Healthy Grieving: Tools for healing the pain of grief

Spiritual practices. Grief opens the door to feelings of confusion, insecurity and instability. This is a time to put attention on spiritual practice. If you’ve been part of a faith community, continue with practices that have always engaged your soul. If you’ve not been especially “religious,” start to bring spiritual practices into your life, such as mediation, yoga, and time in nature. This will ground you and bring you a stable emotional foundation for dealing with this time of transition.

Exercise. Activities such as walking, swimming, running, cycling, weight training, etc., will not only strengthen your body, but also stimulate your spirit. A wide range of studies demonstrate that physical activity is highly effective for lowering depression and lifting mood.

Rest. Along with physical activity, it’s important to conserve energy by resting. Judith Lasater, PhD., a rest expert and author explains: “Everything is better when you are rested. One thing being tired, depleted and stressed out does is narrow our perspective. It is so uncomfortable to be in our body and in our mind in those moments; and so when we are caught up with our own discomfort, it is like we have blinders on to everyone else’s. We are not generous of spirit in that moment. We have no energy to do for others, to do for ourselves. What we need to do is notice that, understand its causes and conditions, and then take one small step toward resting. Today, I am going to rest when I am tired for five minutes.”

Mindfulness. A young woman wrote advice columnist “Dear Abby” because she was grieving the death of her boyfriend saying: “I don’t know how to stop my thoughts from going all over the place. Please help.” Here is Dear Abby’s recommendation: “As to how to disrupt the intrusive memories that keep flooding back, a technique many people use is to remind themselves to stay in the moment each time an unwanted memory pops up.”

Support. Most grievers find the best support in a grief self-help group. The Hospice Foundation of America cites three benefits that come from a grief support group: “Validation: Being with other grieving people can reaffirm that one is not going crazy. While every loss is unique, through support groups one can bask in the support of others who have experienced loss and understand. Time away: For many people, a support group can be a break from the loneliness and the boredom that often come with grief. Suggestions for coping: There is no single solution to dealing with loss, but members of a support group can offer a range of alternatives. By listening to stories of how others cope with a particular problem, one can find the solution that might work best.”

Drop guilt. After her husband of 34 years died, social psychologist Susan K. Perry, PhD., offered this personal insight about guilt: “You will most likely feel some guilt after a loved one dies, for whatever you did or didn’t do over the years or at the end. Thoughts like, ‘I shouldn’t have bugged him for not doing chores,’ and ‘Why didn’t I hug him more, tell him I loved him more?’ are probably nearly universal. Such misguided guilt-tripping doesn’t help.”

Cry. Tears are emotional first aid because they relieve stress and lower sadness. Neuroscientist and tear researcher Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, the director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN, has spent more than 15 years studying crying and tears. His research reveals that 85 percent of women and 73 percent of men felt less sad and angry after crying.

Stay positive. In her book, Widowed, Dr. Joyce Brothers, writes: “If there should ever be another good man with whom I share my life, there will still be that empty corner of my soul. I know what I had and what I lost. I hope I will not spend the rest of my life alone. But if I do, I will not be sorry for myself. Life goes on, and I am ready to join the parade again.”

Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.

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