Coping With Grief After Someone Has Died
Here are some simple tips to help you through the grieving process.
Grief is a complex and highly personal process that can be overwhelming at times.
Coping with grief can include self-compassion, acceptance, embracing social support, and prioritizing rest.
Awareness of using unhelpful coping strategies that help one avoid grief is important.
Losing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences a person can go through. It can feel like your whole world has fallen apart, like nothing makes sense anymore. You can’t understand the concept of the person not living anymore; it doesn’t compute in your brain because they were just here, and now they are not.
Sometimes, there can be a shutting down that happens: a numbness that protects you, at least temporarily, from the acute pain that losing someone can cause. At other times, there can be a huge wave of different emotions that hit you all at once. When you have lost someone, you learn quickly that grief is highly individual, unpredictable, and incredibly hard to cope with.
How to cope with grief
Grieving is a long process of coming to terms with and accepting the reality of the loss and gradually learning to live without the person. In this article, we outline some practical ways to cope with the grieving process following the death of a loved one.
Acceptance and self-compassion
Grieving is messy. It involves so many different emotions that can feel intensely overwhelming, especially in the first few days and weeks after the loss. There will be times when these emotions can feel like you are immersed and sinking in the pool of grief; at other times, you might feel like you are frantically trying to keep your head above water. Accepting that intense, painful emotions are part of the grief process can help; so rather than judging yourself for experiencing them, thoughts like “I should be coping better,” try and take a self-compassionate approach—tell yourself it is OK to feel this and allow them to come and go.
Find your anchors
When you are experiencing the painful emotions of grief, one way to cope is to find an anchor to ground yourself. This can be as simple as focusing on your breathing and slowing it down slightly. Or bringing your awareness to something external in your environment—this could be the tea cup in front of you or a tree in the garden—and then describing to yourself all the details of that scene: what you see, what you hear, the colors, the textures, etc.
The importance of rest
Grieving is an active process that takes energy and can make you feel exhausted. What can compound this is disturbed sleep, where you may be waking early, having vivid dreams, or feeling unable to get to sleep. All of this can make you feel like your mind is full of cotton wool; perhaps you are unable to think clearly, or your memory isn’t good. It can also feel like your head is full and empty at the same time.
All of this is depleting, and it is important that you respond to this appropriately. Compassionately ask yourself: What do I need to help me through this? Rest and taking things slow are key when you are exhausted from grief. So, taking time off work, getting help with childcare, and delegating your usual tasks or responsibilities where possible will help.
Dealing with death admin
Something that doesn’t often get talked about is the stressful nature of dealing with the practical side of someone’s death and all of the admin that goes along with this. For example, how to inform the different agencies and organizations, such as pensions, income tax, banks, phone companies, etc. If you are named as an executor in the will, this becomes even more complex as you then have certain legal responsibilities to manage the person’s estate.
The added burden of death admin can compound the painful feelings and sense of overwhelm in the grief process, and if you are experiencing memory difficulties and exhaustion, such as described above, it is incredibly difficult to navigate this part of the journey. One way to manage this is to simply get help with it. Whether that’s other family members, friends, or external agencies such as a solicitor, having someone help you organize how to approach the death admin is going to help.
Use your support system.
You may want to isolate yourself when you are grieving, shutting down, and becoming lost in your thoughts and memories of the person, but too much of that is ultimately going to be unhelpful. A healthier approach is to use your support system: Tell them what you need and ask for their help, whether that is practical in nature, like helping with the laundry or meals, or needing a shoulder to cry on. If you are grieving alone, reach out to the many organizations out there that have phone lines and people you can talk to.
Watch out for unhelpful coping strategies.
It is natural to want respite from the pain of grieving; at times of intense distress, human beings tend to try and reduce the impact of this distress by various means. For example, you may find yourself drinking more alcohol, eating more, or isolating yourself. If used a lot, these behaviors can get in the way of healthy grieving because they prevent actually feeling and processing painful emotions.
If you notice that you are avoiding your grief by engaging in unhelpful behaviors, consider seeking professional help. Having therapy or grief counseling can be transformative for someone’s grief process, enabling a safe space to process difficult feelings and learn coping skills.
Liz White DClinPsy, CPsychol - website