10 Practical Ways To Cope With Grief
10 ways to help you cope with your grief and help you heal after losing someone close to you
One reason for what makes grief so difficult to experience is that there is no way of ‘avoiding’ it. You can’t hit fast-forward to bypass it. It won’t magically disappear overnight. For some people, although those feelings of strong grief get less and less frequent, there will always be part of them that continues to grieve.
Keeping this in mind, the best thing you can hope for is to find your own ways of coping with grief, small actions that make the pain more bearable and endurable. Here are 10 proactive, practical tips that could help comfort you as much as possible.
1. Express your feelings
Psychologists have long discussed the benefits of expressing your emotions.
Talking about emotions has a noticeable effect on the brain and reduces the intensity of the emotion according to neuroscientists from UCLA. In short, it’s important that you find a way to pinpoint and accept how you are feeling. Talking to another is not always the solution, perhaps you can try writing a journal instead if you’re unsettled with talking about your grief.
2. Take care of yourself
Grief is often tied to disrupted sleep patterns and a loss of appetite. Not only can this have a major impact on your physical health but as well as your mental health, which will only make you feel progressively worse. While you can’t make your grief disappear with a snap of your fingers, keeping yourself physically healthy will give you the additional strength needed to deal with your emotions. Try to maintain a solid sleep schedule when you can and try to eat healthy and regularly.
3. Reach out to a support group
Support groups provide opportunities to people experiencing similar circumstances to come together, share their feelings and reassure others. You may find that meeting people who understand the situation you are currently experiencing, makes you feel less alone. If you are not ready to involve others or open up, you will not be obliged to talk. Contact a bereavement organisation to find a group close to you.
4. Try out volunteer work
There’s growing supporting evidence from various studies that involving yourself in volunteer work has a positive mental impact in certain circumstances. Apart from providing a way to clear your state of mind, contributing towards something that helps others can make you feel better about the world, give you that additional self-confidence needed and help you meet new people.
5. Start a new hobby
Finding a new hobby to preoccupy yourself can be a rewarding way to distract yourself occasionally and give you something to look forward to. Creative hobbies, ie: arts and crafts will help you attain a sense of achievement, while physical exertion or activities like sports will boost the chemicals in your brain responsible for positive emotions and keep you both mentally and physically healthy. According to many, gardening does both of these things by providing moderate physical exercise and a creative outlet.
6. Or revisit an old hobby
After losing someone you love you may have put your life on hold. You may have lost the once enthusiastic passion for many things you once enjoyed. In time, when you feel the time has come to start healing, you should think about returning to pre-existing hobbies and interests that you once enjoyed. Discovering that you can find enjoyment in the small things in life again can be an essential part of healing.
7. Try to maintain a routine
According to many, maintaining a routine gives a sense of structure and security to those going through uncertain times. Little things such as going to bed at a specific time or planning weekend activities can help. It will provide clarity and focus in at least one aspect of your life as you learn to cope with your grief.
8. Stay away from drugs and alcohol
Attempting to numb the pain of losing a loved one can be very tempting. You might steer to drugs and alcohol thinking that it will help you feel better, but any relief will only be temporary and in return you will only feel worse further down the road. If you are indeed drinking or taking drugs more frequently as a way of numbing your emotions, please contact a bereavement support organisation for advice and get the support you need.
9. Socialise with friends
Grieving in most instances is an isolating experience. If you feel like you need to be alone, there is nothing wrong with that. You have to grieve in the way most suitable to you. But maintaining social relationships during these periods can be an ideal way of getting the comfort and support you need. Try to arrange meet ups with friends in a location or environment that you are comfortable in. And remember – having fun during these times does not mean that you have forgotten about your loved one. The small moments of laughter and joy during grief are incredibly important and you do not need to feel guilty about them.
10. Find your token of remembrance
Dealing with grief doesn’t mean forgetting your loved one. Many people find comfort in thinking of ways to immortalize their loved one. You could keep a few of their possessions in your home, or have a dedicated photo album full of good memories. This way you can honour the memory of your loved one in a positive way and make sure they continue to take up a place in your heart and your life.
Coping with the Loss of a Spouse or Partner
Advice on grieving after the loss of a wife, husband, or partner
Whether you have lost your wife, husband, civil partner or long-term partner, the loss of someone who you love and share your life with will change everything. In the beginning you will feel that life will never be the same again, but with time the grieving process can and will eventually help you to heal.
1. The loss of a partner and the pain it causes
You choose to build a life with that person when you commit to being someone’s partner or spouse. When they pass away, part of your grief may be for the life you once had together. You may be grieving for your future, the future of your children, children you had planned to have together, or things left unfinished.
Chances are that they were an instrumental part of your day to day life and even a bigger part of how you think about yourself as a person. As you grieve you are making the transition from being ‘we’ to being ‘me’ and you may feel torn between the need to continue loving and remembering them and rediscovering who you are without them. Know that, as time passes, you can find a way to do both, and that this in no way means forgetting their significance to you.
Re-organizing your life after losing a partner is not a short process. You do not need to remove all traces of them from your daily life. In some cases, people may pressure you to throw out all of your loved one’s things in order to ‘fully move on’. You should not do this unless you feel it is the correct decision for you. You might never get rid of all their belongings, and there is nothing wrong with that. What matters is what feels right to you.
You may feel that the five stages of grief correlates to your feelings. Bear in mind that this list is just a rough guide to how grief commonly affects people and that grief is subjective, as it affects everyone differently. Do not be concerned if you don’t experience certain stages, if you move back and forth between them, or if you don’t recognise any of the stages within your own experience. Grief is unpredictable and subjective to each individual. Other feelings you may have include:
- Emptiness and numbness and, or being unable to cry. This in no way shape or form means that you didn’t love your partner enough, you are simply in shock and unable to process the overwhelming emotions that have been conjured to the surface.
- Feeling sick and physically weak. Grief can take its toll on your physical health. Try to eat well and get as much sleep as you can. Make sure to see a doctor if physical symptoms continue to affect you.
- Jealousy of others. You may envy those who have not lost their partner and find it difficult to be around prosperous couples.
- Fear and anxiety. The loss of your partner may further concern you for the wellbeing of others around you. You may also become anxious about things that seem to have no correlation, such as stepping out of the house or being around large groups.
2. Losing romantic intimacy
What makes losing a partner or spouse different from other types of grief is that you have lost the person who gives you romantic and intimate attention and affection. It is likely that you shared a level of intimacy with them, both emotionally and physically, that you feel you will never achieve with anyone else.
As you cope with the multitude of emotions that come with grief, you may find that physical affection is the last thing that comes to your mind. It may take extended amounts of time to be ready to love someone again, if ever. Do not rush into anything you don’t feel comfortable with.
However, you may also find yourself longing for the intimacy and comfort of your previous sexual relationship. This is a natural reaction to dealing with so much pain. It is more common than you might think for grieving partners to start a new physical relationship with someone right after the bereavement.
This often brings with it unsettling feelings of guilt. You might feel as though you have betrayed and cheated on your loved one, or you might realise afterwards that you initiated the new relationship because you were grieving. If this happens, try to remember that grief affects people in unpredictable ways. By wanting to be loved and comforted does not in any way mean you are forgetting or betraying your partner.
The best thing you can do in these situations is to acknowledge exactly what you are feeling and why that romantic relationship is happening – are you just seeking a shoulder to lean on, or do you have genuine feelings for that person?
3. Supporting your children
If you have had children with your partner, they will be grieving the loss of a parent. You will need to try to support them in their own grief as well as learning to cope with your own at the same time.
If they are young children this can be challenging, especially while caring for all their other needs, such as taking them to school, playdates, feeding them and trying to maintain some form of discipline. If possible, seek aid and support from your friends and other family members. They will be looking for practical ways to help you cope through this difficult time and you should hesitate to ask for help.
Bear in mind that children and teenagers can convey grief in very different ways. Educate yourself more about supporting bereaved children and bereaved teenagers to find out how you can look after their needs during bereavement.
4. Managing the estate
After the loss of a civil partner or spouse, you may be in charge of managing their estate. This includes notifying organisations and banks that they have passed on, overseeing the giving out of inheritance and settling any outstanding debts they had.
While experiencing grief, dealing with practical and legal problems can only add to the difficulties. Again, if friends and family offer support and assistance, do not be ashamed to take them up on their offer. You may also want to seek legal advice from a solicitor when dealing with inheritance and probate.
Read more about managing the estate and the various duties you will need to carry out if you have been declared an executor.
5. Moving towards healing
Right now it might feel impossible to even imagine a time when you will be back to normal. The sad truth is that no one really ‘gets over’ the loss of someone really close to them, in particular someone as close as a partner. Your grief will never fully diminish and there will probably always be a part of you that longs for your partner. It is true that your life will probably never be the same again, but you can, in time, find moments of happiness, tranquility and peace of mind.
The journey towards healing, however, is long. In order to help yourself grieve in a more healthy way, try doing the following:
- Stay physically healthy by eating healthy and sleeping well. Talk to your doctor if you are struggling to sleep properly or nourish yourself in a correct manner.
- Express your emotions. Let out those tears if you need to. Don’t put up a fake facade and pretend to be okay all the time. If you need to vent your feelings, try writing them down or talking to a close friend or family member.
- Be involved in arranging the funeral. It may be unpleasant, but many people find arranging the funeral helps them say goodbye and give them closure and honour their loved one’s memory.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Friends and family will always want to help you, as that is what they are there for, but may not know how or feel comfortable in doing so. Reach out to them if you need the extra support.
For more advice on coping and dealing with grief, read our 10 practical tips for dealing with bereavement. You can also contact a specialist bereavement support organisation for professional help and advice, no matter how miniscule or large the problem.
Coping with the Loss of a Parent
Help and advice on how to deal with the grief of losing a parent
Losing a parent is inevitable and most of us will have to go through it at some point in our lifetime. Nothing can quite prepare you for the loss of a parent, even when we know that it will happen eventually.
1. The pain of losing a parent
It is important to remember that there is no ‘correct’ way to deal with the grief of losing a parent. You may experience many different powerful emotions that may not make sense to you at the time as you try to cope with bereavement. You may experience:
- An inability to cry, emptiness and numbness. This isn’t a sign of being ‘distant or cold’ or not loving your parent enough. Deep within, you may be struggling to comprehend what has happened or trying to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many painful emotions.
- Deep sadness and despair. You may feel as if nothing will be okay again and that you’ll never learn to cope with this loss.
- Being unable to sleep, or sleeping badly.
- Disruptions to your usual eating habits. This may be a loss of appetite, or a strong desire to comfort eat.
- Feeling like a child again, feeling vulnerable, scared and alone. Losing a parent may make you feel young and helpless again, as you struggle to accept that such an important person in your life is no longer there.
- Strained relationships with other family members. Family dynamics will undergo massive changes after the loss of a parent. Be aware that arguments may happen, as everyone will be experiencing overwhelming emotions that they are struggling to express.
Through the initial stages of grief you may realise that nothing can, or should, fill the space left in your life. A parent is irreplaceable and although the grief will stay, it will change and become more manageable in time.
2. Losing a parent at a young age
Most people expect their parents to live until they are old and retired, but sadly this is not always the case. If your parent passed away at a relatively young age, you may be experiencing shock at the suddenness of their passing. You may have thought that you had many years left together before you would have to deal with losing them and part of the grieving process will be realising that is no longer the case.
You may have lost your parent while you were still a child. You may find that you still miss them every day, and it is common to feel that way for a long time – there is no time limit on grief. As you grow older you may come to think about your parent in new ways. You may experience renewed feelings of grief, even after many years. This is completely normal as you begin to understand your loss more fully and re-examine how it affected you.
3. Losing an elderly parent
Although losing a parent at a young age might be a shock, the truth is that no matter how old your parent was, you were probably not emotionally prepared for them passing away. People who have never lost a parent may assume that if they were old, the grief is somehow lessened. They may say things like, “They had a good innings” or “It was just her time.” These sayings may be of little comfort. We are always our parents’ children and you will likely still grieve intensely, no matter how old they were.
You may have been aware for a while that your parent’s health was failing. Again, this is no guarantee that you will feel less pain. There may have been a small part of you still hoping that they would be fine and have many more years with you.
If they were seriously ill and possibly in pain, you may find yourself experiencing feelings of relief, especially if it was a long illness. Relief is a natural emotion to have in these circumstances. You may feel guilty for feeling relieved, but be kind to yourself and remember that grief comes with many different emotions that you cannot control.
4. Complicated relationships
While some people have good relationships with their parents, many are not close to their parents or struggle to get along with them. You may be estranged from them completely and have not seen them in many years.
Many families have their arguments and disagreements, but when a parent passes away, you might find that these complicated relationships make it difficult to understand your emotions. You might not know how to feel, especially if a parent has been absent from your life for a very long time.
You might have feelings of regret, wishing that you hadn’t had that last argument, or that you’d talked about your problems more. You may feel guilty, or angry that they passed away before you could make things right. These emotions are all part of grieving as you try to understand what has happened and what it means.
Everyone’s grief is different and your difficult relationship with your parent may affect how you experience grief. If there are certain issues or regrets that you keep thinking about over and over again, it might help to talk to a therapist or counsellor. They will be able to help you work through what you are feeling and, by understanding and expressing any issues, you should be able to move forwards and grieve in a healthier way. Contact a bereavement support organisation to find support groups and counsellors near you.
5. Supporting a grieving parent
Losing one parent sometimes means that your other parent is grieving the loss of their partner. You may need to offer them support through their bereavement, both practically and emotionally. If possible, you may want to stay with them for a while to help them arrange the funeral. You might both find it comforting to be together during this time.
You may feel as though roles are being reversed, with you looking after your parent. This might feel strange, but your help will be greatly appreciated as they begin to face living without their partner. However, respect that they will probably still want to make decisions for themselves and they might feel the need to remain somewhat independent during this time.
When a parent passes away there are many practical and legal issues to think about, which can be a challenge while you are still grieving. In the days and weeks following their passing, you may be required to think about managing their estate.
This can involve acting out the wishes of a will if they had one, handing out any inheritance and dealing with any debts they might have had. Read more about managing an estate for advice on carrying out these important duties.
7. Moving towards healing
In many ways you will never ‘get over’ the loss of a parent. A parent is often one of the most important people in a person’s life and you will always be who you are because of them. You will always miss them, but you will eventually be able to move towards a way of living where you are not overwhelmed by your grief.
There are some practical ways to cope with grief that may help you heal following this loss. These include:
- Taking care of your physical health. Try to eat and sleep well if you can. Avoid alcohol and drug abuse, as this will make you feel worse in the long term.
- Being involved in arranging the funeral. Many people find that being involved in funeral arrangements helps them say goodbye to their parent and come to terms with what is happening.
- Finding a way to express your emotions. Keeping feelings bottled up only delays dealing with them and expressing them in a healthy way can make you feel better. Try writing a diary or talking to a trusted friend.
- Spending time with close family members. Although you may want to be alone, and that is fine, some people find being surrounded by family very comforting. You can support each other and share memories of your loved one.
If you are struggling to cope with the loss of a parent, or simply need help and advice, contact a bereavement support organisation.
Coping with the Loss of a Grandparent
Advice on learning to cope with grief after losing a grandmother or grandfather
A good relationship with a grandparent is unlike any other. Losing such a special person is always difficult, but especially so if it is your first experience of death. For many people, losing a grandparent is the first time they really experience grief and this can be a confusing and overwhelming time.
1. The pain of losing a grandparent
You will find that some of what you feel will be described by the five stages of grief, a guide designed to outline how grief tends to affect people. However, as you grieve for your loss, you will experience many different emotions, some of which will not be included in the five stages. Don’t worry if this is the case; everyone’s way of grieving is different and unique to them.
The loss of a grandparent is often the first experience people have of losing someone close to them. You can expect to feel a number of complicated emotions that will seem overwhelming at times. Although everyone’s experience of grief is slightly different and unique to them, there are certain thoughts and feelings that are common among bereaved grandchildren:
- You may feel emotionally numb or unable to cry. This does not mean you are not affected by the loss, just that you are taking time to accept it is real.
- You may find yourself thinking about life and death more, especially if this is your first time experiencing a loss. You may become anxious for the safety of those around you.
- You may feel like the ‘forgotten griever’, like your friends and family don’t realise how much you are hurting. They may give more support to your parents or your other grandparent and not realise you need help too.
- It’s common to feel guilty about not spending more time with your grandparent before they passed away. You could ask questions about their lives and learn more about them, or remind yourself of the good memories you did share with them.
Remember that just because they were older and had lived a long life does not mean your grief is less valid or unimportant. Know that everyone needs support when dealing with grief, whether it be from a friend, family member or a bereavement support professional.
2. Supporting your family
You will probably feel the need to support your family during this time, which is perfectly natural. You may want to help out with practical tasks such as doing housework or looking after young children, or you can be a shoulder to cry on should your family need it. Try to create a supportive and comfortable environment for your loved one to express how they are feeling. A lot of being there for someone is listening.
If you feel that someone close to you is struggling to cope, you may want to talk to them about contacting a bereavement support professional.
However, while supporting your family is important, make sure that you also take the time to grieve yourself. Taking on extra responsibilities can be stressful, which may add to the many emotions you will be feeling after losing your grandparent. Expressing your emotions in a healthy way, such as writing a journal or talking to a trusted friend, may help you look after your own needs while being there for your family members.
3. Moving towards healing
When you have been recently bereaved, it can feel impossible to think about moving forwards and learning to cope with grief. While you will never forget your grandparent or what their loss means to you, it will become easier to deal with the emotions you are feeling over time.
Unfortunately there is no ‘cure’ for grief, but certain things may help you better cope with the intense emotions you are feeling:
- Eat and sleep well. Grief can have a big impact on your physical health, which will make you feel worse. Staying healthy will help you feel stronger and more able to cope with grief.
- Avoid drinking excessively or taking drugs. While alcohol or other substances may numb the pain temporarily, you will feel worse in the long run.
- Find a healthy way to express your thoughts and feelings. Try writing a journal or talking to a friend.
- Attend the funeral. Although in some cases you may decide against going to the funeral, many people find funerals an important part of grieving. You will be able to say goodbye and honour your grandparent’s memory with their family and friends.
- Find out more about your grandparent. When your family has had time to deal with the initial shock of grief, you may want to ask questions about your grandparent. They might be able to show you old photographs and tell you stories. This can help you feel close to them even though they are gone.
- Find a keepsake to remember them by. Talk to your family about the possibility of you keeping something of your grandparents as a keepsake. It could be a piece of jewelry, a photograph, a cuddly toy – anything that reminds you of them and memories you shared. This will give you a way to keep a small part of them in your life for years to come.
What is Anticipatory Grief?
Information on pre-bereavement and dealing with grief
It is well-known that when a loved one dies, you can usually expect to experience grief – a reaction to loss that can involve an assortment of intense emotions. However, what is less well-known is that you can begin to experience a certain type of grief before someone dies. This is most commonly known as pre-bereavement or anticipatory grief.
Anticipatory grief most usually occurs when a loved one’s death is expected imminently, such as when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness of some sort. It may be that a doctor has told you that your loved one does not have long to live, or they may be elderly and you have become aware that they might not have much time left.
In the occasional case, the person who is dying may also experience anticipatory grief first hand.
It is important to note that not everyone whose loved one is dying will experience anticipatory grief. There have been insufficient scientific studies to say for sure how often pre-bereavement happens. If your loved one is at the end of life and you are not experiencing pre-bereavement, this is not a problem – this does not mean there is a problem.
1. Symptoms of anticipatory grief
Many of the symptoms of pre-bereavement are like grief, although doctors and grief specialists emphasise that pre-bereavement isn’t the same as grief.
If you are expecting the death of a loved one and are experiencing anticipatory grief, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Feeling concerned or anxious for your loved one
- Feeling sad, overwhelmed or depressed
- Becoming irritable or angry
- Feeling ashamed or guilty
- Experiencing a sense of loneliness
- Forgetfulness, poor concentration
- Repeatedly imagining what your loved one’s death will be like or what life will be like after they are gone
- Feeling unable to relax, being on constant alert
2. When your loved one dies
Some psychological studies have shown that if a person experiences anticipatory grief, they may be in some ways more emotionally prepared when their loved one dies. Their feelings of grief may be less intense or easier to cope with.
However, grief is unique to everyone, and experiencing pre-bereavement is no guarantee that you will not grieve, or will grieve less, when your loved one dies.
Read more about coping with bereavement, or contact a bereavement support organisation for expert help and advice.
When to Get Bereavement Support
Information on recognising if you need support and how to find it
Moving forward with your life after losing a loved one will take time. While some prefer grieving alone, finding bereavement support during this time can be an important part of your recovery.
Your experience of grief is likely to be unique to you and will often differ from the experiences of others. This can make it difficult to know when you need the help of a bereavement support specialist.
Another problem with the unpredictable nature of bereavement is that many of your feelings can easily be mistaken for the symptoms of clinical depression. Differentiating between the two can be very difficult but important.
1. When you should seek bereavement support
You should consider seeking professional support if you are showing any of these symptoms of grief:
- Finding it extremely hard to get out of bed
- Avoiding the grieving process and pushing away painful feelings
- Neglecting yourself and your family
- Refusing to attend the funeral
- Isolating yourself and having intense mood swings for an extended time after the funeral
- Using tasks to distract yourself from grieving
- Avoiding conversations about your loved one or about anything that reminds you of them
- Using alcohol or drugs more frequently
- Feeling like you can’t move on with your life without your loved one
- Not being able to do everyday activities
It is important to understand that these symptoms are most common among the recently bereaved. However, if these signs persist for an extended period of time, professional counselling from a bereavement support organisation can really help.
Therapy can be really beneficial, even years after the loss of a loved one. It can help combat the feelings of grief, depression and anxiety, empowering you to engage more in positive activities and help you to relax.
If you would like to get in contact with a bereavement support specialist, visit our bereavement support listings page.
Understanding the Grieving Process
How different ways of understanding grief could help you
If you are coping with the death of a loved one, you may hear people talk about how grief works. They might refer to different psychological theories to describe the various stages of bereavement.
Be aware that there are many different theories about grief from different psychologists and doctors. All of these theories have evidence to support them, however, there is no one ‘correct’ answer to how grief works. Grief is unique to each person and affects everyone differently.
Some of the most common theories include:
- The dual process model
- The four tasks of grieving
- The six ‘R’s of mourning
- Reconstruction of meaning
- The five stages of grief
- Growing around grief
It may seem confusing that there are so many different ways of understanding grief, but you do not need to choose one theory, and none of them will magically fix the emotions you are feeling.
However, you may find that one or two of them help shed some light onto the kind of thoughts and feelings happening to you right now. You can discuss these ideas in more depth with a counsellor or therapist, who will be able to help you understand more about grief.
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