Grief, Mourning, and Loss: Healthy Ways of Coping

Holding hands Last month, I discussed some of the unhealthy and ultimately ineffective ways of coping with grief and loss. As I mentioned, failure to grieve as completely as possible can lead to complicated grief as well as depression.

As promised, in this article I will discuss just the opposite—effective and healing ways to cope with grief and loss.

My first suggestion would be to allow yourself (and for others to allow you) to have ALL of your feelings. This is not easy to do, as many people have ideas and judgments about which feelings are appropriate and which are not. So if you are feeling a combination of deep sadness, relief (such as when a person who died was sick for a long time), anger at being abandoned, guilt, and so on, it is essential to allow yourself to feel those conflicted feelings. You may not be able to share those feelings with everyone, but it’s important to at least allow yourself to have them.

This last point is particularly important: It’s wise for a person who is grieving to the extent possible to have someone with whom to share those feelings openly, without fear of judgment or condemnation. This might be a close and compassionate friend, a counselor, a person connected with one’s religious community, or members of a support group. What may need to be avoided are other family members and friends who are not going to allow you to express yourself fully.

The second suggestion would be to allow yourself the time you need to grieve. Too many people like to set time constraints on the grief process. This works both ways—condemnation of someone whom they feel has not grieved long enough, or who seems to be suffering for too long. The time someone needs to grieve is determined by many factors, including the type of relationship with the deceased, the nature/quality of the relationship, and the psychological health of the person who is grieving. By this latter point, I refer to the amount of loss the individual has experienced in life, the degree of self-awareness, and the strength of the person’s support system.

The third suggestion would be to use your support system and do your best to put aside your fear of being a burden or weak and helpless. If you find you are unable to do that and cannot make use of your existing support system, it’s essential to develop a new one. This may include a counselor and/or support group. Having people around you with whom you feel safe enough to share your feelings is vital to a healthy grieving process.

The last suggestion is to use whatever spiritual/religious beliefs you have to help and guide you. Prayer, talking to God, expressing all of your feelings to a power greater than yourself, and going to your local place of worship can be extremely helpful. Your spiritual/religious beliefs may also help you understand death as a part of life, even those deaths that seem premature. You may also take this time to explore what you believe happens to people when they die.

For those with a spiritual/religious connection, this is also an opportunity to utilize ritual as a tool of grieving. From a funeral/memorial itself to visits to grave sites to doing whatever feels right as a way of creating an enduring connection with the deceased, this time of mourning will be greatly helped by rituals.

For those who have either abandoned the religious/spiritual practices of their family of origin or who never had those types of connections and do not wish to have them, death can be a time of soul searching and discovery. An exploration of the role the deceased has played in your life, positive lessons (and painful ones) he/she left you with, and how life will change without that person can be part of the grieving process and support healing.

This is by no means a complete list, but hopefully it’s a start to grieving in a healthy and effective way.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Denise

    Denise

    December 3rd, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Although its good to let yourself embrace all that you feel it’s not very easy especially because you are down and vulnerable at such a time..My dad passed away a year ago and I felt like I would never be able to get over the loss. We shared a great bond and his death was a major blow to me..Initially I grappled with my feelings and although I tried telling myself he is now in a better place it didn’t suffice.

    Then a friend suggested seeking refuge in spirituality,something I had kept away for many years but never stopped hearing about from my mom..That was very good advice because it slowly lifted me and I started to feel better. Also the relation between spirituality and the after life helped because I could then relate to my late father. All in all, it helped me get over the loss and cope with it in a healthy way. I wouldn’t know how get out of it otherwise.

  • Ed

    Ed

    December 3rd, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    When I lost my wife a few years back I felt like everyone around me was encouraging me to move on and get on life far before I was ready. I felt like I had to hide the grief that I was still feeling inside because they would act like they were so disappointed if they could see that I was still grieving and feeling sad. I tried to overcome a bit of that and try to tell myself to feel w hat I was feeling but instead I think that in an effort to make others happy I hurt myself by not fully processing that pain that I still had inside. This is certainly not an easy process but I think that the more that you concentrate on taking care of yourself, and that means crying ans creaming when you feel the need, then do it, because I think that for me I would have gotten to this better place much sooner had I stopped worrtying about others quite as much as I did.

  • Becky

    Becky

    August 7th, 2017 at 1:52 PM

    Thank you for the advice, I lost my husband 2 months ago and cry a lot. I try not to around people but when they ask How are you .. I tell them How the hell do you think I am. Please ask what you can do for me not how are you.

  • SHAUN

    SHAUN

    December 3rd, 2012 at 11:17 PM

    One thing I’d like to mention:

    No matter what coping technique you employ,it may feel like its not good enough.This has happened to me in the past and frankly it is because we are dealing with troubling emotions at the time.So even if you feel like its not working just hang in there. It might be helping but your grief is not allowing you to see the healing. Hold on and it will hopefully be perfectly alright.

  • harper

    harper

    December 3rd, 2012 at 11:35 PM

    Can being homesick be a form of grieving? I recently completed a trans-Atlantic move and feel like I am definitely grieving my old life. I allow myself to feel whatever comes up even when it’s just no fun at all. I had a friend recently relocate to the same area and she complains of homesickness, too. I tell her to do just what this article said to do. Let yourself be sad as long as you need to and cry as much as you feel like crying. I don’t think you can get “better” until all of those emotions are allowed to come out.

  • Caroline

    Caroline

    December 3rd, 2012 at 11:37 PM

    Grieving is such a hard thing.
    I lost my grandma a few years ago and its still hard everyday. my mom says I use it as an excuse but i don’t.

  • bonnie

    bonnie

    December 4th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    you have to remember though that most of us are so sad after a loss like this that very few of us are thinking of ways to deal with it in a healthy way. . . most of us are just searching for a way to make it day to day without totally losing it

  • Kalila Borghini

    Kalila Borghini

    December 5th, 2012 at 3:11 AM

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I hope that none of you felt I was diminishing the pain and suffering caused by a death. I was only trying to encourage you to do your best to face the loss rather than deal with it self-destructively.

    Homesickness is a form of loss as well. It implies that familiar people and places have been left behind. Relocating is very stressful for that very reason and the grieving process is very much a part of the adjustment to the new location.

    If there has been a devastating loss in your life and find that you cannot deal with it in a healthy way, that’s definitely the time to seek help from your support network and possibly a professional.

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