Every single human being will experience loss and endure grief. Yet, this universal reality is under-discussed and under-examined. Suffering a loss connects us to the largest tribe on the planet. So, why not break the taboo and push past the stigma? Talking about the inevitability of death and mourning can help us recover. It can also help us be more accepting of the natural cycles of life.
You can’t prepare for the loss of a loved one. Even when you know it’s coming, it will knock you on your butt. But you can navigate the loss in a way that moves you toward healing at your own pace.
What is Grief?
Grief is a painful reflection of the love we experience in our life. It’s a normal reaction to the losses we endure. Unless it becomes complicated, grief is not a mental health problem.
Grief is a mysterious process or series of processes. This is partly true because, as mentioned, not enough people talk about it. But the mystery also lies in its unpredictability, e.g.:
- No two people grieve in the same way
- It is not a linear process
- It sometimes has stages, but they do not follow a clear trajectory
- Grief manifests in emotional and physical ways
Grief is intense. This often manifests in obvious signs and expressions. Yet it can also be intense in how we try to control or suppress it. It is best to accept the existence of pain and sadness. This is a big part of how we navigate loss.
5 Ways We Navigate Loss
1. Accept That Death is Not What We Expect
Pop culture does literally nothing to prepare us for what death is really like. Put aside such portrayals. Do not compare your experience to the expectations created by TV or movies. Death is as messy and complex as all other aspects of life.
2. Negotiate Through the Good Intentions
Since death is under-explored, it makes people uncomfortable. You’ll hear plenty of lines like “stay strong” and “they’re in a better place.” You do not have to engage with such platitudes but instead, connect with those who give you room to talk (see #5 below).
3. Set Your Own Timeline
Another line you’ll hear is “it’s time to move on.” Good intentions or not, this is insensitive. As the bereaved person, you know what you feel and need. Find your own pace. When someone near and dear passes on, it’s only natural to feel sorrow for quite a while.
4. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
It is tempting to self-medicate or neglect responsibilities, or indulge in comfort food. Do not exasperate your pain by causing further problems for yourself. If you feel you can’t control such behavior, ask for help.
5. Lean on Your Support System
Not everyone will say stuff like, “They wouldn’t want you to be so sad.” People within your inner circle will step up in a positive way—and you will need it. When help is offered, say yes. If help is not offered, ask for it. Grief is not a solo act.
Consider Grief Counseling
As stated above, your time of bereavement will and must follow its own timetable. However, you very much must check in with yourself. Are you having obsessive thoughts about the person you lost? Does self-harm feel likely? Are you pushing others away? Left unchecked, grief can become complicated. For this reason, it can be transformative to contact a therapist.
We have worked with many clients who were in the midst of mourning, and we’d love to help you, too. With that in mind, we invite you to reach out and connect.