How to understand and navigate grief after losing a loved one
It is said that death is one of the only certainties in life. But knowing something must happen eventually does not make it easier to accept, especially when a loved one passes suddenly.
Psychiatrist Casey Berson, MD, said grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one. It is often painful and paired with emotional and physical distress. “While grief is not a psychiatric disorder, it can cause or worsen other diagnoses such as depression or anxiety,” she said.
What is the grief process?
Dr. Berson said there is no right way to deal with loss and no timeline during which it is appropriate to grieve. The process looks different for everyone. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, shock and testing are only a few of the stages that one can find themselves in.
“It is possible to be in two stages at the same time, come back to some or repeat others. It is normal to alternate between the painful reality of the loss and then to set the pain aside to focus on something emotionally neutral or positive,” said Dr. Berson.
How can you cope with grief?
Here are some examples of things you can do to cope while grieving.
- Remember the good times. Find comfort in the memories you have of the deceased.
- Engage in new activities. Add new activities to your daily schedule – something you’ve always wanted to do like playing tennis with friends, sewing or going on a daily walk.
- Nurture new or old relationships. Look to the relationships you’ve always had in your life and explore adding new ones that bring you joy.
- Plan for the future. Make plans for the future to help you look past the present moment to the great things to come.
- Journal. Write about your grief. It can reduce any loneliness you are feeing and improve your mood.
- Stay in a routine. Maintain regular patterns of sleep, exercise and nutrition to help you adapt when grieving.
How can friends and family offer support for someone grieving?
Support from close family and friends, as well as a spiritual mentor, is appropriate when someone is experiencing severe grief. That support can be given in many ways, including:
- Reaching out
- Sending condolence letters
- Empathic listening
- Helping with house care or food preparation
- Spending time with each other
- Respecting their wishes to have their own space
It is important to routinely check in with someone who is grieving. Dr. Berson said grief counseling and support groups may also be helpful options to consider.
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