Experiencing loss is a major life event. Many people go through immense emotional distress or trauma, and not just at the time the loss happens. While the holidays are known to be one of the hardest times of year for people navigating grief, there is unfortunately no timeline for pain. In this blog, we hope we can shed some light on the grief process and provide you with helpful ways of coping with grief during your hardest times throughout the year.
The following is a story from someone experiencing grief during the first year after loss:
“Before last year, I had been incredibly blessed not to know the experience of losing someone I loved. Don’t get me wrong, I had attended funerals for people I cared deeply about, and I watched my best friend experience more loss than anyone should have to endure at an early time in her life. I knew what it felt like to hurt for someone who was hurting. I had seen what grief and loss looked like for other people, but I couldn’t empathize with the same feelings until a year ago.
It was a Saturday night, the night before my dad’s birthday. Most of my family was together laughing and celebrating him turning another year older. My younger brother made a two hour drive to celebrate with us, and I looked forward to catching up on how his new career was going. The noise was a little loud in the living room (I didn’t realize at the time how much I’d miss that noise – the talking, the laughter, the joy), so my brother and I decided to take a moment to go to another room to chat about how life had been going. We were so caught up in the conversation, we didn’t notice when the noise suddenly stopped.
We didn’t notice when my dad received a phone call, or when he quietly said there had been an accident. We didn’t notice until my aunt came into the room with a look on her face that I will never forget.
‘Your uncle was in a car accident. He didn’t make it.’
The next few minutes were a blur of emotion and disbelief. I had a million thoughts running through my head. How could he have died in a one car accident? Was the weather bad? I hadn’t noticed bad weather. How can he be gone? He was only 52. He was supposed to be off work and heading to the birthday party soon.
The laughter from five minutes before turned into silence, then into wailing. My grandma had never cried in front of me before. She’s the strongest woman I’d ever known. To this day, I can still hear her screaming ‘my baby’ over and over again while she cried with my grandpa on the living room chair. I can still hear my dad sobbing uncontrollably in the garage. I didn’t know what to do or how to help.
I wasn’t crying… should I be crying? Everyone around me was crying. I couldn’t make a sound. I just stood there numb, not knowing who to comfort. The whole night doesn’t feel real sometimes.
It would take a month before I truly cried. My grandpa passed away a little over a month after my uncle, right before Christmas. He had just gone home after being in the hospital for a few days. He was found unresponsive the next morning. My grandma says he died of a broken heart.
Sometimes I feel guilty for feeling as much grief as I do. I lost both my uncle and my grandpa, but my aunt and grandma lost their husbands. My dad lost his brother and dad. I know grief has no limitations or boundaries, but I can’t help thinking about how much deeper their pain must be. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, because I know I’m hurting, too.
Small things make me tear up now, even a year later. I think about this being the second Christmas without them, and how much quieter family gatherings are now. I think of all the hugs I’ll miss out on, and all the ‘how’s my goddaughter’ greetings from my uncle I won’t hear anymore. I’ll never see the loving way my grandpa looked at my grandma again. Their faces now only exist in pictures and memories. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard.
I’ve heard that coping with grief takes time. The smiles within my family have become more frequent. Our lives have continued, and we find times to laugh together. I don’t expect my grief to ever go away, but I find myself crying a little less and laughing a little more these days. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now, I’ve learned to appreciate the noise.”
WAYS TO COPE WITH GRIEF
Grief comes in many forms, including the loss of a loved one. No matter the reason, there are healthy ways to cope with the feeling of despair. Some ways to manage grief include:
Reach out to friends or family
Grief can be lonely. While some alone time may feel therapeutic, isolating yourself completely from others isn’t healthy. Reach out to others for support. Some of your friends or family may be feeling the same way you do and could use the comfort of shared grief. Allow people to take care of you if daily tasks become too overwhelming. However, don’t assume people know the extent of the hurt you’re going through. Let people know how you’re feeling and how they can help.
Write down the memories
Is there a particular day or memory that stands out involving your loss? Write it down. The memories are fresher now than they will be in the future. Any time you think of a happy memory, write it down. Start a collection to revisit later when you’re feeling particularly sad or lonely. Remember the good times to help cope with the bad.
Release your emotions
Whether you prefer to release emotions alone or in the company of others, take a moment to reflect on how you’re feeling and allow yourself to feel that way. Don’t compare your grief to others. The way you see someone handle grief could be completely different than your own way of coping. Stay strong for others if you need to, but give yourself time to express your feelings and release the tension of grief in a healthy way.
Look through photos and videos
A lot of videos and photos are taken during moments that people don’t want to forget. These moments can be comforting to look back on when you need a reminder of happy times. You might even look at them and remember a funny or happy moment that you had previously forgotten about. Seeing the person, circumstance, or thing you’ve lost again can relieve heartbreak, even if just for a moment.
On the other hand, pictures and videos could help you release emotions you might have been holding inside. Studies have shown that crying helps ease emotional pain.
This is also a reminder to take photos. Record videos. You’ll appreciate having them when all you want to do is see someone’s face or hear their voice again.
We’d like to preface this one by saying that while distracting yourself with healthy hobbies and activities is a good thing, it should not be a replacement for letting yourself feel grief. Avoiding your feelings can lead to more issues later on. Invest time into doing something you love to give yourself a break from the sadness or pain, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Join a support group
Research local support groups in your area or reach out to a religious community you’re comfortable with for support. Grief support groups bring people together that are experiencing different stages of grief for a variety of reasons. These allow you to connect with people who may have not otherwise known. Support groups give you a chance to share how you’re feeling while learning and receiving consolation from others.
Emotional triggers can happen unexpectedly. Luckily, there are ways to plan ahead for when triggers happen. Practice what you’ll do when they occur, such as performing breathing techniques or removing yourself from the situation. Plan ahead for situations or occasions, such as the holidays, that can cause uncomfortable emotions to arise. By creating a plan, you’ll be better prepared for grief triggers.
Talk to a professional
One of the most important things to remember is that you are not alone. If you find yourself needing more help or slipping into a dark place, talk to a professional. Therapists and grief counselors are trained to help people navigate the stages of grief while identifying ways of coping that work specifically for them. What worked for someone else may not be the best option for you, and a bereavement professional can work with you through every step of the grief process.
Grief does not have a one-size-fits-all coping solution, but we hope the above recommendations can help guide you through the pain you’re experiencing. The intense emotions and pain will eventually lessen over time as you learn to grow with your grief. You’ve probably heard that things get better with time a thousand times by now, but remember, it’s coming from people that have all coped with their own losses. You are not alone.
Need someone to talk to? Call Cornerstone at (217) 222-8254 or fill out our online appointment form. We understand your pain. We can help.