with death. But there are healthy ways to cope with it.
Here are tips that will help.
What is Grief?
Before tackling the all-important question of how to deal with grief due to the loss of a loved one, it’s important to first define what grief is.
It may be easy to say that grief is just sadness. But there’s so much more to it.
Grief over the loss of a loved one has many facets. You are likely to experience all sorts of unexpected and difficult emotions such as pain, shock, anger, disbelief, or even guilt.
And of course, profound sadness is always part of the mix.
Additionally, all of the conflicting emotions trigger a stressed response that disrupts your physical health.
Sleep is elusive. Your appetite is gone.
Thinking straight becomes a challenge. Grief can even trigger a strong sense of helplessness. You can get stuck in a vicious cycle of endless negativity.
All of these can be expected when you lose someone dear. And the closer you are to the person, the more intense the entire experience may be.
The Types of Normal Grief
Psychologists identified different types of grief.
Anticipatory grief is the kind of grief that you might have seen coming. When a family member falls deathly ill, you know that death is just around the corner.
Although still very painful, this type of grief helps you cope with post-death grief better because some of the emotions are worked through ahead of time, experts believe.
Unanticipated grief comes from unexpected grief.
Accidents, heart attacks, or other surprising events that result in death trigger unanticipated grief.
A person experiences ambiguous grief when there is little to no closure about the cause of grief.
No matter how intense your grief is, or what type it is, it’s important to deal with it healthily so you can come to terms with your loss and move on.
How Do People Grieve?
Different people deal with grief differently. This is due to individuals’ various coping capabilities through their unique experiences, personalities, environment, or closeness with the deceased.
A more resilient person can bounce back from loss more quickly than others.
Someone who has experience loss often can navigate through the process easier. And people with a stellar support system can recover from their loss more healthily.
Someone with a group of loved ones surrounding them after experiencing loss can bounce back with ease.
The Grieving Process
To help to grieve people better cope with their emotions, Swiss psychiatrist Kubler-Ross identified five general stages of grief (other versions of the stages exist, but the 5 stages are the most accepted).
Keep in mind, this model isn’t linear.
Some people experience grief differently and don’t undergo the stages “in order”. Some even don’t experience all of the stages in the model.
However, it is observed that these five stages of grief are the most commonly experienced by grieving people.
The five stages are:
Upon experiencing loss due to death, the first common response of the grieving is outright refusal to acknowledge the truth of the loss.
You deny the news and even become reclusive and numb. You go into a state of shock because the life they knew instantly changed.
People in this stage force themselves to believe that there has been a mistake. You would rather choose to believe that the dead has been misidentified than accept the truth that your loved one is forever gone.
You live in a preferable reality.
“Is this healthy?” you might ask. Interestingly enough, it is.
Denial allows you to process your grief at your own pace.
Instead of taking the full effect of the loss in a single, focused beam of pain, denial allows us to take it in gradually.
Once the denial and shock fade, the emotions you’ve been trying to suppress slowly comes to the surface.
This is where the healing process begins.
In this stage, you begin to ask “Why did this happen to me?” or “What have I done to deserve this? It’s not fair!”
You may even blame others for the pain and take your anger out on friends and family.
Mental health experts agree that this stage is healthy. They encourage it.
They believe that the more you embrace the anger, the faster it will dissipate and the faster you can move on with the healing process.
It’s not healthy to suppress your feelings of anger.
However, it’s not healthy to let it get out of control either.
It’s a natural step in healing. Embrace it – but don’t let it rule your life or you will get stuck in it and you won’t move on with the healing process.
Bargaining – “What can I do to change what happened?” – is giving yourself false hope that you can still change what happened.
Of course, there’s nothing you can do as death is permanent. But this stage is also considered natural as it slowly lets you grasp the fact that what happened.
Guilt is the almost always partner of bargaining. You begin asking yourself the “what if” questions.
“What if I drove him to the movies instead of focused on my hobby – then the accident wouldn’t have happened.”
“What if I were stricter with my implementation of a healthy diet, then she wouldn’t have gotten sick!”
“What if I spent more time with him…” What if, what if, what if…
Depression is the stage most commonly associated with grief. It is the only stage most people see as the natural part of grieving.
This is the stage where you feel the void in yourself, the emptiness of the space the loved one left in your life.
In this stage, you feel numb and hopeless. You may even begin entertaining dangerously suicidal thoughts.
You begin to wonder about the point of living. It is also common that you withdraw from others, lose all sense of purpose and drive, and the ever-turning and carefree world seem too much for you.
You feel alone and you don’t feel like talking.
The last stage as identified by Kubler-Ross is acceptance.
This is not acceptable as in “My Mom died, and that’s okay.” No, it’s not okay, but you can live with the loss.
It is in this stage that your emotions start stabilizing. You still feel the sadness, the anger, and the guilt.
But those feelings don’t let you live in a fantasy world of denial.
In this stage, you come to terms with the death of a loved one. It’s not a good thing, but you decided that it’s the reality and you have to live with it.
You adjust to the new reality, go out more, talk to your friends more, and have more good days.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have bad days anymore, but they come less and less.
You accept that your loved one is gone and will never return. You accept that they can never be replaced.
But you move on and live in the new reality.
Deal with Death the Healthy Way
Knowing the stages of grief is one thing, but experiencing them yourself when a dearest someone dies is another.
Here are tips that will help you cope with death without damaging your mental health permanently.
Feel the Emotions
Feel all the emotions that come. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Everyone experiences grief differently.
Don’t let others or even yourself dictate how you should feel. Cry if you need to cry, even if you don’t want to.
Don’t Conform to Expectations
You’re grieving. You are in pain. Don’t conform to others’ expectations of when you should become ok. Be patient with the process.
Accept the emotions as they come.
Don’t hurry the healing process. Don’t compare yourself with others who breeze through their grief.
Grieve at your own pace. This way, your healing becomes complete.
If you have loving friends and family who are concerned about you, let them support you.
Talk about your loss, your shared memories with your lost loved one, and everything else you have to get out of your chest.
Keep Your Life as Normal as Possible
Don’t make any major changes in your life, like moving to a new house, changing jobs, or abandoning existing relationships until you are healed.
This helps you get a sense of normality and security.
Making major lifestyle changes quickly just emphasizes the fact that your life is not what it used to be.
Improve Your Lifestyle
Eating well and exercise are strong ways to improve your mental well-being, especially when you are vulnerable to extreme stress and emotions.
A good workout session is a healthy way to release tension.
Alternatively, hot baths, refreshing naps, and other physical pleasures help keep mental instability at bay by releasing happy hormones.
Don’t drink too much alcohol or take drugs that suppress your emotions. Deliberately numbing yourself will slow the healing process and break down your body.
All of this will lead to more physical and mental health problems in the long run.
Have a Break from Time to Time
Yes, you have to address your grief to get through it. But doing so is extremely taxing, both on the body and the mind.
Give yourself a break from time to time so you can tackle the grieving process without draining yourself.
Examples of personal breaks include reading a good book, getting a massage, going to the movies, etc.
These are just distractions that will help you put off processing your grief for a while. Keep in mind, though, ignoring your grief for long isn’t healthy.
Dealing with Death as a Family
A family dealing with bereavement isn’t that different from an individual coping with loss.
It’s important to keep in mind that the family members have to let each other grieve in their own time and way.
Let each other feel the emotions. And most importantly, support each other rather than comparing themselves with each other.
Honest and open communication is critical in a family coping with death.
Post-death is not the time to hide emotions and try to protect each other from one’s sadness.
And lastly, patience, gentleness, and understanding are important. Everyone in the family is stressed. Don’t get into each other’s nerves.
Helping Someone Who Grieves
When a friend of yours experiences loss, what should you do?
Here are simple tips on how to help a grieving friend.
- Acknowledge the situation. Say “I’m sorry your _______ died.” Saying the word “died” shows that you understand the full gravity of the situation.
- Be open to letting your friend express all of his pain and other feelings. And listen to what they have to say.
- Express your concern. Say “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- Be genuine and sincere.
- Offer all the support you can give.
- If your bereaved friend doesn’t talk on their own, don’t force them to. But let them know that you are there for them.
Death is Natural
Even before a loved one dies, accept the fact that death is a natural part of life.
And when you experience the loss of a loved one, let the natural processes of grief take place.
This is key to mental instability in trying times.