Life After a Loved One’s Death
One of the most difficult things about a loved one’s death is that we must find a way to continue on in life without them.
Grief is the normal, expected side effect of losing someone you love. Though many people think of grief as temporary, the truth is that it is something you will have to live with for the rest of your life. Your loved one has passed on, but you are very much alive. Life will continue moving forward around you, and you will need to figure out how to continue living your own life with meaning and purpose after your loved one’s death.
The permanence of grief can feel overwhelming because there’s no easy escape from it or prescribed end. However, leaning into your grief can help you let go of your need to control it and accept it as a part of your “new normal.” Your love for the person you lost will be life-long, and so will your grief. However, it will evolve over time, and you can also take steps to move forward in your healing journey.
Here are six things you can do to come to terms with life after the death of a loved one:
1. Seek Connection and Understanding
Too many people feel they must grieve in silence. Our cultural norms around sadness and loss can make you feel as though your grief is “taking too long” or that you should be “over it” quickly. Remember, though, that there is no specified timeline for grief. Your journey will last as long as you need it to. As you grieve, find a safe place to share your sorrow. Spending time with others who are feeling the same thing you are can be pretty helpful. Grief support groups can be an invaluable resource, and many of them exist online where they are accessible to anyone. Try connecting with those who share the same type of loss as you. For instance, if you lost your spouse, you might find the most benefit from a bereaved spouse’s support group.
2. Focus on Your Breath
In the beginning stages of your grief, when each feeling is so acute, it’s easy to feel like you’re on the verge of emotional collapse. Grief has a habit of coming in waves, however, and you are likely to experience the ebbs and flows for quite some time. Acute distress can return on important dates, such as your loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their passing. It can also resurface when a particular memory comes to mind or when you’re having an especially stressful time. When this happens, take a moment to focus solely on your breath. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Feel your breath coming in and out of your body, and remain still and focused until you feel your nerves settling.
3. Move Your Body
Grief counselors often tell their patients to take up exercise, even something as simple as walking. Emotions affect both the body and the mind, so sometimes you need more than words to work through them. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins to enhance your mood. It’s like a natural resource available inside your own body to help you process grief whenever life begins to feel like too much.
4. Create New Memories
One of the hardest things about moving forward in your life after a loved one’s death is that it can feel like you’re betraying them. It can feel like you’re leaving them behind. Joy and happiness can lead to intense guilt. Remember, though, that one of the best gifts you can give to your loved one is to continue living your life and having experiences. If it hurts too much to think about going to the restaurants they loved or practicing their hobbies, try something new. You don’t have to retrace the steps of the past right away. Eventually, you might find meaning in returning to the places your loved one enjoyed, but wait until you’re ready and don’t force it. In the meantime, look for ways to make new memories.
5. Honor and Remember
Your grief is a testimony to your love. On hard days, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, lean into feeling more connected to that love. Think of rituals to honor and remember your lost loved one. For example, you can cook their favorite meal and invite friends and family to enjoy it with you. You can share your favorite memories and honor a life well-lived. You don’t have to save these rituals for special days either. If you feel inclined, add rituals of remembrance to your everyday life, too.
6. Mind your Internal Dialogue
When someone you love dies, your life changes forever, it may feel like your life is over or that you can go on existing but never genuinely living anymore. It’s common to feel this way, but try to be intentional about your internal dialogue. If the story you tell yourself is that your life is over, you may begin to manifest that life of mere existence. Instead, think about developing an internal story that honors your loss and leaves space for you to find joy in life again in the future. For example, instead of “my spouse was my one true love and that was it for me,” try telling yourself, “my spouse and I shared an incredible love that changed my life, and I am leaving my heart open to the possibility of future joys, too.”
The concept of moving forward in your life sounds easy. Unfortunately, when you’re grieving, it is far from it. Give yourself grace as you navigate life after a loved one’s death, and use the strategies above to cope as you come to terms with this new and challenging phase of your life.