When people experience a significant loss, such as the death of a spouse or child, shock and pain may make them feel like there is no hope for a normal existence ever again. Life has been altered in ways that cannot be “fixed.” Coping skills can help build a comforting sense of routine. They allow introspection and exploration of what happened from different viewpoints. Emotions that flood through the mind can be captured and examined instead of looping endlessly without resolution. Most importantly, they provide help in getting those emotions and conflicting thoughts out instead of keeping them inside where they can fester and cause problems in years to come.
If you have lost a loved one or dear friend, you have been wounded deeply. These wounds require care just as your body would require care and time for healing if you had been physically injured in an automobile wreck. Each person handles grief differently, so rely on yourself to create a healing atmosphere around you. Be patient with others. They may or may not understand how you feel.
Time alone does not heal, but there are ways to bring moments of peace and healing into each day. Taking time to develop the skills below should result in a gentle and gradual return to a life that is productive and satisfying but also one that has a place for remembering. Moving forward, one step at a time, is possible.
Take care of your body: First, make sure you drink enough water and eat healthy foods. You will need your body’s strength as you grieve. If you cannot eat – a common issue during such stress – try small sips of water whenever you can and soft foods like soup and yogurt. Even taking notice of how your hands move while preparing a cup of hot tea can settle your thoughts. Stay in the moment as much as you can.
Tell your story: Sharing emotions may not be at the top of anyone’s to-do list anytime, but when you are grieving, it is important to find someone to listen. This might be a friend or family member. It could also be an online or local support group. Funeral homes sometimes offer group meetings like this. Doing a search online can bring many resources to you. Talking, asking questions (“Why did this happen to my loved one?”), and gathering support will help you process your grief.
Write in a journal: Writing in a private journal is another way to tell your story. Write down how you honestly feel and notice changes as the weeks go by. You might write to your loved one or list small goals you want to accomplish. Journal prompts look something like this: “My plan for connecting with people begins with _____________.” Or you might write “It feels painful to see other families celebrating a holiday, but I will ___________.”
Exercise: Maybe you have never thought of exercise as a coping skill, but the exertion can calm nerves and help your body and mind relax. A short walk, weightlifting, gardening, swimming, and other forms of movement are valuable additions to your day. Sometimes, a new hobby emerges that will give lasting focus and satisfaction. Consider a memorial garden in your yard or in containers, something your loved one would like. If you have a pet, you have a good buddy for longer walks and conversations.
Try mindfulness: Focusing on the moment you are in can bring peace. Meditation, prayer, or relaxation techniques can help with sleep and worry. These things can also help you manage your emotions and physical symptoms (anger, depression, anxiety, headaches, digestive upsets). Many people find relaxation in music. If this is difficult at first, try again later. Your grief is very much like a journey. Pace yourself and look forward to the solace you can find when you are alone. If you prefer a group activity with guidance, check for classes in your area.
These are simple things on the surface, but they can be life changing. A professional counselor or therapist can help you find more ways to decide how you will move forward. No one is immune from the pain of grief. Soul-shaking loss disrupts everything, from the routine of daily life all the way down to the body’s molecular structure. Despair and heartache may make you think you have lost yourself as well as your loved one. In a way, this is true. You are changed. But you will find parts of yourself again, things within you that you recognize and that will help you integrate loss into your new life. On days when you feel like giving up, go to your journal, your support group or one of your new coping skills for a bit of tender care.
More on coping with grief: Psych Central’s grief resource page