Last month’s column discussed what grief can look and feel like and the different stages of grief. Adjusting to the death of someone close to us takes time, and the expression “grief …
Last month’s column discussed what grief can look and feel like and the different stages of grief. Adjusting to the death of someone close to us takes time, and the expression “grief work” says it all. To grow around it, and get to the other side of it, is the work.
After the death, the memorial services, and all the unfinished business, the reality of the loss often truly settles in. Life is different now. What to do?
Ignoring grief by staying busy or avoiding painful emotions can delay healing and even lead to physical symptoms. “Sucking it up” is not the answer. There are some basic recommendations, including what NOT to do.
After experiencing a death, whenever possible avoid making any major life decisions for several months to a year. During a time when you are vulnerable physically, emotionally and/or spiritually, you may not have the best perspective. Additional stressors such as a move or a job change may overwhelm you and result in decisions you later regret. Also, do not set any deadlines for when you should be “over it.” Emotions are unpredictable.
It sounds like common sense but be gentle with yourself and feel whatever emotions come your way. Finding a good listener, someone you trust and can openly share your feelings with, is a salve. Telling your story over and over (and over) helps to process what has happened.
Grieving people need to talk, and for those of us doing the listening, we can offer a safe and compassionate place for them to sit down next to us. We do not need to fix anything, simply bear witness. It is powerful and healing.
Journaling is another way to express your feelings by putting them down on paper. Grieve fully — but keep living. Balance your grief work with activities or hobbies that helped you cope in the past, such as nature, yoga, art, sports, prayer, or cooking. Setting aside a specific time each day to reflect on the loss may help you to move on to and enjoy other activities with less distraction and maybe less guilt.
The anniversary of the loved one’s death and holidays may be especially difficult. Plan for this by starting new traditions or spending the day with friends and family who understand.
Everyday tips include keeping to a routine, exercising, and eating healthy foods. Find things and people that bring a smile to your face and keep them close. For some, a keepsake that reminds them of the deceased can be comforting. It could be a watch, a book, a photograph, or a piece of clothing that connects them to the deceased.
It may not be for everyone, but there are companies that even create stones, jewelry, and other items out of cremated remains.
Bereavement support groups can be helpful and reinforce that you are not alone. Most hospices offer a variety of grief support groups, and there are faith-based and online options as well. Individual grief support is available if preferred. Find reading material that resonates and consoles you: poetry, inspirational quotes, scripture, or medical self-help books. There is a growing number of resources and websites that offer bereavement support, and a few are listed below.
Normal or uncomplicated grief typically does not require medical intervention. If you have experienced several other losses, maybe a job, a pet, a divorce, or the death of someone else close to you, you may be at risk for more complicated grief. If you feel that your grief is getting worse rather than better and is affecting your ability to function, consider seeking professional counseling or follow up with your primary care provider.
People who are grieving tend to feel a range of emotions along with episodes of sadness. If grief leads into a major depression, however, feelings of sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness are more constant and interfere with managing daily activities. This should be evaluated and treated by a medical professional or mental health provider. There are options for help as well if you are feeling that your life is no longer worth living without your loved one, including The National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
With time, with work, you may slowly find that the memories are less painful. The loss becomes woven into a new frame of reference, and you can start to live in the present and look to the future. There will be some steps forward and some back, but you will begin to sense that you are heading in the right direction. The loss is never forgotten, and when we speak of our loved ones and remember them, they still exist in the world.
Bonnie Evans, RN, MS, GNP-BC, lives in Bristol and is a geriatric nurse practitioner and End of Life Doula. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.