After a loved one dies, mourners are left to process a range of emotions – depression, guilt, anger, anxiety, numbness, regret. In some cases, even peace or relief can arise as conflicting feelings. Often, a combination of feelings can strike at once.
No matter how and when someone experiences grief, each person’s journey is unique, experts say. Grief follows its own rules. No guide exists for solving grief, but there are ways a bereaved person can find solace.
Amy Lopez, PhD, LCSW, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and child, adolescent and adult licensed clinical social worker at the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, offers 10 tips on how to cope with grief.
1. Grief ebbs and flows
Grief doesn't happen in stages, as we've been led to believe. Rather, think about grief like waves in the ocean. It will typically come and go. Sometimes those waves are small and simple reminders of the loss. On other days, it will feel like a tsunami, overwhelming you with anger, sadness, regret, guilt or fear.
2. Don't go it alone
You don't have to grieve alone. As humans, we're meant to rely on each other. Talk with others who have had a similar loss or knew the person as well. Allow others to care for you, and lean on your community.
3. Focus on self-care
There may be days where it feels like you can't move forward at all. On those days, the main goal is to take care of yourself as best you can. Focus on the basics: sleeping, eating, getting some exercise or getting outside. Chores, tasks and obligations can wait until another day.
4. Distraction can help
There may also be days where you want to take it all on and get everything done. Doing the necessary things such as cleaning out closets or finishing up a task may provide a nice distraction and help you feel like you are being productive and useful. But if this feels overwhelming, it's OK to walk away or ask for help from others.
5. It's OK to laugh
There may also be days where you don't want to grieve. It's OK to have fun, be silly or do something enjoyable. This doesn't mean you don't care; rather, the positive emotions of joy and gratitude can provide a needed reprieve from the grief. Laughter can often provide a release and make the grief bearable.
6. Be sure to say goodbye
Consider a formal ritual to say goodbye. For death, we have funerals, but we often don't put a formal end to other losses: divorce, job changes, accidents, illnesses. Think about ways to acknowledge the event and intent to move forward.
7. Keep them in your heart
Think of ways to continue to acknowledge the loss in smaller ways, too. For example, you might keep a picture of the person on your desk. You could wear a bracelet or necklace that reminds you of the person. Maybe you could get their favorite flowers delivered on a certain day. Make a donation in their name. This is a way that you can feel connected to them on a regular basis.
8. Plan ahead for relapse
Anniversaries or significant dates (such as a birthday) may continue to bring up feelings of grief. It can be helpful to plan ahead and know that you’ll be supported or distracted if you are concerned those reminders will be too hard.
9. There is no right way
Others may grieve differently than you. They may want to move on more quickly; they may want to talk about it more than you do; they may seem to have stronger emotions about it; others may feel numb or not want to do anything at all. There isn’t one way to grieve – do what feels right to you.
10. Reach out for help
If you feel like the sadness is constant, you’re unable to take care of yourself, or have thoughts of hurting yourself, please reach out for professional help. There are lots of ways we can work with your grief, including medications, therapy or connecting you with a supportive community. You don't have to do this alone – we're here to help.