7 ways to start healing and coping after loss of a loved one
Healing can be a long and winding road. At times it may seem as though you are climbing Mt Everest or paddling the Amazon River in search of your missing loved one, but we must continue because there is no other option available for those of us left behind at this time.
It is important to remember that it is okay to not be okay. We don’t have to appear strong for everyone else and keep our feelings bottled up. It is important for us to take the time we need to simply feel and process the emotions that come with loss.
We must give ourselves permission to heal, knowing that it won’t be an easy task, but that it is necessary. We may never fully recover from the death of a loved one, but we can take steps to make peace with our loss and slowly move into acceptance of this new chapter of our lives.
Here are seven effective ways that have helped me, and others along their grief journey that have helped each of us achieve happiness, healing and Hope.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
It’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling on days that commemorate loved ones who have died.
You might feel sad, angry, scared, or lonely.
It’s OK to cry or to not cry.
There is no “right” way to grieve.
Those that struggle on a day of importance will implement the coping mechanism that I call "embrace for Impact".
You’re probably familiar with the opposite of this coping mechanism. That is where people will not allow themselves to feel the emotions they need to heal but will do the opposite and avoid them.
Many in this situation will keep themselves busy, and numb so they don't have to feel.
The problem I have seen with my patients doing this is that these feelings and emotions build up over time and become just like a two-liter bottle when shaken and not given time to release its pressure.
"It explodes" and many times we will not be able to control our explosion.
2. Talk About Your Loved One
Talk about your loved one with others who knew them.
Share memories and stories.
This can help you feel connected to your loved one and can also help keep their memory alive.
The more you talk and share the less negative emotions you hold on to.
Find alternative ways to express your thoughts and emotions in different ways.
I found that drawing and painting was another way of expressing myself and releasing my emotions toward my wife. (And I’m not an artist! I’ve never had interest in art before, yet I found this new release of emotions to be extremely helpful)
I wasn't ready to talk, but I could express my feelings through art.
This gave me permission to do my work well before I was ready to talk to others.
When I was starting to be ready to talk, I asked a friend to meet me for lunch once a week to talk about how I was feeling and doing.
This gave me permission and practice to express myself in a safe and supportive way.
3. Do Something to Honor Your Loved One
On days that are difficult, do something to honor your loved one’s life.
This might mean lighting a candle, visiting their grave, or donating to a charity in their name.
Doing something positive can help you focus on the good memories and can make the day feel more bearable.
For me and my boys we chose to celebrate my wife's birthday two months after we lost her with friends and family.
We felt like it was important in the healing process instead of avoiding the emotions.
We took all my wife's favorite food, snacks, and treats (Pepsi, chips and salsa, circus peanuts(I know who likes circus peanuts but Valerie loved them!), chocolate covered cinnamon bears), as well as her favorite movie (Goonies).
We invited family and friends, because they also were grieving too and celebrated my wife's life as if she was there (because she is still there everyday and this way we could make it in a positive way still).
We felt the emotions, but again we did not shy away from feeling them.
Together we helped each other process thoughts, emotions, and feelings that we were holding on to.
It was such a healing process.
Each year when my wife's birthday comes up, my boys say, "what are we going to do for mom's birthday!".
Her birthday now brings a smile to my face and peace to my heart.
4. Reach Out for Support
If you’re struggling to get through a tough day, reach out for support from family and friends.
They can provide comfort and understanding.
If you don’t have anyone close to you who can offer support, there are also grief counseling services available.
Talking to a counselor can be incredibly helpful as he or she will be able to provide professional guidance and support.
Many times people will need your permission to be a part of your healing process before they’re willing to step in and help.
Become vulnerable and transparent about how you’re feeling and struggling.
Remember most of us want people to help, but many times we don't know how to ask.
So again, it is good to invite your friends and family into your healing circle or team, as well as give them an assignment or tip to help you in your healing journey.
5. Give Yourself Time
It’s important to give yourself time to heal after a loss.
Grief is a process that takes time, so be patient with yourself.
Your grief is different from everyone else and should not be compared with others.
Allow yourself to mourn in whatever way feels right for you.
In time, the pain will start to lessen, and you will be able to remember your loved one with fondness instead of sadness.
I always found comfort as I shared thoughts and memories of my wife’s passing. It was as if the "intensity of my emotions” decreased each time.
I felt like this was a good sign and indicator that I was healing from my tragedy.
It was like each time I shared my feelings with someone else I was healing and allowing my emotions to pass through naturally, and not forcing my grieving process.
6. Live Your Life
It’s also important to remember to still live your life.
Celebrate the good things that come your way, even on difficult days. (I know at times the guilt ate me up, learn to let go of this guilt)
Doing so will help remind you that life goes on and there are always reasons to be thankful.
I promise this can provide some hope and comfort in a time of sorrow.
I always thought to myself, "my wife doesn't like to see me sad, so why am I allowing the impact of her life on me to be so sad".
This has been a good reminder to pick myself up and keep living a life worth living for.
No matter how you choose to commemorate your loved one, remember that honoring them doesn’t have to be a painful experience.
It can be a time of reflection and appreciation for the time that you had with them and the memories you shared.
7. Celebrate Life
One of the best ways to cope with grief is to celebrate life and the memories that you shared with your loved one.
You can do this by creating a memorial or participating in a charitable event in their honor or simply enjoying activities that remind you of them such as going out to eat at a restaurant they enjoyed or visiting places they frequented.
Doing something in a positive and productive way in the person’s honor will bring you a sense of peace.
On the day that my wife passed away (June 12th) we renamed it to “Be Like Val Day”.
By renaming this day to something else, it helps to celebrate her and not be sad or disappointed on this day.
On this day we celebrate all my wife’s goodness she shared in lifting others, as well as making other people happy. Allowing her impact to keep living on in the world.
We share it on Facebook and invite those that knew and loved her to join us.
Our friends and family then can choose to participate and share their experiences and what they did to honor and remember her.
It is so healing to see all the acts of kindness being shared in her honor.
This truly helps us to stay in the present moment of healing and happiness.
Remembering your loved one propels you forward in life, filling you with strength and motivation to keep going even when it’s hard.
During our most difficult moments, I remind myself that everything I do from this point forward is for my wife and how proud she would be if she knew that I was happy and thriving.
This thought has kept me going throughout my journey of grief and healing.
In conclusion, grief can be a difficult journey, but it is possible to heal and find peace amidst the pain.
Remember to be gentle with yourself and take care of your own emotional needs.
Seek out help from those around you and create positive ways to honor your loved one’s memory.
And don’t forget that life still has beauty even in our most sorrowful times.
Also be kind to yourself and celebrate life as you continue this journey of healing.
Remember Healing Takes Courage,
With all my love,