Coping with Early Grief
During early grief, use these coping mechanisms to survive the initial impact of your loved one’s death.
Those first few hours, days, and weeks after a loved one’s death can seem surreal. You may feel numb or experience unfathomable raw emotion. This initial time of impact is often referred to as “early grief.” During the early days of loss, you probably won’t be thinking about the future, absorbing encouraging words offered by well-meaning friends, or reflecting on the meaning of this loss in your life. Instead, these first days and weeks will be about survival, sometimes just one minute at a time.
The early days after the death of a loved one is not an ordinary time, and ordinary coping mechanisms may not help either. In the first days after your loss, you may find these survival coping mechanisms helpful in supporting your wellbeing.
Cry in Safe Surroundings
Of course, tears will come when they want to, and it’s normal to experience these rushes of intense sadness when you’ve just lost a special person. However, if you are driving, pull over and wait until the tears have passed before driving any further. Not only could distraught driving cause injury to you, but you could accidentally harm someone else, too.
Focus on Hydration
Grief often causes changes in appetite, and many people have very little interest in food during the earliest days of a grief journey. Although eating something – anything – is important, drinking water is critical. If you can’t force yourself to eat any semblance of regular meals, focus on drinking at least 60 ounces of water per day so you don’t risk dehydration.
Eat What You Can
It’s common, and you are not alone. Some people eat more under stressful circumstances, and some people eat much less. Both of these scenarios can cause long-term health issues, so work to be mindful about putting healthy calories into your body each day. It won’t be easy, but do what you can in the early days and give yourself grace if you struggle with diet.
Prioritize Personal Hygiene
In times like these, something as simple as taking a shower can make you feel more like yourself again. Life will feel upside down for a while, and you may feel in a daze and completely out of sorts. So, do the little things: change your clothes, brush your teeth, run a comb through your hair. These small acts of self-care can bring you a brief sense of comfort and normalcy, even on the hardest days.
Move Your Body
This doesn’t have to mean exercise, although the endorphins released during any physical activity can improve your mood. If you feel hopeless, stuck, and unsure what to do with yourself, stand up and physically move to a different location. If you’re in your house, go outside for a few minutes of sunshine, or pick a simple chore you can accomplish in another room of your home. Even a little bit of physical movement can help you mentally and emotionally process your grief, which can help you get “unstuck” in whatever ways you need to.
Feel Your Anger
Many people are surprised and overwhelmed to find that anger is one of the chief emotions they feel in the early days of loss. This can take many forms: anger at the universe or a higher power, anger at your loved one for leaving you, and even anger at yourself for not being able to save them. These can be extremely uncomfortable emotions, especially because many bereaved people don’t feel they can share their anger with anyone else. Trust that these feelings are normal, and let yourself feel them fully so that they will pass. If you’re able, share your feelings with a close friend or family member. Speaking your anger out loud can be powerful in helping you to overcome it.
Say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ With Confidence
Grief is an exhausting, depleting time. In early grief, in particular, you will need to preserve as much of your energy as possible for the work of simply surviving the hand you’ve been dealt. So, say yes to people who offer to drop off food, run your errands, or spend a few hours caring for your children or pets. You should also feel confident in saying no to anything that would be a big drain on your energy. Well-meaning people will offer to take you to dinner or invite you to an event, but you should never agree out of guilt. Say no to anything that would further drain you in your current circumstances.
Tune into Your Intuition
There is so much advice out there for people who are experiencing the early days of loss. Keep in mind that what works for someone else may be completely wrong for you. Don’t feel pressured to try coping mechanisms that don’t feel right to you, even if they’re suggested by people who care about you. Tune into your inner voice and think about what you truly need. If you’re finding small amounts of solace in nature, lean into that. If reading books helps you “turn off” your griever’s mind for a little while, read as much as you’d like. There is no wrong way to grieve, so do it the way you need to support yourself on your journey.
Final Thoughts on Coping with Early Grief
Sometimes, when you’ve just lost someone you love, you can feel aimless. Each of the small suggestions above can greatly impact your well-being when you are newly grieving. Attaching yourself to just one or two of them can help to anchor you in a world that may seem completely new and maybe even scary. Giving yourself a few simple “rules” to follow, such as showering, eating a piece of toast each day, and taking a walk to your mailbox and back, can make it easier to move forward, giving a bit of practical substance to a world that may feel foreign and empty.