Life After the Death of a Loved One
There is nothing that can truly prepare you for losing a loved one. Even if your special person was ill, imagining their death and actually living through it are two very different things. The fact is, you will likely experience trauma when a loved one dies, and there is no quick fix for learning how to continue with your own life when you are coping with the loss.
Anyone who has ever experienced a loss knows that grief is never really “over,” and concepts like “moving on” are misnomers. You never get over the loss of someone special, but it’s important to find ways to cope so that you can move forward in life. There are four essential aspects of the grieving process that will help you begin to do so, and we will discuss how you can take proactive steps toward each of them below.
Accept the Reality of What Has Happened
As human beings, we have a natural denial response when someone we love passes on. Our brains use denial as a way to protect us from difficult feelings and experiences. It is very difficult to come to terms with the fact that a special person in our lives is physically dead, though viewing their body at a memorial service or funeral can aid in this process of conscious mental acceptance. It can also help to talk openly about the person you have lost, telling stories and sharing with others who knew him or her, and even talking about the circumstances surrounding their death. Grappling with your new reality won’t be easy, but it is a necessary step in your early days of grief.
Let Yourself Feel the Pain as it Comes
We live in a culture where it can oftentimes feel more acceptable to bottle up our emotions and repress negative feelings like sadness or anger than to embrace them fully. Unfortunately, failing to allow yourself to feel the normal emotions associated with grief will only serve to cause you more pain and suffering in the end. Avoidance can lead to depression or even to serious physical ailments. The only healthy way to cope with your loss is to let it be part of your life experience. Feel whatever emotions arise, let them ebb and flow in your daily life, and allow yourself grace to struggle purposefully through them.
Experiencing your pain through tears or any other form of expression will provide relief and a much-needed outlet for the range of emotions that come with the pain of loss. In addition to sadness, it is common to feel anger, guilt, confusion, or even relief that your loved one’s pain and suffering has ended. These feelings will come and go, sometimes unexpectedly, and they will vary in intensity each time. Emotions are unpredictable in general and certainly during times of grief and turmoil. It can be uncomfortable, especially for people unaccustomed to showing or embracing emotion, but it is both normal and important.
Adjust to an Environment Without Your Loved One Near
Losing someone you love leaves a hole in your heart, but it can also leave a hole in areas of responsibility in your life too. Maybe you spent much of your time caring for your loved one when they were ill, and now you don’t know what to do with your time. Or perhaps you must now take over household responsibilities like cooking or paying the bills, which your loved one previously handled. It’s coming home to an empty – or emptier – house that is the most challenging for many people. Think about the things that might ease your transition, such as adopting a pet to care for, volunteering to help someone in need, or taking up a new hobby to keep your hands and heart occupied as you begin to grasp what everyday life will be like in the absence of your loved one.
Invest Your Emotional Energy Wisely While Coping With Loss
Even if you feel stuck in a place of sadness and loss, you’ll see that life will maintain its momentum in the wider world. It can be sad to feel like everyone around you is moving on, yet it’s important for you to consider your future, too. As life begins to move forward around you, opportunities will arise to make new connections and form new relationships. Now, this could mean romantic relationships, platonic friendships, or even new business connections. Rushing into any of these new relationships, however, is not advisable.
Take things slow while you are coping with the loss and try not to make rushed decisions or big life changes. While it’s important to maintain an openness to new connections in life, grief is a time when it will generally feel more positive to further invest in the important and life-giving relationships you have already formed. Spending time with people who share your values and interests is important, and it is not disloyal to your deceased loved one to find enjoyment in the other people in your life. Invest your time and emotional energy in them, and lean on them for support as needed.
Reminder: Give Yourself Time, Space, and Care
Grief is a bit like a living, breathing entity that will grow and evolve with you. Give it the time and space it needs to do its work within you and your life. Each of the four steps above will be essential to your grief journey and to find the strength to move forward, but each of the four can take quite a bit of time to muddle through, too. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong timeline for your grief, so don’t rush yourself or feel self-conscious about not being “over it” yet.
Instead of getting frustrated with yourself when you are coping with the loss, take extra care for your emotional and physical well-being. Eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, exercise or engage in hobbies that keep you active, and don’t cut yourself off from your social connections. Although it may be hard to envision right now, you will make progress in your grief journey and begin to move forward in your life once again.