Coping with Grief and Loss – 2. Take Care of Yourself

When you are grieving, it is most important to continue to take care of yourself.  The stress of a major loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves.  Looking after your emotional and physical health needs will help you get through this difficult time.

Accept your loss.

There is light ahead!

I reiterate what I wrote in ‘The Journey of Grief’ – grief is not an illness.  It is a journey, a process that is frequently uncomfortable, stressful and painful.  There is no easy way out.  There is no ‘cure.’  However, healing is possible and the main help toward this is time.  There is light at the end of the tunnel but for now it is about living through the darkness.  Can you accept that?  The rest of this page supposes that you can.  If this is not true for you, you may need some help from a bereavement counsellor or other mental health practitioner.  What help can you find in your community?  Your doctor will know where help can be found.

Face your feelings.

You can try to suppress your grief, but you cannot avoid it forever.  In order to heal, you have to acknowledge the pain.  Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process.  Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as clinical depression, severe anxiety, substance abuse and physical health problems.

Express your feelings creatively.

For example:

Write about your loss in a journal.

If you have lost a loved one, write a letter saying the things you never said but wish you had.

Make a scrapbook or photo album celebrating the person’s life.

Get involved in a cause or organization that was important to them.

Look after your physical health.

You are a whole person.  When you feel good physically, you will also feel better emotionally.  Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating healthily and exercising.  Do not use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially.

Look after your appearance

In some cultures there are traditions such as wearing black for 12 months after the death of a loved one.  There may be an expectation of public weeping or maintaining unkempt hair.  Follow the customs that you must or wish to but when the mourning period is over revert to you usual standards of dress, personal hygiene, hair care etc.  As you look better you will feel better and the time taken to do this is a useful time for reflection.

Do not accept what anyone else tells you about how you should feel.

Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it is time to ‘move on’ or ‘get over it.’  Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment.  It is okay to be angry, to shout at God, to cry or not to cry.  It is also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, and to let go when you are ready.

Plan how you can better cope with grief ‘triggers.’

Anniversaries, holidays and other milestones can reawaken memories and feelings.  Be prepared for an emotional relapse, and know that it is completely normal.  If you are sharing a holiday or family event with other relatives, talk to them beforehand about their expectations and agree on strategies to honour the person you loved.

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