coping with grief

Coping with Grief

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given.  -Mary Oliver

In the midst of loss, life can feel unbearable. Whether it’s the death of a family member, friend, or beloved pet; or the loss of a relationship, job, or dream; grieving the death, end, or closure to possibility of someone or something can cause significant distress. Emotions such as anger, confusion, sadness (and possibly depression), anxiety, and guilt may occur. Often, we’ll have trouble processing the loss and knowing how to move through our grief. But as we all experience loss in one form or another, coping with grief is an important skill to learn.

Founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, when speaking about grieving the loss of a loved one, says something to the effect of, “Go to the grave site and visit. Bring flowers. But don’t build a home there.” When you think about your grief process, do you visit your loved one’s grave, or have you built a home there?

There’s no manual for grieving. Each individual will grieve uniquely, in a manner consistent with their history (including history of loss), current circumstances, and psychology. While everyone’s grief will run a different course, we know that certain aspects of grieving are crucial:

  1. Go through the emotions rather than around them. It’s human nature to want to avoid painful feelings and experiences. But, we know that avoiding feelings doesn’t make them go away; in fact, it’s the exposure to the feelings that allows them to coarse through us. Acceptance of your loss and of all the feelings that come up around it is key. Understand that feelings come in waves and practice riding out the waves.
  2. Take breaks and distract. Despite the importance of feeling our feelings, it’s necessary to pace ourselves. Taking breaks from difficult feelings and memories can be helpful when coping with grief. Whether it’s distracting by watching television, going for a walk outside, or connecting with someone on a topic outside of your loss, these distractions can allow you to return to your grief, continuing the process for the duration.
  3. Be mindful of distracting behaviors that can have negative consequences. It’s important to understand that some distractions can negatively impact your functioning. Turning to alcohol or drugs to distract or self-soothe, or using other addictive behaviors, such as gambling, shopping, or compulsive exercise, can lead to additional struggles down the road. Attending to your physical and mental health is critical as you grieve.
  4. Reach out for support. Most people will rely on the support of friends and family and/or mental health professionals to help them through this process. When coping with grief, use all of the resources available to you. Know that if a relationship feels unbalanced because you are relying so much on a loved one, this won’t be forever, and mutual support is what relationships are about. Your friend or family member will likely understand your repeated need to share your feelings, ask questions, seek reassurance, and mull over your loss.
  5. Know this is a process. Again, there’s no charted path and  no specific timeline on grief. Be patient and refrain from judging the time it takes for you to recover. Also keep in mind that there might be ebbs and flows in your healing. Perhaps you’ll feel like you’ve made significant strides in the last couple of weeks only to be hit by a wave of distress one day. That’s all par for the course. Over time, your trajectory will stabilize, and the difficult moments will be spaced further and further apart.  You’ll come to recognize that the pain is less intense, that you feel a little more yourself, and that you have accepted and assimilated the loss.

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