I’ve shared in a previous blog post on the Stages of Grief model by Kubler-Ross (see blog post here). But, what do you do once you recognize the cycle of grief? How do you move through it as gracefully as possible, feeling your feelings without being entirely overwhelmed by them and having them interfere with life long-term? How do you heal what needs healing, find peace with regrets and loss, and find comfort on the other side of loss without repressing or avoiding? This isn’t easy but it is so important. What’s also important? Not telling loved ones to ‘get over it’ or that ‘it’s about time’ their grief should be resolved. The truth is everyone’s process and journey are different, and people heal and find purpose or meaning in very different ways. Let’s commit to honoring and respecting variable coping styles diverse individuals and cultures may hold for grief resolution.
The grief giraffe is one of my favorite depictions of what grief feels like, especially grief around loss of a want, wish, job opportunity, disappointment, or relationship. Watch the Grief Giraffe here. This playful depiction of the stages of grief is very helpful for less emotionally charged loss but may not feel helpful when healing from the passing of a loved ones. A poem I find incredibly helpful for coping with death or sudden loss can be found here: Prayer_for_experiencing_Sudden_Loss.
What are options for navigating through the bereavement process and pursuing support? There are many you might explore.
- Grief support groups offer a meaningful, therapeutic outlet whereby survivors of come together to offer one another support. There are grief support groups for different types of loss, such as Survivors of Suicide, Veteran’s Bereavement Support Groups, etc. Each is unique, and the attendees and structure of each group may feel different. Please don’t hesitate to try several groups to find one that may feel most meaningful or helpful to you. Grief support groups are often offered through local community or recreational centers, senior centers, hospital systems, and church. Please don’t underestimate the power of connection that can be made there. I once met a group of lovely women traveling in Mexico who had met one another at a grief support group years prior. In their loss they found one another and grew that support group to a network of friendships and social outlets. If you find that you are still holding on to great resentment or pain in your loss due to a strongly held tie to a loved ones, you might also consider recovery-oriented support groups such as CODA. Learn more at www.coda.org.
- Seek individual therapy to work on your grief and resolution strategies on a deeper, more personal level. Identify roadblocks you might have and how you might most gracefully move through them along your journey of growth. See a sample grief resolution letter I’ve established to help clients Release with Love here.
- Anticipate a wide range of emotions, including guilt, anger, tearfulness, and regret, especially in the months most immediately following a passing, especially around special dates such as birthdays, holidays, anniversary dates, and certainly the date of passing. Plan to show oneself and loved ones extra patience, understanding, compassion, and kindness at these times (and beyond). Plan to spend time with them (unless of course they prefer alone time). Meet their love language and show up for them in the ways they express as most meaningful. Ask them directly what they might want/need. Remember, people generally don’t want to be a burden on others and may not tell you what they want/need unless they’ve been asked and feel certain this would welcome.
- Engage in positive, comforting rituals/routines, and reinforce new patterns that honor the gifts and contributions your loved one/person lost brought to your life. Honor them in a positive light and be careful to avoid focusing only on what has been lost. Thank them out loud and/or in writing each time you do something that they helped enrich. I lost a friend to suicide after college and it was devastating wondering whether I’d missed signs, whether I’d been enough, whether I should have/could have done more. I wrote his mother a letter and shared with her all of the memories I’d cherish and all of the beauty he brought to my life that I would forever cherish. He introduced me to sushi and Starbucks so I think of him anytime I enjoy sushi or an iced latte. Thank you my sweet Alex. You are never forgotten. My father instilled so many incredible gifts in my life from patience to compassion for all. Anytime I need remainder to refrain from judgment or structure, I thank my father for reminding me and teaching me to have patience and grace with myself and others. I think of the smile he’d give me and his playful jokes and thank him for loving me so much. I thank him for setting an example for the feeling I will recognize when I feel loved and seen. I see my sadness around his loss as a reminder of the amazing gift I had in me. After all, what would it mean about him and his life if I didn’t feel that sadness and loss? He was incredible and certainly lives on through me and my mother daily.
- Journaling, meditating, establishing a daily routine of wishing your loved one a good morning or good night is a lovely and peaceful way to keep their memory alive in a positive and honoring way. Talk to family about what you loved most about your lost loved one and keep the beauty of alive trusting that they were a reminder of what you want to find (or perhaps create) more of in life. As you’ll know from reading my book, Don’t Be a Stranger, I’m a huge advocate for spreading kindness by engaging strangers and igniting light, playfulness, curiosity, and a sense of adventure everywhere you go. Every person you’ve met and been in relationship with has prepared you for someone/something special in life. One of my clients loved to sit by candlelight as she journaled and shared with her loved one the special things she’d done that day with her loved one on her mind and spirit. The message was one of “I loved enjoying this with you, in spirit” rather than “I wish you’d been there for …”
- Engage in prayer. Connect with your higher power to find additional comfort and spiritual relief. Pray for the love you want and the love you had. Wish for your loved one’s peace, and thank your Higher Power for the time you had. Engage in self-care regularly. Maintain a daily routine that reminds you of the value of waking up each day, that gives you something to look forward to, to wake up for…remember, there is a reason you’re still here, perhaps to spread the message of love inside of you. Get out of bed, get dressed even if you have nowhere specific to go, and treat yourself honorably.
Read about an intervention I created call the Release with Love Letter here. Wishing you so much peace.