At some point, we all end up dealing with grief. It’s one of the few guarantees in life.
Therefore, what is grief anyway? In simple terms, it’s deep sadness caused by loss. This loss can be of a person, but not always. You might grieve the loss of a pet, relationship (marriage, friendship, etc.), job, home and yes, a loved one.
Grief is a part of our world and is shared by all races, religions, financial classes and age groups. Because of this, it can actually connect all of us together. However, in spite of this, dealing with grief can sometimes feel very isolating. You think no one can possibly know how you feel. Just know that you can come out of a grieving period with joy and gratitude.
Five stages of grief have been identified, after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ groundbreaking book On Death and Dying. They are shock and denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance, although not always in that order. In addition, not all stages are felt by everyone when they’re grieving.
As an example, when my father passed away, I wasn’t in denial, because I knew it was only a matter of days before he passed. However, the pain of losing one of the most influential people in my life was still very strong and real, and something that I still feel, on occasion.
The stages are simply a way to try to make some sense of a seemingly senseless situation, a way to make dealing with grief a little easier.
As I mentioned before, grief does not only involve the loss of a loved one. We can grieve anything that involves a loss. Furthermore, it’s completely normal to feel that sadness. Just because you didn’t experience the death of a family member doesn’t mean your grief is any less real.
A job loss can be a very stressful event. I lost my job a number of years ago and definitely went through the stages of grief. I was absolutely shell-shocked and in denial, because the job loss was unexpected. I became angry thinking that it wasn’t fair and I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. In addition, I went through a period of depression, where I felt numb and unsure of what to do next. Finally, I accepted that I was in a better place and could learn from the experience rather than dwell on the negative.
You might feel this grief after losing a home to foreclosure or a long-term friendship. You likely will feel sorrow after losing financial security or getting divorced. All of these events are stressful and can trigger the same stress response as losing a loved one. They are no less important and need to be addressed in the same way as a death.
Actually, you can even think of them as a death of sorts: the death of a friendship or marriage or career. Maybe that can help to validate the painful feelings and work through the grief.
How to cope with grief
You might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but what do I do with all of this anguish that I’m feeling?”
1) Acknowledge the grief– First of all, take a deep breath and know that it’s okay to be sad for a while. You have to give yourself the time to feel the emotions, as hard as it is. If it’s simply too painful to bear, consider seeking professional help. That doesn’t mean you get to avoid and numb the heartache with meds. You deserve better than that. However, sometimes we need outside help on a temporary basis, including pharmaceuticals. And, once again, that’s okay.
2) Accept your feelings– We need to be more accepting of the despair felt after a major loss and realize that it is completely normal and won’t last forever. We also need to realize that grief by itself is NOT a mental illness. Therefore, depression, as a stage of grief, is also NOT a mental illness.
3) Talk to someone– It’s important to talk to someone that you trust about the turbulent emotions you are feeling, whether a best friend or a therapist. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to and acknowledge what you are saying.
After the aforementioned job loss, I was embarrassed to talk about it. However, one of my best friends who had a similar experience was very understanding and basically said, “It sucks right now, but you will get through this and be just fine.”
4) Get out in nature– Getting outside amongst the trees and plants and flowers is extremely therapeutic, as discussed here. Even just a few minutes of listening to the birds or the wind or feeling the sun on your face can truly improve your mood.
5) Make time for self care– This might seem obvious, but is often overlooked in our busy lives. As mothers, we often take care of everyone BUT ourselves. However, this is the time to take care of yourself.
Sleep more. Get out in nature. Get help with your children or cleaning or dinner. Actively work on stress relief, as that system will be completely overwhelmed. Take a warm, soothing bath. Read a book. Do whatever it is that relaxes you. Self-care is not selfish, as discussed here, but necessary when dealing with grief.
6) Don’t isolate– Surround yourself with people who love and support you without judgement. Sometimes you just need someone to be your rock, instead of being the rock for everyone else. Just having someone to sit with or take a walk with can be very comforting.
You don’t need anyone who wants to give unwanted advice or to tell you how to feel. You don’t need someone to fix it for you or to tell you, “You should do this or that.” You will know they are the right person when you feel better after you are with them.
How to support someone who is grieving
For those who feel helpless watching a loved one struggle with their grief, there are some things you can do as well.
- Listen– Just listen to them without judgment or comment. Let them talk as long as they need to and say “I hear you.” In addition, be willing to sit in silence with them if that’s what they need.
- Bring them dinner– That is often the last thing anyone wants to worry about. Be aware of any food intolerances or allergies. Then, just drop it off and go (unless they want to chat).
- Take a walk with them- Preferably out in nature if possible.
- Help around their house– Mow their yard. Take out their trash. Volunteer to babysit or transport their children to and from activities. If you’re comfortable enough, just do what needs to be done without asking. Obviously, this might be awkward with an acquaintance, but could work with a close friend or family member.
- Say a prayer- Either for them or with them (it works both ways). It doesn’t matter if they’re religious or not. Our prayers have energy and can provide comfort and strength, regardless of religious beliefs.
- Check on them often- Most people aren’t going to ask for the help they need. That’s why it’s important to just quickly check in and see how they’re doing. That doesn’t mean you hound them with phone calls and visits. However, a simple text to let them know you’re thinking of them could improve their day.
If you are currently dealing with grief, just know that it will get easier and eventually the pain will lessen. That doesn’t mean that you will forget what you have lost, especially if the loss was a person. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my dad.
It just means that you have moved on to accepting the situation and learned how to live with it. I want to end with a must-see video by Marie Forleo for anyone dealing with grief that really touched me.
In addition, if you or anyone around you has suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline– 1-800-273-8255. Be sure to seek out professional help if you need it. This post is not meant to be a substitution for that.
Please leave comments below about how you get through the difficult periods in life. Also, please share this with anyone who is having a tough time after loss. Let them know that they are not alone.
“In avoiding our sadness we avoid our lives. Learning from sadness can bear great fruit, and avoiding it can have hidden costs.”