“ Where you used to be,
there is a hole in the world,
which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime
and falling in at night.
I miss you like hell.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Losing someone close to us is arguably the most emotionally painful thing we will ever experience. No matter how prepared or unprepared you are, it is a shock to our mind and body when someone we love dies. After experiencing immense grief myself, and supporting many others through the grieving process- I have created an outline for how to take care of yourself after losing someone you love.
There is no RIGHT way to grieve
It is often tempting to take inventory of those around you, are they still crying? How did they go back to work already? Am I not handling this well? Please, please, please- give yourself a break. There is no perfect measure of how to handle losing someone. Judging yourself and comparing your process to others will only cause you more stress and anxiety. Instead say to yourself- “I’m doing the best I can do and that is enough for today.”
Say YES and NO
Say YES to what you want to do and NO to what you don’t want to do. Let the social and family pressures go to the best of your ability- they want you to take care of yourself! Sometimes you may be confused because upon arriving to something you were excited to do, you no longer feel like you want to be there. Thats okay, leave. People will understand- and if they don’t that’s on them.
Denial is REAL
For quite a while things will not feel real. It is completely natural to be in denial that the person is actually gone forever. Even months or years later there may be an impulse to call them and shock when you can’t. When you can, talk to them anyway- on a walk in the woods, driving in the car, say what you need to say whether they can hear you or not. Losing someone you love is too much for the brain to handle so denial is our mind’s way of showing us reality at a slower pace.
SHOCK is real, too
Feel like you’re not feeling? Thats because your brain and body is overloaded. Tears may or may not come and either is okay. Breathe. Everyone copes differently.
Drink WATER and EAT
No it will not always be easy but it is so important. If you are dehydrated and not getting the nutrient you need you WILL crash even harder. Our bodies are made mostly of water and without it you will get headaches, cramps, mood swings and crappy sleep. If you are having trouble eating- eat whatever you desire when you’re hungry. Want Chinese food at 6am? Go for it.
It’s okay to feel RELIEF
If your loved one has been ill, struggling, or in emotional distress- it is natural to feel relief in their passing. This feeling will likely be conflicted with pain and sadness. You can feel multiple things at once- let the guilt go. Seeing someone we love in pain is horrible and it’s okay to be glad they are not suffering.
Actually, it’s okay to feel ANYTHING
Pissed off? Numb? Depressed? Guilt and sadness? The pain of losing someone we love is literally too much for our brain to comprehend all at once. This leaves us with waves of different emotions, sometimes changing by the minute. This does NOT mean you are “going crazy”. Try to roll with your emotions. Picture them like waves in the ocean and know that they will come and go. When you fight them they tend to intensify so instead- breathe, go for a walk, and vent to a friend.
Ask for HELP
Your friends and family likely have no idea how to help you or what to say. They are hoping you will tell them what you need. Do it. Need food delivered? Ask. Need someone to sit with you in silence? Ask. Need someone to leave your house? Ask. It is important to practice healthy selfishness when your body and mind is working through this type of despair.
Regardless of the weather, being outside and moving your body will help sadness and pain pass through you. Take in the outdoors, listen to the birds, feel the wind and the ground beneath you. Breathe the fresh air. Nature heals.
Grief is NOT a linear process
You may feel good for a while and then plummet back into sadness all of a sudden. This does not mean you’re back tracking. Grief sneaks up on you at strange times. Mourning a death is not something you “move on” from it is something you grow with. Yes, life will go on and you will laugh again- but you will also feel sad again from time to time too. There is no beginning, middle and end to grief.
Go easy on the SUBSTANCES
It can be tempting to rely on substances to cope with heavy emotions or try to sleep. Be careful. It is a slippery slope using substances to deal with unwanted feelings and can certainly lead to habitual use and addictive tendencies. Though it may seem to work well at first, it can be hard to stop once using through such a turbulent time. Substances are for fun, not coping!
Get OUT of Yourself
It may sound strange, but sometimes what helps the most in the complete despair of grief is helping someone or something else. Take your dog for a walk and give it a special treat after, volunteer a day in a soup kitchen, repot a plant, start a clothing drive, shovel someone’s porch off for them, do a random act of kindness. When all feels lost in the world, getting outside of yourself to help someone else can truly help.
It can be so helpful to have someone unbiased in your life to support you through the grieving process. The death of a loved one can be traumatic and sometimes brings back undesirable memories and unwanted feelings. Receiving support from a therapist can help you build coping skills to move forward with a deeper and even more beautiful understanding of life.