Coping with the Loss of a Loved One
Everyone copes with loss differently, and you’ve probably heard that there is no right way to grieve. When we lose a loved one, whether it’s a family member or a friend, we’re left with feelings that can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with. We may not understand what we are feeling at all. Even if you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one before, each time can be different depending on the circumstance. You may be left wondering, “How do I cope with the loss of a loved one?”
Different Types of Grief
Grief can manifest itself in many different ways, and no two people will process the experience the same way. The only commonality will be the experience of loss. Profound events such as the loss of a loved one result in different behaviors and actions of those affected.
You may experience what is called “anticipatory grief,” where you haven’t lost a loved one yet, but you know that you soon will. This can be the case in those who have a loved one struggling with a terminal diagnosis during their last days, weeks, or months. It produces feelings of great anxiety and sadness and you may feel conflicted on whether to spend more time with the person to savor your last moments together, or feel the need to distance yourself.
This feeling of needing to distance yourself serves as a subconscious defense mechanism, as your brain knows you will soon lose your loved one and is trying to protect you from developing further attachments. Know that if you experience this type of anticipatory grief that you are not a bad person. You are not uncaring and there is nothing wrong with you, it is just how your brain is reacting to such an impactful event.
You may notice that after experiencing a great loss you seem to feel nothing at all, and again, this is not a sign that you didn’t care for your loved one or that something is wrong with you. Absent grief is another defense mechanism that your brain uses to protect you from feeling intense negative emotion.
You may find yourself acting as if nothing has happened, and go about your daily routine just as usual. Many times, when people experience absent grief they find themselves wondering why they aren’t feeling anything. In fact, you are really just experiencing grief in a different way.
Experiencing delayed grief is common if you first experience absent grief. This means that the reality and the magnitude of the situation has kicked in and your brain is no longer blocking the negative emotions associated with the loss of your loved one. Again, this is a completely normal process. Delayed grief may overcome you all at once, bringing on intense feelings of sadness, tears, and remorse. For some people, this is a relief after the experience of absent grief and the true beginning of the healing process.
Chronic grief is a common experience, where individuals find it extremely hard to process the loss of a loved one. They may enter a full denial, seem unable to function normally in everyday life for an extended period of time, or enter a full depression. Chronic grief is not only difficult for the person who is struggling, but also for those around them who may not know how to help. If you’re looking for steps you can take to cope with the loss of a loved one, keep reading below.
Coping With the Loss of a Loved One
No matter which type of grief you are experiencing, or if you’ve gone through different stages, you may still need help coping with the loss of a loved one. While experiencing the loss of a loved one is never easy, there are steps that you can take to help yourself cope. Again, just as there are different types of grief, there are many different coping mechanisms, and no two people will find the same relief from the same process. Coping with the loss of a loved one is a very personal experience, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Below are some steps that you can take.
Accept the feelings as they come
Don’t put a timeline on coping with your loss, and don’t tell yourself that you should feel certain things at certain times. You may experience an overwhelming sense of emotion at an odd time, such as sitting at a stoplight or cooking dinner. This is okay. Allow yourself to feel these feelings.
Avoid making major life changes
Coping with the loss of a loved one is a difficult time that results in increased stress and heightened emotions. Even if you’re experiencing absent grief and believe you’re fine, it’s best to take some time before making any major changes such as buying a new house or changing jobs. It’s also important to recognize that sometimes people do these things as a means of filling a void that has been left by the loss of a loved one.
Many times, people are overcome with feelings of regret and remorse following the loss of a loved one. In order to effectively cope with your loss it’s important to forgive yourself for anything that may have happened in the past.
Find ways to focus on the little things
While you shouldn’t put a timeline on how long you should cope with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to maintain a sense of routine. Find time to watch a movie, read a book, or get dinner with friends. Even a few short hours of distraction can be beneficial to your mental and emotional well-being during such a difficult time.
Cherish positive memories
While reliving great memories may bring tears to your eyes, remembering your loved one at their best moments is the best tribute you can pay to their lives. Think back on that amazing vacation you took together, or even something as small as a dinner you shared. Know that these memories are something that you can never lose.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Coping with the loss of a loved one can be extremely difficult and there’s no shame in asking for help. There are lots of options, and don’t feel as if you have to go through this process alone. There are peer support groups for those who have suffered a major loss, and seeking the support of family members or friends who understand what you’re going through can be crucial to the coping process.
Most importantly, if the feelings you’re experiencing are impacting your life in an extremely negative or dangerous way, seek the help of a professional. There are grief and bereavement therapists who are specifically trained in the area of helping those who are struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one.
When you suffer the loss of a loved one you may go through many different stages of grief and find yourself wondering how to cope with such an immense loss. You are not alone. Your feelings and experiences are valid and real, and know that over the course of time it will get easier.