Grief is not just about dealing with the actual grieving, it’s also about dealing with life after losing a loved one. Grief and the grieving process are composed of a number of different emotions: shock, sadness, depression, disbelief, anger, rage, guilt, longing. If any of these feelings (and more) sound familiar to you – you are not alone.
I was 12 years old. Myself, mom, dad and two sisters were on our family vacation at our favorite spot (Ocean City, NJ) that we would go to every year with my Uncle, Aunt and cousins. My dad had been complaining of an “annoying” pain in his side that summer, but thought nothing of it. It was during our family vacation that it became so unbearable he needed to go to the hospital. To make a long story short, he was diagnosed with cancer so severe that at that point there was nothing they could do. Fast forward a few weeks after we got back home, and he had passed away. The death of my father was a shock to my system, as well as to the family. He was the glue that held us all together. The life of the party. He was everything. He was just here and ok, and then he wasn’t.
I didn’t understand how or why this could happen to me or my family and grew angry and felt a million different emotions rolled into one. This is where my grieving process began. There are a lot of different things that I’ve learned over the years (and still learn) and allowed myself to feel and do in order to cope with this loss as well as the loss of others. In the years since my father’s death, I lost two grandparents, an uncle, a few acquaintances, and also several people who didn’t pass away but have left my life. My point is that loss is an inevitable part of life and while it isn’t easy, there are things you can do to help yourself grieve healthfully. Because the more you put it to the side and don’t deal with it at all, the darker things have the potential to get. These are some of the coping mechanisms I’ve learned and want to share (in no particular order at all):
1. Understanding the Process – Whether newly grieving, or already in the process, understand that this is one that will take some time. No two people necessarily grieve the same. Honor and be true to how your grieving process will take form and how long it will take – you do not need to put a timeline on it. Don’t feel pressured to force it along, or fake certain feelings. You will go through different stages of grief, not just the actual crying and it is all a part of the process. Or maybe you won’t cry at all for the first eight months and all of a sudden it all comes out. LET IT. It could take days, weeks, months, or even years. Even after all this time, in my own life I find that there are still certain things that come to creep up for me like the shock of still not having him here.
2. Cry – There is no shame in crying. Crying is a way for the soul to release and cleanse. Don’t be afraid to cry, and cry, and then cry some more. I remember crying for what felt like days straight, for years straight. If you’re finding it hard to cry or can’t cry, then perhaps you haven’t reached that phase of your process yet. But when you do come to it, don’t suppress it as it needs to be released. Though crying ultimately won’t bring back your loved one, each tear is a prayer of healing and help. Eventually with the passage of time, you may find that you cry less, or not as often or at all. It’s ok to not be crying every second of every day. Your loved one won’t love you any less or look down upon you like “how dare he/she stop crying over me!” They want to see you at your best. There may come instances from time to time – even years after – where you remember certain memories or are reminded of your loved one and find that it still makes you cry. That is completely normal. Every once in awhile, especially if I’m having a rough day and I hear one of me and my dad’s songs on the radio – I break down! And then I smile knowing he always has my back.
3. Let Go of Guilt – None of this is your fault and you need to understand that. It’s easy to go into guilt mode with the loss of someone – “I knew I should have pressed him/her harder to go to the doctor,” “if only I spent more time with him/her maybe this would never have happened,” “if I never had to run out to the store/go on vacation I could have been there to help.” Or you may start thinking of all of the times you may have disappointed this person. End these thoughts immediately. Everyone’s life path is predetermined at birth. Whether or not there was something you could do, it simply was not meant to be the way that you wanted it to. This is probably one of the harshest realities you will need to face within yourself – accepting that what happened, did indeed happen. When you accept what happened, and make peace with it, it loses its control over you. If you fear that your loved one will never know or understand how sorry you are, or you didn’t get to say things you wanted to while they were here – it helps to say it aloud in silence in private. I can assure you, they will still hear you. Healing comes from letting go and forgiving yourself and them.
4. Keep a Positive Support System – This is probably the most difficult time of your life. It’s important to have someone, or several people that you can count on for support and to help uplift you. I’ll never forget my mother saying that the hardest part about losing my father was after the wake and funeral were over and it was back to normal everyday life for everyone. But for her and our family it was not. It’s different when you’re at a funeral and surrounded by so much support. Everyone is offering their condolences, giving you words of encouragement and letting you know if you need anything they will be there. While it’s all kind words, the reality is that once it is over, a lot of those people don’t just check up on you. That’s why it’s important to pick out those select few individuals (or just one) that you know you can rely on for support, to cry to, to vent to, or simply be silent with. Because even though you may cry and grieve alone, sometimes you may want to have a shoulder there for some support if you are feeling weak. Keep in mind that your family/friend/spouse/chosen individual also needs to take care of them self and that they have a life also. They may not always be there for every single thing. Assure them that it’s ok and that you appreciate them being there for you for so much. One day, they may need a shoulder to cry on too. There were some people from my school that were there for everything. To this day, I will never forget those individuals and how special it was to me.
5. Nourish – In this sense, I am talking about nourishing yourself physically. If you have a sick and dying loved one, have just lost a loved one, or are grieving a loved one – and if you’re anything like I was – I had absolutely no appetite and did not want to eat. My mom also lost a lot of weight from not eating. This is not the best solution and in fact, is a dangerous one. Even if you have to force yourself a little bit, make sure that you take the time each day to eat proper healthful meals and drink water. Set aside fifteen minutes to take a break from crying/grieving and gain nourishment. If you’re too wrapped up in grief to be able to cook or go food shopping, see if there is a family member or friend that would be willing to help out. When you lack the proper nutrients, your body will not only suffer, but your mind and soul will grow weaker also. You don’t have to shove a huge steak down your throat if you truly aren’t hungry, but at least give yourself permission to nourish your body with lighter foods like soups, salads, stews, vegetables, fruits and water and tea – food is a necessity to live and thrive (a basic need). If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and find yourself overeating, try to identify what aspect of this process is making you reach for food – is it the sadness part? The anger? Look for other modalities to turn to in order to help release those emotions or begin reaching for healthier options. When your body is getting the nutrients it needs, you are also giving yourself the energy to be able to cope with all of the different emotions you are feeling.
6. Scream – This one might sound a little weird to you. But I can assure you that if you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one – particularly someone whom you shared a deep and soulful connection and bond – then you will get pretty damn angry. You will feel a deep rage growing inside you (again, maybe not immediately) at whatever God it is that you believe in, or even for the person who passed. How could they leave you? How could you be left in this circumstance? Why would (insert God) do this to ME? If you’re feeling angry, that anger needs an outlet too, just like your tears do. The mistake that some people make is projecting their anger and frustrations out on others. While it fulfills your immediate need to get it out, in the long run it could potentially hurt the other person involved, especially if they are truly not at fault. You are obviously upset and may still be in victim mode and more vulnerable to letting out your true anger and harsh words without filters. My favorite way to deal with anger is by meditating. Unfortunately, when my father died I had not known about meditation and its benefits at such a young age and instead would lash out on others – not very mature. I would have loved to discover it sooner. That’s why I feel it’s important for me to mention this excellent tool for coping, particularly with anger. When you find yourself in bouts or instances of anger, take a few really deep breaths and count to ten. Remove yourself from the situation if you can, before saying or doing something that could be hurtful. If you have headphones, it helps to put a meditation on in them and sit or lie down in your favorite quiet space. My favorite one is The Honest Guys – Releasing Anger because it helps you to focus on their words, identify what is making you angry, and bring yourself into peace and stillness. You will come out of it feeling more refreshed and able to handle your emotional outbursts. However, if you find you truly can’t meditate right now then try something on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Go somewhere very private and quiet (I liked my car best) and scream and get it all out! Shout it out. Everything that you’re angry about, every obscenity, every hurt. Getting it out is SUCH a release. I promise. Maybe none of this is for you – then try another release such as kickboxing, cycling or something of a more physical nature. The action of actually sweating and becoming physical in a healthy way through exercise can help to release anger also.
7. Write – While grieving, you will find that the people you normally count on as a shoulder to cry on may not always be available at your beckon call. As mentioned above, they do have their own lives also. For those times where you may be alone without anyone to talk or vent to and in desperate need of an outlet, writing is a good activity. If you’re also more introverted and have a hard time sharing your feelings at this time, writing may be a good way to express it without having to feel pressured to talk to someone else. The kind of writing that helped me in this case was simply writing out my feelings or writing poetry. It doesn’t necessarily need to be formatted or make sense, it could just be a compilation of your thoughts and feelings. You could also write a letter to your departed loved one – about how much you miss them, ask them any questions you have, talk about what’s going on for you – it could be anything. I remember writing a letter (and a poem) to my father a couple of years after his passing and remember the sense of relief that came over me knowing that in some way I knew he was going to receive this. You can do whatever you want with the letter – keep it, burn it, leave it by the grave at the cemetery. Since my father was cremated, I wound up keeping the letter for a short while and then destroying it because I knew that the energy of getting it out and releasing was enough for me personally. As for the poetry, I still have that stored away today. Writing letters could be the first step to connecting with your loved one spiritually on the other side. You are giving them the notice that yes, you do want to open yourself up to receiving signs and symbols that they are always with you, and that they are ok.
8. Music – You might be wondering how music could possibly help you with the grieving process when music itself can induce emotional response. Music is therapy. When we hear certain songs or melodies, we are instantly taken back to a certain time, place, activity or person. Music is a way to connect to those memories – especially if it involves the person who passed away. When listening to certain songs, you find you can relate to what it is they are singing about – loss, heartbreak, sadness – and connect. Rather than look at music as too depressing of an activity, think of it as a way to remember your loved one. Then, every time you hear that certain song(s) on the radio (randomly!) you can be assured that they are with you in spirit in that moment and offering comfort to let you know they are there and that all will be well. There are a select few songs that are very special to me with regards to my father and I know that whenever they pop up on the radio or on my music shuffle, it’s a little hello from up above. From time to time it may make you cry, and other times it may make you smile. Either way, it’s a great way to honor and remember your loved one, which is my next coping mechanism.
9. Honor and Remember Your Departed Loved One – I know what you’re thinking – “how can I possibly forget my (insert relation)?! Of course I’ll remember them!” But in this case I’m not just talking about remembering them, I’m talking about honoring them. Honoring their life while they were here with you and who they were as a person and showing how important it was for you. Develop a special ritual or tradition that you can carry out on holiday’s or special anniversary dates to acknowledge that their spirit lives on. Though they may not be here in the flesh, I’m sure our loved ones don’t want to be forgotten when they leave the physical world. It may sound silly, but in actuality some people do try to push whatever memories or traditions they have aside when a person passes away because they can’t stand to face anything that reminds them of the person. They will try to erase everything so that they don’t need to feel. This will suppress your emotions further and I do not recommend it. If you left this world, wouldn’t you want your closest family and friends to honor and remember you and the mark you left on this world? They’ve worked hard to be who they were when they were here and make an impression on your life. Just like you, they want to be remembered fondly. You don’t have to necessarily go creating a shrine for them, but simple things like sharing their stories, accomplishments, or saying a little hello out loud at family gatherings or important events invites their soul in, even though they may not be there physically. My family and I used to let balloons go at the beach on the anniversary of his passing as a remembrance and because we felt like our balloons would reach straight up to heaven and to him. It comforted us in those fleeting moments. Any small thing you can do to honor them will keep them very much alive – and close to your heart.
10. Make Mistakes – When dealing with loss, you will undoubtedly come face to face with many obstacles regarding yourself and your decision-making. After all, your body and soul may be in a state of shock and you may not necessarily be thinking clearly. Don’t be too hard on yourself during this time. EVERYONE. GRIEVES. DIFFERENTLY. For me personally, I was a 13 year old girl who was forced to grow up very quickly. My mother was grieving in her own ways, and I was also. I found myself alone, caught in situations or doing things that I probably shouldn’t have been doing at that age. I made a lot of mistakes, endured more heartache, and often times learned things the hard way. But looking back on it now, I would never change a thing. Every person, every place, every situation has made me grow into the individual I am today. There were many lessons learned that I carry through with me to this day. My point is that even if your loved one were still here, there is still the potential to make mistakes in life. In time, you will get back on your feet. For now, maybe you’re not hanging around people you normally would, or doing things you normally would. Don’t get stuck there, and understand it is just a passing phase as people and situations are sent to us to give us what we need at the present time. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, but have the strength to move on, keep growing and become a better you.
11. Get Moving – This is meant in a physical sense. It’s easy to get depressed when you are sad and grieving. You don’t want to eat, sleep or move sometimes. But if you were well, and saw someone you cared about doing this – wouldn’t you try and do what you could to help them and encourage them? The same goes for you. Encourage yourself. Though it might be hard, staying inside or refusing to get up and go anywhere causes a stagnation of your body and mind, not to mention there is little social interaction. Taking a light walk at sunrise is a nice and relaxing way to ease your depression as the rising of the sun is the promise of a new day and a new start. Get showered, get dressed, and take a drive up to the grocery store to do some shopping. You don’t have to run marathons or be out all day. Start small and ease yourself back into every day living. You never know if a stranger’s kind words or bright smile will give you some sort of encouragement. The world still needs you and all you have to offer.
12. Professional Help – I want to stress the fact that there is absolutely no shame in seeking out professional help for something that you may be having a hard time with. It’s great to have friends and family to talk to, but sometimes it helps to hear the opinions and advice of a third party. If you are new to grief and have never experienced (traumatic) loss before, then this could be good guidance for you. After my father’s passing, my mother, 2 young sisters (at the time eight and four) and I sought help from a local psychologist. All of us were experiencing different types of grief due to our ages and relationships with my father. Later on in my life, I wound up going back to her for more support with new feelings I was dealing with. Depending on your circumstance, maybe you find you only need to go for a few sessions, or a longer while or on and off. There are also a lot of support groups that you can look into locally for people who are going through the same or similar things that you are. It helps to connect with like-minded people coping with loss also. Seeking professional help could also pertain to addictive behaviors you may have acquired through grief. It’s a harsh reality that many people choose to numb their pain with things like alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food. Have the strength and courage to break this cycle before it breaks you too.
13. Ask for Help When Needed – When I was younger and more selfish I didn’t realize until I was older everything my mom had to deal with after my father died unexpectedly and it brought me to tears. Raising three young kids, paying a mortgage, making sure there was food on the table, paying bills. I know that we wouldn’t have had what we did and were able to make it through without her asking for help when she needed. It takes an incredible amount of strength and putting your pride to the side to admit when you need help with something. I can say this now, because at the age of 31 I have no doubt had to ask for my own help with some things. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Help is always there and willing to do so if you just ask. There will come a day that you will be able to show and do things for people again to show your appreciation. For now, if you are struggling, seek the help of a close friend or family member to help you figure out a solution or guide you to someone or some source that can help. As I’m frequently reminded (to this day) from my boyfriend with anything – “you never know until you ask.”
14. Don’t Settle For Less – No one will ever take the place of the person you loved so much. While this is true, it does not mean you need to settle for less in life. If you lost a parent, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t appreciate your other parent that is here. Let them know how much you love them and how important their relationship is to you. Don’t forget about them too just because you don’t have the other one around anymore. If you’ve just lost a spouse – maybe you don’t see yourself dating again just yet – but down the line, don’t compromise and settle for less than you deserve just because no one will ever compare with your late wife/husband. This may very well be true but you do still deserve good things. Life is still not over for you and you do deserve to feel happy. If you lost a child, maybe you fear having more so you decide not too. Maybe it’s a personal choice that you don’t want more, but if deep down inside you really do then don’t compromise by settling for less. No matter what loss you’ve faced it is not the end of the road for you. Though it may feel like it, you can still live an abundant life with everything you’ve desired.
15. Go For Check-Ups – Though everyone should do this as a routine procedure, if you’ve lost a loved one to a particular disease or condition, then it’s important for you to go for routine medical check-ups. I remember one of my fears after my father dying was losing my mother also. My sisters and I have always, and still, encourage her to go for check-ups, and all three of us do the same as well. If something is hereditary, then you should take the time to get yourself checked out and do what you can to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself. There are people that love you and want to make sure that the same won’t happen to you. Though I loved my father, he never went to the doctor and I often wondered if he did go for routine check-ups would we be in this same situation. But there’s no use going down the road of what if’s – instead my family used this as a wake up call that we need to take care of ourselves. We want to make sure that we feel well and healthy so that if and when we have families of our own, we can be around for them for as long as we can. Though it’s not the happiest of life lessons, evaluate your loss and how you can use this as a guide for caring for yourself or your family and friends.
16. Be Open To New Opportunities – When you’re grieving, especially in the beginning, the last thing you probably want to do is anything. As in, entertain your family’s questions on how you’re handling everything, having lunch with friends or talking on the phone about how you’re feeling. While it is definitely ok to say no sometimes, do say yes also. Getting out of the house here and there helps you stay sane, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee. Even if you really don’t feel like it, do understand that these people are your closest circle and they want to make sure you are ok because they care deeply for you. When you hurt, they hurt. Yes, maybe it’s annoying that this person keeps checking in on you and you don’t feel like talking – but know that it is coming from a place of love. They are trying to be there for you through this hardest time. Don’t shut others out and alienate yourself. Give thanks for having such people in your life. You never know who you can meet, what you can hear or see to help you in your grieving process.
17. Be Happy – I know what you’re thinking – “how can I possibly be happy right now? Are you crazy?” I know what you’re going through. That pain that just won’t go away. But you still deserve happiness. Maybe not right now. Maybe this is just the beginning of your grief. If there’s anything you may have learned from losing, it is that life truly is too short. We are given this life to live and must make the best of it while we are here. I’m not asking you to walk around with a fake smile plastered on your face. What I’m trying to say is that in time, you will find happiness again. And when it comes, let it. When you’re happy, your heart is open, and when your heart is open you are more likely to be open to receiving… signs from above.
18. Signs From Above – When we are born, our souls are pure and innocent. We have no learned behaviors yet and the ego hasn’t taken over. In this pure form, we are most open to Spirit. It is often said that children and animals can see and hear Spirit because both are not conditioned to stop believing or seeing with the third eye. Spirit wants to connect with us, but so many of us lose touch as we grow and learn because of how society shapes us as individuals. Make that conscious choice to reconnect. You can balance out your Crown Chakra or simply make the decision to be open to signs and messages from your loved one. Signs can be anything you want them to be – a song, an object, an animal, a number, a quote. If you’re unsure of what sign your loved one may be sending you, try sitting quietly somewhere and asking them – either to yourself or out loud. Whatever the first answer that comes up for you is will be it. If you’re still having trouble, be on the lookout for things that pop out at you more. Your intuition is picking out and paying attention to that particular sign for a reason. When you choose to open up to receiving signs, it makes it easier to listen to guidance from above. All of my hopes, fears, beliefs, confidence, drive has come from listening to my father’s advice from the other side. The key is to be open to receiving it.
19. Let Love In – When I was brainstorming all of the things I wanted to write for this blog there were a million different things I knew I wanted to write. I began to jot them all down as little notes and I felt my father’s spirit strongly with me as I did all of this. I knew I wanted to ask for his advice as I’ve done so many times, as much of my inspiration and ideas have come from his guidance. I asked him what part of all of this was missing if anything and I immediately heard “let love in.” Suddenly, it all made sense. Whether your loved one is here or whether they have passed on, the most important part of all of this is letting love in. When you let love in to others while they are physically here, you are allowing your souls to combine and to connect on a deep level. You get to personally know and form a bond with each other. When you let love in after your loved one passes on you are allowing the love of that person to carry on within you, around you and through you. This means that no matter what happens, your souls are forever entwined, and that person will always be a part of you. And that is the most beautiful part of all.
I’ll be honest… writing this blog definitely made me emotional. It brought back a lot of memories and the grief and pain that I’ve struggled with as a young adult into most of my early adulthood. But I survived, and you can too. I look back on my journey and feel proud of he woman I am today, just as you are or will over time. The pain of losing someone will never go away. That little emptiness will always be there but it doesn’t mean that you won’t live, smile, laugh or be happy again. Life can and really does go on – whether you agree to it or not. Maybe you don’t see it now, and this is only the beginning for you. But know and understand that with the passage of time things will get better. You are not alone, and you will get through this.
This blog is dedicated to my father, Michael John Lyons. A funny, good-spirited, loving family man who I am proud to call my dad. Time goes by, but my love and memories of him do not cease. Our bond is still as strong today as it was when he was here on Earth.
Love you dad.