Grief, Mourning, and Loss: Healthy Ways of Coping

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.

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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.

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