Six Ways to Help You Manage Grief After Losing a Loved One
Last updated: October 2018
Every year I look forward to spring and summer. Living in the northeastern portion of the United States as I do I dread the short, cold, damp and dreary days of winter. When I see the first buds of spring my heart feels lighter.
For the last several years, however, summer has not been a time of joy. Coincidental or not my loved ones have experienced illness, surgeries and accidents in the summer months. This summer it happened again with the shock and sadness from the loss of my beloved father-in-law.
We mourn and celebrate his life and legacy. As we say in the Jewish religion “May his memory be a blessing.”
I feel great physical and emotional stress from this loss, and as we all know in the MS community, stress is not our friend. There is a lot involved in planning a funeral. There’s the tradition our religion calls “sitting shiva” when mourners visit the immediate family to comfort them. Depending on how observant you are shiva can last a few hours each day from one - seven days after the funeral. Guests arrive with food so the family won’t need to worry about meals. It’s a wonderful custom that provides time to console one another.
The week of the funeral was intensely emotional, with part of our immediate family flying across country with plane delays and my mother-in-law staying with us. Despite help from friends and family there’s no way to avoid standing, cleaning, crying and consoling. We’re blessed with many caring and loving people who live both near and far. But the fact is that these life events present unavoidable stress.
What can you do when you live with a disease that can be even more cruel and unyielding in times of sorrow and heartache?
When my son was young and his goldfish died he asked me about death and dying. At age 5 I decided the best way to explain it was by using the idea of “The Circle of Life” that I borrowed from the recently released Disney movie “The Lion King.”
"When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life."
As adults we know that’s not enough to fully explain death. Pragmatically we know that death is a part of life, but when it happens to someone we love it doesn’t make sense and our emotions run wild. We grasp for answers that might make us feel better, answers that will console us. Sometimes there are none.
We live with a chronic illness and need to grieve in a way that doesn’t put our health more at risk.
Here are some general tips on managing grief. I hope you find them helpful:
Allow yourself to fully grieve
It’s important to let your feelings out whether it’s open communication, crying or journaling. Let your emotions roam free. It’s healthier than holding them in.There is no shame in revealing your true emotions. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is a sign of strength and maturity. It’s also part of an emotional wellness plan.
Be kind to yourself
After a death it’s important to take time to allow yourself to fully grieve. Unless you have a job where you can’t take more time off it’s healthy to spend alone time and let your thoughts wash over you in a peaceful setting.
It’s okay to spend time not thinking about your loved ones
We miss our loved ones. It feels odd to not have them around. We need to go through the process of finding a new normal without them. Life goes on, and at some point, when we feel ready, we have to take baby steps forward to rejoin the living. If we don’t think about our loved ones it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten them. It simply means we’re trying to learn how to get on with our lives without them. We will never, ever forget them.
It will get easier
People say this all the time but when it happens to you it’s hard to believe. Time does heal all wounds. Maybe not completely. For example, a friend of mine lost a child, something no one should have to live through. It’s your worst nightmare.I remember reading a comment in her social media thread from a mother who also lost her child. She said that over time the pain never completely goes away, it just becomes different.
Hang onto your memories
Talking about the person, laughing about funny things you shared and special times you experienced together is important to keep their memory alive. Focus on the good to help ease your pain. It won’t bring them back but it will allow the grief process to move on. And your wonderful stories can be passed down from generation to generation.
Fully grieving takes awhile
There’s no set amount of time to grieve since every person grieves in their own way and in their own time. I remember when my grandmother died I was in college and I stayed strong for my mother’s sake. Months later, back in my dorm room, I began to sob uncontrollably about her passing. I adored my grandmother and my pent-up emotions were ignored for too long. It felt good to cry.
If you feel the need to seek help from a qualified counselor for talk therapy then do it. This is also a wellness plan.
I wish you and your loved ones a long, happy and healthy life.
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