Coping with tragedy, loss, and grief can be challenging. Still, with kindness, mindfulness, and the right support, you can heal.
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In 2017, a mere phone call changed the trajectory of my life. I recognized my best friend’s voice on the other end of the phone. I heard the words, “He’s gone!”
The news of the death of my loved one sent shock waves through my body. My chest felt heavy. My hands were numb. My mouth made a movement that mimicked a scream, but I couldn’t hear the tone.
I had experienced loss before, but this felt like unchartered territory.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional turmoil you may feel when something or someone you love is taken away. Sometimes, grief, tragedy, and loss can be difficult to navigate, but there are things you can try to help you cope.
While most people think of the loss of a loved one when they think of grief, grief can be experienced in many different forms and layers, including:
- mourning our old life after life transitions
- divorce grief
- loss of a job
- loss of a pet
- grief surrounding COVID-19, such as the inability to connext in-person with friends and family, missing special events and milestones, or significant changes to daily routines and ways of life that bring you comfort
An older study states “grieving is a process of reconstructing a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss.”
The journey to healing from that loss can be vastly different for each loss and from person to person.
Everyone reacts to loss and tragedy differently, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with grief.
Her theory has been used as a framework for many mental health professionals specializing in grief. While some consider it outdated, it still holds that most people go through different emotional stages when grieving — though the number of stages and the order, duration, and intensity of each stage may vary.
For most people, grieving is temporary, and — eventually — your grief fades as you heal from your loss and reach acceptance. However, some people may develop complicated or prolonged grief, which means their grief is intense over months or even years and may significantly impact their life.
While regular grief generally fades on its own and with the support of family and friends, complicated grief may require treatment, which may involve therapy and medications.
After tragedy, loss, and grief, the journey to recovery means navigating to a new “normal.”
How do you cope when something you loved or once needed is gone? Here are some tips.
Allow yourself to feel the emotions
You don’t need to try and hide your emotions. Consider asking yourself: “What am I feeling during these moments?”
Don’t hesitate to provide yourself with a safe space to let the emotions flow. It’s perfectly fine to cry or feel angry.
Identify the source of emotions and triggers
Thinking about what exactly may be triggering your emotions may be helpful. One way to do this is to try journaling.
I was often triggered by old songs that reminded me of my old life. Yet, I tried to shift negative emotions into more positive ones.
For example, instead of focusing on the loss, I was reminded of the beautiful memories that I had created.
Consider seeing a therapist
Sometimes, seeking a therapeutic service to help process uncomfortable emotions can be valuable.
You can find a therapist by:
- asking your health insurance provider
- asking for a referral from your primary care physician
- checking if an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) may be available
You may also want to check out Psych Central’s Guide to Finding Mental Health Support, which includes tips on making mental health support more affordable.
Creating a support system
Most people rely on family members and friends in times of grief, but the right support system can look different for everyone. You may also want to consider someone from your religious community (if you follow one), neighborhood, or a local support group.
Try to think about who your go-to person is when you’re feeling extreme distress, and don’t hesitate to be honest about what you need in the moment. Do you need advice or just someone to listen?
Remember to breathe
Sometimes, something as simple as breathing can help you become more grounded and easily navigate difficult situations.
For example, try breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, holding in for 7 seconds, and breathing out for 8 seconds.
Participate in activities to bring you joy
It can be difficult to even think about participating in things you once enjoyed when you’re grieving, but taking that step and realizing that there still are things to bring you joy can help you heal.
Try to keep in mind that this is an individual journey, and you can pick any activity that fits your needs. You can start small with a walk around the neighborhood with a close friend or family member or decide to sign up for a new class when you’re ready.
It’s OK to go at your own pace.
For me, I’ve developed a newfound love for African Dance Classes. The classes allow me to freely express myself and boost my mood.
Be kind to yourself
As you journey your way to a “new normal” (whatever that means to you), try to remember to offer yourself some grace and be mindful of the narrative you create in your mind.
For example, try shifting your negative thoughts:
- Instead of: “I will never get over this pain”
- Try saying: “I will take it one day at a time. I will make it through this journey of my new normal.”
If you’re in doubt, the 6 R’s by researcher and clinical psychologist Therese Rando may help. She reminds us to:
- Recognize the loss.
- React to the separation.
- Recollect and re-experience the deceased and the relationship.
- Relinquish old attachment.
Still, these techniques and theories can’t always be applied to individual cases. Your loss may call for a different reaction due to cultural beliefs, religious beliefs, or other circumstances — and that’s OK.
Most people rely on family and friends for grief support, but sometimes these resources may not be available to you, or you may feel like they’re not enough.
Here are some additional resources you could check out:
- Grief support groups. In-person and online grief support groups can help you navigate your loss with the help of others who are going through the same thing.
- Book resources. There are plenty of books dealing with grief and coping strategies. You may get recommendations from friends, family, support group members, or mental health professionals. My own experience with grief lead me to writing “Confusion to Clarity: A Therapist’s Grief,” which is a grief workbook to help you navigate through grief.
- Online courses. You may be able to find online grief courses, which may be self-directed or moderated. For example, grief expert David Kessler offers online grief courses, including for bereaved parents and siblings or those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
- Grief yoga. Paul Denniston offers yoga classes specifically designed to help people navigate grief.
- COVID-19 grief tips. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)has put together information about grief related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as tips on how to deal with the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 or with the loss of your routine and way of life.
Life after tragedy, loss, and grief requires new tools, and everyone’s journey is different. The coping strategies that work for one person may not work for another.
Still, keep in mind that healing is possible, and you can learn to cope with and recover from your loss.
The loss I experienced in 2017 felt like unchartered territory. In the same breath, it catapulted me to my purpose. I like to call it “Grief turned into gratitude.” It’s the other side of your pain. It’s your purpose.
It’s OK to allow yourself the opportunity or safe space to process your emotions, to focus on your thoughts and the energy you want to attract. One day you will wake up, and the road will seem a little clearer.
Still, if you feel like navigating and recovering from grief, loss, or tragedy is proving difficult, try to keep in mind that help is available.
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone
You can access free support right away with these resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
- Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
- Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
- Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
RK Beauty Healing is a mental health and wellness company for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, South Asian, East Asian, and all women and nonbinary People of Color to discover, experience, and create their unique well-being journey. They offer free therapy through their nonprofit initiative, one of America’s leading free mental health resources. They also provide access to a broad range of affordable resources (e.g., support group sessions) from culturally responsive therapists, faith-based teachers, and practitioners of various spiritual, healing, and occupational modalities. DRK Beauty Healing believes its holistic approach to healing will ultimately empower People of Color across the globe to forge their unique path to wellness.