Coping with Grief and Loss
The loss of a beloved friend, partner, pet, or family member can be one of the most devastating experiences a person can go through. The pain of the loss is often both physically and emotionally harrowing. While grief is a universal experience, we often receive messages that make it difficult for us to grieve in the ways we need. Here are some ways to cope with your grief if you are currently struggling with the death of someone you dearly love.
Let yourself feel your feelings: When grieving, you may have heard messages from well-meaning people in your life to “put on a positive face,” “they would have wanted you to be happy,” “you need to be strong for your children/husband/siblings,” “don’t cry.” While these messages are meant to provide comfort, they often have the unintended effect of making someone experiencing grief feel that they need to hold back their emotions. When grieving, it is important to know that it is okay to feel whatever emotions come up, whether they be emotions of anger, regret, sadness, relief, dejection, hopelessness, confusion, overwhelm, or any other feeling that comes up along the way. It is okay to cry as much as you want or need to and allow yourself to release your emotions.
Practice non-judgment of yourself and your emotions: You may find yourself judging certain emotions that come up along the way, such as feelings of relief or perhaps feelings of anger toward the person who has died. You may also judge yourself during instances where you may not be thinking about your deceased loved one or find yourself happy and smiling about some other instance in your life. Know that it is okay to have moments where something makes you laugh or feel happy, and that this in no way negates the gravity of your grief or the intensity of your love for the person who has died. DBT encourages dialectical thinking, in which a person can acknowledge and validate all seemingly contradictory emotions, so know that it is okay if moments of relief or happiness coincide with your pain.
Know that there is no timeline to grief and that grief is not linear: You may hear messages that it’s time to get over your grief or you may have overheard others judging someone else’s grief in such a way. Grief is not something we “get over.” It is something we learn to move alongside with as we go through life. Know that your grief may grow in intensity around anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays. This is perfectly natural and normal, and again, it can help to validate and normalize any reactions you may have days, months, and years after the death of your loved one.
Grief over your pet is valid: I’ve had prospective clients sheepishly share with me that they want support for the death of their pet. They’ll often share that they feel it’s not valid for them to feel the pain that they do over the loss of their pet and will often judge or shame themselves for the deep hurt they are feeling. Our pets provide a connection and relationship that is unique and precious. They offer an unconditional love that is rare to experience in our human relationships. It is perfectly valid to mourn the death of your pet as you would the death of your loved one. It is also absolutely valid if you mourn your pet more than other losses you’ve experienced. It is valid to seek support for this unique kind of loss and to know that the pain of losing your pet is oh-so-valid and real.
Grief over a miscarriage is valid: The pain of a miscarriage is one of the most difficult hurts a person can experience. The loss of a baby that was growing within you, that you had bonded with, and that you had begun to imagine a future with, can be unimaginably heart wrenching. Yet this type of grief is not often discussed openly and is often invalidated. A mother who has lost a pregnancy may feel she is not allowed to feel her grief because “she wasn’t pregnant for very long.” There can be a sense of expectation or pressure to “get over” this kind of loss. Know that it is valid to process this grief and allow yourself all the time you need to experience the pain from this loss.
Connect with people who can validate your pain: It can help to seek out people in your life who are able to listen to and validate your experiences. We can feel so fragile, delicate, and raw when we are grieving and the support of someone who is able to listen without judgment and honor your emotions is invaluable. During these times, it may also be wise to protect yourself from conversations with those you anticipate may invalidate your pain.
Find support: Grief support groups are common in many areas across the country and a Google search can help connect you to groups in your area. It can help to share with others who are experiencing grief too and to hear others share about thoughts and feelings they have had which are similar to yours. It can also help to speak with a therapist or grief counselor who can help you navigate the painful ebbs and flows that may arise as you grieve.