There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.Mahatma Gandhi
Grief is a deep sorrow we experience that often results from a loss of some kind. It could be a loss of a loved one or the loss of something that we deeply cherished or cared for. That loss can often lead to profound feelings of sadness, emptiness, yearning, despair, loneliness, and helplessness. Feelings of guilt about what we did, said, or couldn’t say or do may also arise. And resulting from these intense feelings we struggle emotionally to find some stability in our lives.
Grief is never an easy emotion to deal with. In fact it is one of the most difficult emotions that any of us will ever experience. However, things do settle down over time. Our grief might never quite disappear, however coping with grief does become a little easier as time goes by, as long as we forgive ourselves and are willing to openly accept the changes that life has brought our way.
The Stages of Grief
There are seven distinct stages of grief that people often pass through. These stages are not the primary focus of this article, however, it’s certainly worthwhile making a mental note of these stages because they help outline how grief can take you from a very dark and lonely place and into a future filled with optimism and hope.
Here are the seven stages of grief:
- Disbelief: There is initial disbelief and shock when you lose someone or something you love. You tend to ask yourself: What just happened?
- Denial: You can’t believe what happened and as a result it’s difficult to accept the reality of your situation. You tend to think: This can’t really be happening… These sorts of things just don’t happen to me…
- Anger: Suddenly you realize and acknowledge what has happened, but you can’t accept it. Things aren’t supposed to be this way, and this makes you angry. You tend to think: This just isn’t fair… Who is to blame for this?
- Bargaining: You now realize that there’s no point to your anger. There’s nothing you can do about what happened. However, you now plead and wish that things were different — to be given a second chance. You might feel regretful and/or guilty at this stage and you will tend to plead to others or to a higher power: Please make things better… Please make everything how it was before…
- Sadness: You now realize that there is no sense in pleading. Things are the way they are, and you have come to accept that. However, it’s all still just too difficult. There is emptiness in your heart and a deep sense of sadness that’s overwhelming your body. You might feel depressed, lonely and isolated. You tend to think: I just can’t deal with this any more…
- Acceptance: Time has passed and you now feel for the first time as though you can openly accept what happened. You can’t as yet move on fully with the rest of your life, however you are no longer burdened with the deep sense of sadness you experienced within the previous stage. You tend to think: I’m at peace with what happened…
- Hope: New opportunities have come into your life, and you feel a renewed sense of energy, purpose and direction. Suddenly there is hope for the future and you can fully move on with the rest of your life. You of course won’t forget what was lost, however thinking about it now gives you peace-of-mind as you look towards a better and brighter future. You tend to think: I’m hopeful about my future…
Moving through these stages can take several weeks, months and even years. It all depends on the person, the circumstances they are working through, and the emotional support and resources they receive from others. It’s also important to note that these stages are not equal in terms of time and intensity. One stage might last several days, while other stages might last several years. Moreover, a grieving person might cycle up and down through these stages in haphazard ways dependent on a number of factors that can influence their emotional state-of-mind.
Given all this, it’s important we keep these stages in mind for no other reason then to come to terms with the fact that grieving is a process that takes time. You won’t feel angry all the time, and you certainly won’t feel sad forever. Time will heal your heart and bring peace to your soul. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is hope in the future. All that’s required of you is to keep an open heart and mind. Things will get better over time as long as you allow yourself the space and freedom to heal.
Grief is never easy to deal with — whether you’re prepared for the losses or not. It’s always a difficult process, and it certainly takes time to heal. However, at the same time it’s important to understand that grief is a part of life.
Life is full of ups and downs. There are glorious peaks, and there are those dark gloomy pits that we must pass through on our way up the mountain. It’s a part of life. You will have your ups and you will have your downs. You will have your victories and you will have your losses. You will have moments of euphoria, and you will likewise have moments of despair, sorrow and a deep sense of sadness.
Life is in a constant state of flux, and things are always changing, shifting and moving. You will not always be happy, and you will likewise not always be sad. Sooner or later you will experience losses, however you aren’t alone. Everyone goes through the same things you’re going through. It’s just a part of life — a part of being human.
The grieving process does take time, and it’s unique to every individual. Everyone will grieve differently, and might even grieve differently in different situations over the course of their lives. This is okay. There is no right or wrong. It’s whatever helps you work through the loss in your own unique way.
Grief of course takes a toll on the body. Every difficult emotion we experience does this. We are after all emotional creatures, and our emotions are an important part of our lives. They give us variety, they give us feedback, and they give us what we call “life”. Yes, our emotions are what we call “life”. Without them would it even matter whether or not we were alive?
I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that emotions provide us with a richness of experience. Our ups feel so wonderful because we also have our downs. Without grief or sadness, happiness and euphoria wouldn’t have any meaning or significance in our lives. We need those ups and downs to give ourselves “life”. And yet, this of course doesn’t make grief any easier to deal with. However, it can hopefully provide you with the hope you need to look forward to a brighter future that’s waiting for you on the horizon.
Coping with Grief Process
Working through your grief is something that will take time, and there is no real process that you must follow. It’s just something that you must work through in your own way and with the help of a strong support network of family and friends. Given this, there is actually a five step grief coping process that you can follow. Use it as a guide to help you find your way emotionally to a brighter and more positive future.
Go through each step and be flexible in your approach. You might find that there are less or more of these steps for you, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s just important to do this at your own pace and to keep an open and receptive mind. Be open to the possibilities and embrace the healing that can come about as you work through this process.
Your very first step is to identify the source of your grief. Do this by acknowledging the losses you have suffered and the pain you are now experiencing. Ask yourself:
What have I lost?
What am I grieving about?
Why am I grieving? Why specifically?
How does all this make me feel?
Asking these questions might seem pointless, however at times we are so overwhelmed by our emotional experiences, that it’s hard to think clearly. On the surface you might think you understand why you’re grieving, however below the surface there might be very specific reasons why you’re grieving, and these are the things that you must explore a little further.
Experiencing the pain of your loss is difficult. However, resisting this pain can be even more difficult. For this very reason it’s important that you allow yourself to release your emotions out into the open. Don’t bottle things up inside. Just accept what has happened and allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to get a little angry, and allow yourself to let out your emotions in productive (non-destructive) ways.
Spend time by yourself crying. Every tear you shed will clear the emotions that have been welling up inside of you. Alternatively, cry on the shoulder of someone you trust and love. They are there for you in your greatest time of need. If on the other hand you are initially feeling anger and not sadness, then spend time releasing your anger on a punching bag, or release your anger through physical exercise. Exhaustion will probably soon set in. And that’s perfectly okay. Rest will give you time to think, to contemplate, and maybe even to cry.
Allow yourself to just experience the emotions you are feeling. Don’t resist, don’t hold them back, and don’t deny them the opportunity to express how you feel. It’s all a part of healing. This is a part of the healing process.
It’s now important that you don’t spend time alone. Solitude and loneliness can lead to depression, especially during a time like this. Instead, reach out and connect with people who love and care about you. Share your feelings with them in a supportive and safe environment. Talk about how you’re feeling, what you’re going through, and how much you miss what you have lost. Then talk about the good times, the funny times, the awkward times, and the unforgettable times you had with your loved ones. These memories you are sharing will further help you heal and move on with your life.
As you share your feelings and thoughts with a loved one, you can help each other work through these difficult emotions, problems and potential struggles as a unit. It’s much easier to do things together, then it is to set out alone. You must therefore embrace this opportunity to bond with those you care about most.
If you continue to struggle emotionally, then consider sharing your thoughts and feelings with a grief counselor. They are there to help support and guide you to make better choices and decisions on your journey of healing.
Talking to others about your experiences can be of great value, however at the same time you must also find reasons and motivation within yourself to keep going and to keep moving forward beyond this experience. There must be some goals you would like to achieve. If there are, then tap into these goals. Remind yourself about the importance of achieving these goals, of living your highest core values, and about attaining your life’s purpose.
It is of course possible that as a result of this experience your life’s purpose might have changed, your values might have shifted, and as such your goals might now be different. That’s perfectly okay. Embrace these changes. The most important thing you can do is to move yourself forward instead of clinging onto the past.
Take an inventory of your purpose, values and goals by asking yourself:
What’s most important in my life right now?
What’s my life’s purpose and vision for the future? Has anything changed?
What goals would I like to now pursue?
How can I begin working towards my future starting today?
What are my core values?
How can I start living my core values on a daily basis?
Remind yourself that it’s important to take things one step at a time. Don’t move too quickly or too early, especially when moving in a new direction. Pace yourself, take your time and plan your life on purpose. And as you move along this new or refined journey of yours, remember to continue to look for ways to gain comfort in human contact; to gain comfort in small pleasures; and to find comfort in periods of self-reflection, nature and moments of relaxation. It’s important that you look after yourself, that you look after your body and that you build solid foundations moving forward for the rest of your life.
Working through your grief is never an easy process. It often takes a lot of time and can be very painful. It’s therefore important to remind yourself that this isn’t something that you will just simply “get over”. You probably won’t ever get over the grief you feel. And that’s okay. You don’t need to forget about things. What you need to do is move on with your life, to heal, and to find hope for the future. And all of this requires time and a great deal of patience. Therefore be patient with yourself, be patient with others, and be patient along your journey.
Patience is often found when you begin focusing on the little things, on the simple things, and on the things that bring more joy to your life. This joy comes from the heart. It comes from your willingness to open your heart to the possibilities of today. And this can only be achieved when you come from a place of gratitude. Ask yourself:
What am I grateful for? Why?
What do I appreciate and love? Why?
Who do I appreciate and love? Why exactly?
Why is all this important to me?
Gratitude will help redirect your mind away from what you have lost and onto what’s most important and what you currently have that makes life worth living. And this is what will help stimulate the healing process and allow you to move on with the rest of your life in more hopeful, helpful and positive ways.
Suggestions for Coping with Grief
Within this section you will find numerous suggestions that will hopefully allow you the freedom to refocus your energies on the right things in order to help you cope with your grief in more helpful ways.
As mentioned earlier, everyone grieves differently. What works well for one person may not work well for you. You must therefore find the things that feel most comfortable and focus your energies on just those elements. However, it’s also important to keep an open mind. Try something new and different that you may not have tried before. You will never really know what works until you give it a go. You have absolutely everything to gain.
It is however important to note that the first three suggestions are very broad and apply to everyone in every situation. These are things that you cannot ignore and must work through to ensure that you manage your emotions in more productive and helpful ways.
Addictions might make you feel better in the short-term, but in the long-term you will most likely end up doing more harm to yourself than good.
Addictions such as over-eating, drugs, nicotine, binge drinking, caffeine, excessive television, etc, initially feel good and can temporarily provide you with a means of grounding yourself to something tangible, however these addictions are outright dangerous. The disadvantages far outweigh the advantages, and by indulging in them you are putting yourself at risk and delaying the healing process.
Avoid these kinds of addictions at all costs, and instead choose to indulge in other activities that will help put you in a more positive frame-of-mind — to promote deeper levels of healing in the long-run.
Look After Your Health
While working through your grief, it’s absolutely paramount that you take good care of your health. You should of course always be taking good care of yourself, however while experiencing emotional difficulties, this becomes ever more so important.
Your body is currently undergoing a lot of internal turmoil. There’s a lot of struggle and this is taking a toll on your health and well-being. As a result it’s very important that you eat a well-balanced diet with a focus on eating plenty of green leafy vegetables and natural (non-processed) foods. At the same time, it’s important that you get plenty of rest and sleep. Balance this out with regular exercise and plenty of fresh water to keep yourself hydrated, and you will be providing your body with the internal environment it needs to heal itself as you work through this difficult period of your life.
Avoid Making Major Life Decisions
Any difficult emotion, whether it’s grief, anger, stress, overwhelm, worry, etc, can potentially cloud our judgment. The decisions that we would have made without the influence of these emotions are all of a sudden not so easy to make. Our perspective has changed our view of life, our view of other people and of our circumstances, and this has shifted how we think about things. And as a result we are very susceptible to making poor decisions without even realizing it.
Given all this, it’s important you don’t make any major life decisions or instigate any dramatic changes while working through your grief. This is especially important during the early stages of grief. If you do make major decisions or changes at that time, then you might very well regret these decisions later on. Instead, wait until you are in a more positive, open and receptive state-of-mind before you instigate any major changes in your life.
Don’t Grieve Alone
There will be moments when you will need that personal space to grieve alone, however on the most part connect with other people, talk about your feelings and grieve together. Being with other people will help you gain unique insights and perspectives that you wouldn’t have been able to come up with on your own. Other people can also help provide you with solutions, answers, and the support you need to work through difficult emotional experiences. Use these people. They are there for you, and you are also there for them. Therefore if you cannot connect with others for your own sake, then certainly connect with others for their sake.
Spend Time Traveling
It’s very difficult to spend time within an environment that reminds you of what you have recently lost. The more time you spend there, the more memories come to the surface, and the more difficult things get. As such, consider taking a break. Go on a road trip, or better yet go for a holiday somewhere close or far away. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you are spending time somewhere else — somewhere new and different.
Spending time in a new environment will give you time to think and reflect. It will give you the opportunity to explore new places, to meet new people and to gather new insights and perspectives. This will be a time of emotional healing — a time spent working through your grief in far more effective and helpful ways.
Draw Strength from Within
Often you will be able to turn to others for strength and support. However, at times other people might not be there when you need them most. Or they might be there, but not in the capacity that you need them. In such instances it’s important to draw strength from within to help provide you with the courage to move forward.
Drawing strength from within can come from your faith and your belief in God or a higher power. You can also draw strength from within through meditation. Alternatively, strength can also be harnessed through books and spiritual teachings. Simply visit your local bookshop, or search online for a book that might give you the strength and insights you need to move on with your life. If you’re not sure what book to read, then ask your friends, or ask a librarian at your local public library. There are just so many wonderful, helpful and inspiring spiritual books out there. With a little effort, you may very well find one that might be able to provide you with the guidance you need to find the strength within to keep going.
Engage Yourself Physically
Coping with grief becomes much easier when you’re engaged and involved in fun and interesting activities. For instance how about attending a sporting event, participating in a Yoga class, getting involved in a book club, joining Toastmasters, visiting a comedy club, or simply engaging yourself by learning a new skill.
These suggestions only scrape the surface of the things you could possibly do and the activities you could get involved with. Just go out there and try something. Just get involved. If nothing else, it will temporarily take your mind off what you have lost. However, what’s more likely to happen is that these activities will provide you with new connections, new perspectives and wonderful new opportunities that will help accelerate the emotional healing process.
Express Your Creativity
A fantastic way to get engaged in something is to focus on expressing yourself creatively. The one great benefit of creative self-expression in this instance is that it can help you explore your feelings in very unique ways. Moreover, it can help you gain clarity, deeper insights and perspectives about your life, emotions and circumstances. This could potentially open the doors to new opportunities and experiences that will help encourage the emotional healing process.
You can express yourself creatively by playing an instrument. Do you play? If you don’t, then you can learn. If you do, then you could maybe begin by writing a song about how you’re feeling or about the loss you have experienced in your life. You can also express yourself creatively through writing poetry and stories, by writing a letter or a tribute, or simply by jotting your thoughts down in a journal. Or, if you’re a bit of an artist (and even if you’re not) then how about expressing yourself through drawing or painting. Or maybe you could create a collage of your feeling or a collage that celebrates the life of the loved one you have lost. Alternatively, the collage could turn into a scrapbook or a photo album.
It really doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something that helps you express yourself creatively. You may even find that one thing leads on to the next thing, and before you know it you are doing something totally unexpected. And that is exactly what you need. You need to lose yourself in something you are passionate about in order to heal and move on with the rest of your life.
Help People in Need
One of the best ways to heal yourself emotionally is to help another person heal emotionally.
Go out there and support a good cause or charity you are passionate about. Take the opportunity to help other people in need. Help people who are worse off then you are and who are struggling more then you have ever struggled. Who knows? Your interactions with these people could very well help shift your perspective about your own life and circumstances, and this is what will help you heal emotionally.
Prepare for Grief Triggers
Finally, when you’re in a more positive frame-of-mind, take time to prepare yourself for possible grief triggers that might arise in the future.
Grief triggers are times of the year such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and/or milestones that might stir up old painful memories and emotional experiences from the past. You must prepare yourself for these moments in advance to minimize the effects that these triggers will have on your emotional state-of-mind. For instance, being alone on these days might be very difficult to handle. As such, plan to spend these days with other people. Alternatively, you might choose to have a spiritual book by your side that you could turn to when your emotions start to get a little too overwhelming.
How you choose to manage these grief triggers is completely in your hands. Being aware of them is a start. Minimizing the impact they have on your state-of-mind is an important part of the healing process.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Ways We Grieve @ Psych Central
- 10 Ways to Handle Grief @ Let Life In
- 15 Things to Say (and Not say) to a Grieving Person @ Pick the Brain
- Coping with Grief and Loss @ Help Guide
- Dealing with Loss and Grief @ Tiny Buddha
- Dealing with Loss and Grief @ Youth Beyond Blue
- Grief and Loss: Six Steps on the Path to Healing @ Live Bold and Bloom
- Grief: Coping and Reminders After a Loss @ Mayo Clinic
- How We Misinterpret Grief @ Psychology Today