Some Suggestions for the Grief Journey

If you are like me, you probably dislike being given advice by people who think they have all the solutions. You probably want to solve your own problems and find your own way. I respect that attitude. By making you aware of some of the challenges you may face, these few suggestions may help you through your grief journey.

Be patient with yourself

Grief takes longer than you will expect, and some people need more time than others to work through their situation. Trust yourself. You may discover why you are experiencing what you are feeling, for there is a reason. As John Donne says, “He who has no time to mourn has no time to mend.

Give yourself permission to grieve

After a loss, people often ask themselves, “Am I losing it?” What is the it they feel they are losing? They have lost the ordinary reference points that previously anchored their life and their sense of self. Your loved one helped to bring meaning and security to your life. Now you will have to find new reference points and anchors to give that stability. Grief is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you are missing a special relationship. You are not losing your mind; you are reacting to the absence of someone you cared about. What you are experiencing is normal.

Learn as much as you can about grief

Make sure you have accurate information about grief and what reactions you can expect. Remember, however, that the focus of grief is not on your ability to understand but on your ability to feel. Recognize that your grief process will be unique and work through your feelings in your own way. What others think does not matter. Your loss and your response will be appropriate for you.

Move THROUGH the pain

Grief is painful and we cannot escape that reality. People sometimes try to move you away from pain. It is certainly understandable that you would like to avoid pain. Avoid turning to tranquilizers or alcohol in order to deaden the pain. When indicated, use medication appropriately under the care of a medical doctor. However, medication must not be used as a Band-Aid. Bandages have their purpose, but eventually you have to take them off to allow the healing process to be completed. Realize that you have wounds which need careful attention.

Be aware of your limitations

After a death, concentration is often affected. If you work with machinery of in a dangerous environments, be aware that your reactions could be slower and take adequate precautions. Another potential dangerous situation is driving the car. Some will go through the motions without being conscious of what they are doing, going through red lights or finding themselves on unknown highways, going places where they didn’t set out to go. Obviously this problem presents a danger for you and for others. Recognize the situations that could present particular challenges during this difficult time.

Ask for and accept help

Try not to isolate yourself. Accept the help and support of others and let them know what you need. People often say, “If there’s anything I can do, don’t hesitate to let me know”. Most mean it, and the rest don’t matter. Sometimes you wonder why people haven’t called or come around, but often they do not know what to do or say. Ask them to help. You may think you should not have to ask, but in our busy world sometimes we have to ask for what we need. Your friends will be likely be happy you asked and glad to respond.

Be good to yourself

Your loss may seem to be on your mind constantly. Once in a while you will need to take a break. Go for a walk; do something you want to do; feel free to be spontaneous and even to have some fun. It is not a sign of disrespect or an act of disloyalty. Because grief is a difficult experience and demands a lot of energy, you need to look after yourself. What would you like to do today, just for yourself? If you do feel a little guilty, ask yourself, “What would I want my loved one to do if they were grieving me? You would probably say “Look after yourself”, so accept that as their wish for you. To avoid grief overload, find ways of replenishing yourself during and following the strain of your loss

Try to remember, try not to forget

Memories can be very painful. Yet your memories are trying to help you come to terms with this new situation. It is important to relive the memories we have of the person and the relationship. Eventually you will realize that memories have a healing quality, and your memories will change from causing pain to bringing great happiness. You will never forget the person, but the pain will diminish.

Share with those who have “been there”

While an experience of loss does not make one an expert in grief, sharing with others who have had similar experience brings some relief. Knowing you are not alone allows you to share some of your feelings and receive validation for emotions and behaviours that may at times seem unusual and uncharacteristic. Perhaps there is a group at your church or a support group in your community, or a group f friends with similar experiences who can get together, talk, and possibly work through some of the issues with you.

Feel free to protest the WHY of death

Many people do not understand that “why” is not so much a question as a cry of pain. Often there is no satisfactory answer to the question. Even a belief in God or in the life beyond does not always resolve or questions about life and death, or pain and suffering. To come to believe that there is meaning or purpose, even though you may not understand, is true faith. Sometimes living your life in response to the questions rather than to the answers can bring peace and harmony.

Accept that life is different now

Life will never be the same again, although that does not mean that life will not go on, or that you will never be happy of fulfilled again. Whatever happens will nonetheless be different. Fully experiencing your grief can help you to accommodate to a new situation in which your loved one is no longer present. How you allow yourself to be affected by the changes will determine your direction. Life is full of changes, but change can also be full of life.

Take responsibility for your own happiness

Only you can decide if you will triumph over grief or whether it will vanquish you. Make a decision to survive and not let this event destroy your life. While it is good to accept help and have the support of others, the ultimate responsibility for your life and your happiness lies within yourself. Why not make that decision now? “I’m going to make it. I’m going to work through this situation. I’m going to survive.” That doesn’t mean the situation is going to be easy, but the strongest force in the universe is the determination of the human spirit.

Acknowledge the smallest triumph as a major victory

Commend yourself for little things. Life is not back to normal, but you made it through a Sunday, or you were able to look at a photograph without tears, or listen to a song without falling apart. Life after loss is one painful step and one day at a time. You are better now than you were a few months ago. Reorganization does not happen all at once: make sure your goals are realistic and reachable. Remind yourself to be satisfied at all the significant milestones along the journey, not just when you get to the decision.

Hold onto Hope

While you must never minimize the pain and difficulty of grief, you can trust that someday this pain will subside and life will have meaning again. There is a purpose in all of this, even if you are not able to see it. As you find the grace and strength to go on, the feelings of grief will be less painful and less frequent. You will begin to pick up the threads of your life and look toward the future with hope and even pleasure.

From When Someone You Care About Dies
by Dr. Bill Webster