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Helping yourself after losing a loved one

A loved one is dead

(By Alan D. Wolfelt)

You are now faced with the painful but important need to mourn. Grief is the open expression of thoughts and feelings about the death and the person who has died. It is an essential part of healing. You begin a journey, which will often be frightening, painful, trying and at times lonely. This article presents practical suggestions to help you overcome your grief.

Know that your grief is unique

Your sorrow is unique. Everyone expresses their pain in their own way, and your experience will be influenced by various factors: your relationship with the deceased person; the circumstances of the death; your emotional support network; and your cultural and religious background. These factors will make you grieve for the person in your own way. Do not try to compare your experience to that of others nor make assumptions about the duration of your grief. Consider a “day-to-day” approach that will allow you to grieve at your own pace.

Share your pain

Express your pain openly. By sharing your pain, you will console yourself. Ignoring it will not make it disappear; but if you talk about it often, you will feel better. Do not be afraid to express your emotions, do not be too rational. This does not mean that you will lose control of yourself or lose your mind. It’s a normal part of the grieving process.

Find friends or relatives who will listen without judgment. It is not a question of helping you get over your grief or of accelerating the process, but rather of supporting you throughout your grieving process. Avoid those who criticize or attempt to downplay your grief. They may tell you, “stay strong!”, “keep on living” or “be happy”. These comments are likely made with good intentions, but you do not have to accept them. You have the right to express your sorrow; no one can deprive you of it.

Expect to feel a multitude of emotions

Loss affects your mind, your heart and your soul. This is why your mourning will be marked by a variety of emotions: confusion, disorganization, fear, guilt, relief or shock. These emotions may follow one another quickly or may occur simultaneously.

As strange as they may seem, these emotions are normal and healthy. Learn from them. And do not be surprised if, suddenly, you feel a burst of sorrow, even at the most unexpected moments. These impulses can be frightening and give you a feeling of helplessness, but they are a natural response to the death of a loved one. Find someone who will understand your feelings and let you talk about them.

Accept the numbness

People who lose a loved one often experience numbness or apathy. This apathy plays an important role: it allows your emotions to be in tune with what your brain already knows. In addition, it helps to isolate you from the reality of death until you are more ready to accept what you refuse to believe.

Recognize your physical and emotional limits

Your feelings of loss and affliction will probably tire you out and prevent you from thinking clearly and making decisions. In addition, your lack of energy will slow you down. Respect the imperatives of your body and mind. Be easy on yourself: rest every day, eat balanced meals, reduce your workload as much as possible. Taking care of yourself is not feeling sorry for yourself, but simply a form of survival.

Establish a support network

It is not always easy to turn to others and accept their support, especially when you have a lot of pain. But the most compassionate thing you can do in these difficult times is to establish a supportive network of friends and sensitive parents who will provide you with the understanding you need. Find people who will encourage you to be yourself and accept your feelings, whether happy or sad.

Rely on rites

Funeral rites do more than recognize the death of a loved one. They bring you the support of loving people. Most importantly, funerals offer a way to express your pain openly. By eliminating this ritual, you risk repressing your feelings and depriving everyone of the opportunity to pay homage to someone who has been and will always be loved.

Embrace your spirituality

If you are a believer, use the means that seem appropriate to you to express your faith. Surround yourself with people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If the death of a loved one makes you angry with God, know that this feeling is a normal part of mourning. Find an interlocutor who will not criticize your feelings of pain and abandonment.

Try to make sense of death

You may be wondering: “Why are they dead? Why this way? Why now?” This search for meaning is a normal part of the healing process. Some questions have an answer. Others do not. In fact, it is asking questions that heals, not answering them. Find a cooperative friend who will listen carefully while trying to make sense of death.

Cherish your memories

Memories are one of the most valuable legacies after the death of a loved one. Cherish them. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories will make you laugh or cry. Whatever the case may be, they are the lasting testimony of the relationship you have with that person you care so deeply for.

Accept and overcome your pain

To be able to love again, you must mourn the death of the loved one. If you do not openly express your pain, you will be unable to heal. If you deny it, you will make it more confusing and overwhelming. Accept and overcome your pain.

Resigning oneself to one’s pain requires time. Remember, pain is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant towards yourself. Remember that the death of a loved one will change your life forever. This does not mean that you will never be happy again, but simply that you will not be the same person you were before death.

Grief is a landmark experience. The same can be said of your ability to heal. By assuming your mourning, you are moving towards new challenges, new achievements.