The word “bereavement” literally means “to be deprived by death.” Those who have lost a loved one—child, spouse, parent, grandparent, relative, friend or colleague—find themselves coping with loss while living with grief.
Here are suggestions for managing this time of pain and healing.
Know what to expect. Expect emotional turmoil. Some of the common emotional responses when someone you love has died include: disbelief, confusion, anger, sadness, yearning, despair, guilt, anxiety and more. When any of these emerge, just accept it as part of the grief recovery process.
Know your “job” as a griever. J. William Worden, PhD., a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School identifies four “tasks” of the mourner—task 1: to accept the reality of the loss; task 2: to experience the pain of grief; task 3: to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing; task 4: to withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship. Dr. Worden’s “tasks” are an important reminder that you, as a griever, have a job to do to heal from grief.
Spend time with supportive people. Not everyone knows how to respond in skillful ways to a griever. These individuals don’t mean to be unkind or insensitive. They just don’t know how to help a griever. Find those who have the “magic touch,” those in whose presence you feel accepted and validated. Stay close to them. Distance yourself from the others.
Share your thoughts and feelings. When you are with kind, supportive individuals, let them know how you are doing emotionally and what you are thinking mentally. Getting your thoughts and feelings “out there” into words can help you clarify things.
Take care of your health. You’ve already suffered one loss. In the process of grieving, don’t lose your health as well. Be sure to eat well, drink water and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.
Postpone major life changes. A time of grief is not the time to make major changes such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs, making new financial investments, having another child, etc. Give yourself time to adjust to loss before making any big lifestyle changes.
Be patient. It can take months or even years to fully absorb the loss into your life. Cultivate patience. You will heal but it will take time.
Get professional help when necessary. Sometimes the loss is overwhelming, and one simply cannot manage it singlehandedly. That’s the time to seek professional aid. “Speaking to a counselor or therapist when you have been hurt by death is no different from going to a medical doctor when you have a deep cut. Both kinds of professionals are trained to help people heal,” writes Marilyn E. Gootman, Ed.D., author When A Friend Dies.
Practice shalom. In his book, Living With Loss, Healing with Hope, Rabbi Earl Grollman says that in Hebrew “shalom” means farewell, peace, and welcome. He explains: “Shalom says farewell to the past. At the funeral; and through the months of grieving, you sorrowfully bid your loved one shalom, good-bye. Shalom makes peace with what life has brought. Through honoring your loved one’s memory and treasuring the life you shared together, you strive to make peace with both life and death. Shalom welcomes the future. Your loved one has transformed and enriched your life. Those gifts live on within you. They give you strength and courage as your walk forward to greet tomorrow.”
Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.
He is the author of numerous books about grief including The Lord Is My Shepherd:
A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.