Death is an inevitable part of life and the loss of a loved one can be one of the most devastating events that befall an individual during their entire life. Although it is an event that is naturally experienced by almost every human on the planet (some more than others), this unforeseen occurrence is a sensitive and rarely mentioned issue in the community.
In the recent months of fighting the COVID-19 global pandemic, the difficulty of coping with this immense loss has gradually surfaced across the entire world and it is an important topic that we should all attempt to address. Grief is a natural response that occurs when an individual loses a person that was valued or love. In the early stages, people often describe it as a feeling of overwhelming sadness and pain, others reported feelings of numbness or detachment from their emotions. These variations in response can often be confusing and complicated to manage. Occasionally, this state can persist over a long period if it is not addressed or handled appropriately.
Therefore, in this current piece/article, we would like to address and explore the different ways one can better cope with the grief of losing a loved one.
Firstly, it can be important for one to understand and realise that they are experiencing grief, especially for individuals who are emotionally detached and numb. According to a book published by psychiatrist Kubler Ross, an average individual is theorised to go through five distinct stages of grief.
In the first stage known as Denial, the individual is unable to comprehend the sudden loss and therefore believes that the event is unreal and a mistake.
Once the individual processes the reality of the situation, they tend to externalise their grief in the forms of frustrations known as the Anger stage. In this stage, one would attempt to justify the loss by pinpointing and criticising others which they perceive are responsible for the events that led up to the death of their loved ones.
The following stage would be Bargaining, where the individual who is still unable to accept attempts to negotiate with otherworldly entities or forces in hopes of reversing the death of their loved ones.
The fourth stage entails despair, sadness and isolation as the griever realises the finality of the situation known as Depression.
Eventually, the individual will reach the stage of Acceptance where they embrace the loss and attain a state of inner peace and relief by coming to terms with the situation.
Although the stages mentioned by Kubler Ross gives allows one to better comprehend the process of grief which can be generally helpful, it has been criticised for the lack of applicability across cultures and different individuals. Even Kubler Ross mentioned that the model is not absolute, and it is better to view them as different natural coping strategies employed in the process of grief. A common misconception of experiencing a loss is that one should feel an overwhelming sense of emotions to qualify as grieving. Different individuals take different amounts of time to comprehend the situation, but it does not mean that one is wrong for not feeling certain emotions after a loss. Grief is not an emotion but more of a process and concept that comprises a range of experiences amongst different individuals. A genuinely helpful aspect of Kubler Ross’s model is that it provides a comforting perspective for individuals by acknowledging that the process is not permanent and will eventually come to an end.
Remind yourself of the “positives and upsides” to this grief
Individuals who are grieving experience various symptoms. One of which is Rumination where people find themselves contemplating over perceived mistakes or missteps associated with the loss and wishing that they could change what they did. This adds to additional stress on top of their emotional toll of grief. Therefore, another tip to coping with the loss is to remind oneself of the “positives and upsides” of this grief. This, however, is not suggesting that the loss of a loved one is in any way a good thing, but rather, while acknowledging this grief, it is possible to look at the positives that can come with the process.
A powerful and comforting perspective of looking at grief is the fact that this overwhelming sadness and emotion faced reflects how much love and value one has for the person that was a loss. Not only that, the loss and grief can also mark new chapters in an individual’s life as the pain forces us to change and adapt. For example, a person whom an individual feels entirely reliant on could now be forced to adapt by better taking care of oneself due to the person’s absence in their lives.
Do not put a time limit on your grief
It is important to understand that there is no such thing as the “correct way to grieve”. As established earlier, everyone grieves differently, therefore, the individual must not put a time limit on their grieving process. Putting a time limit on your grief is equivalent to adding a deadline for yourself and this adds on additional pressure to the current state of mind that you are in.
Grief lessens with time, but it is not realistic to feel completely absolved of sadness when thinking of the loss. The only reason that people have difficulty coping with grieve is usually due to a major loss. It makes perfect sense if you experience certain emotions when reminded of it. Instead of eliminating it, accepting this inherent uncertainty, and managing this sadness is probably a healthier and more attainable goal towards this process.
Resist comparing your grief
In the age of Instagram and online rituals to mourn the deceased, it is easy that we reach out to others and at times, compare our grief to others. We are social creatures who learn from the people around us, so it is only natural that we tend to compare. Therefore, another helpful tip during the grieving process is to resist the strong impulse to compare your grief. Misery loves company and we all yearn for others to be able to understand the current state that we are in. This brings us comfort and makes us feel normal. However, every individuals possess their unique circumstances and feelings towards the loss.
Comparing your grief with others will only backfire, as it will always turn out and feel different from the people around you. This will eventually cause you to feel more alone than you ever were.
Seek out the right support
Even though one should not compare their grief, it is helpful to seek some form of social support in this process. Seeking support from others is one of the most common pieces of advice to deal with the loss of a loved one. However, it is important to seek out the right kind of support.
While expressing feelings and talking about your grief can be an extremely relieving form of catharsis, it does not apply to everyone and all the time. You do not need to feel then need to talk about your grief all the time just because you are grieving. There are many other forms of seeking social support and it can simply be going out with your friends or family without talking about your grief. There is some form of social pressure in the current community that pressures individuals to grieve with everyone around them which could ultimately cause one to avoid people and activities that they normally enjoy. Therefore, seeking out the right kind of support is an important tip in this process. This is your grief process and you rightfully decide who or when you want to talk about it.
Allow yourself to feel something other than sadness
A commonality in people who are coping with their grieving process is that they believe that it is unnatural or wrong to experience any other kind of emotions but sadness and sorrow. Although sadness is a huge part of a significant loss, it rarely is the only emotion involved.
By limiting oneself to only sadness, it can end up invalidating the other complex aspects of the grieving process. These rigid expectations of oneself can often end up magnifying the individual’s suffering. Therefore, one should always remind themselves that it is okay to feel more than just sadness. Healthy grief is embracing the full spectrum of emotions with adequate compassion and understanding of oneself.
Take Self-Care Seriously
One of the hardest and most under-appreciated parts of a healthy grieving process is to take care of yourself and your body. Amid this significant loss, one often feels loss and disoriented from their everyday lives. People tend to neglect the healthy lifestyle and efforts that they usually invest in. The sudden changes to their lifestyle could pile on to the already overwhelming experience the individual has.
The physical body has a greater influence over one’s emotional state of mind than many people realise. Therefore, the individual must take self-care seriously. This includes a proper diet, nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Not only that, but one should also spend time grieving intentionally, setting aside some time for that can relieve a significant portion of distress caused by the fear of experiencing those feelings. Strangely, grieving on purpose alerts the mind to be prepared for those emotions. Not only that, but it also helps one to feel more comfortable and less fearful when facing those emotions, which ultimately assists one in properly validating their feelings.
Lastly, grieving may be a solo process to many, but as we mentioned, humans are social creatures. An aspect of grieving can also involve helping others with their grieve. This may not apply to everyone, but some individuals may feel better when helping others go through this process as well. However, they rarely do so as they may not know exactly how.
Truthfully, there are almost no direct forms of help that you may provide the person, but one can simply being there and listening to the other party would be more than enough. Additionally, you may provide practical help such as babysitting, cooking, or even running small errands which can mean the whole world, especially when their world has just been thrown into disarray. Dealing with your grief does not always constitute some form of direct action to oneself. Trying to normalise one’s life by being there for a close friend can sometimes be a greater form of a catharsis than others.
All in all, the loss of a loved one can carry different messages and if one can embrace that fact and see it as a potential to grow, it can be an empowering experience that eventually benefits the individual and the people around them. There is an old saying which I believe applies to this very issue, which says “Accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can and have the wisdom to know the difference.”