By Christa Banister
Grief is a process of letting go and learning to accept and live with loss. The amount of time it takes to do this varies with each person. When my 38-year-old father passed away after a nearly two-year battle with cancer, it was safe to say my 14-year-old self wasn’t exactly equipped to know how to navigate grief.
While well-meaning family members, friends, neighbors, and teachers tried their best to say the right thing, the usual platitudes, pat answers, and “feel free to reach out if you ever need anything” wasn’t always helpful in navigating grief and loss.
Of course, dealing with grief and loss isn’t something relegated to death of a loved one. We’ve all lost something, or someone, close to us. Maybe it’s a failed marriage. A broken friendship. The loss of a beloved pet. An unexpected career change, a big move, or the ending of a particular season. Sometimes it’s when life looks much different than you’ve pictured it.
Processing the pain and roller coaster of emotions that come with loss can be daunting. How do we know how to deal with grief? Does time truly “heal all wounds” like the adage suggests? What practical solutions can help as you learn how to navigate grief?
Am I Grieving the Right Way?
Unlike so much in life that’s dictated by a schedule or has a user manual included with purchase, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
Dr. Wendy Lichtenthal, a psychologist at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center acknowledges the struggle in NIH News in Health, the National Institutes of Health’s monthly newsletter.
“People often believe they should feel a certain way,” she says. “But such ‘shoulds’ can lead to feeling badly about feeling badly. It’s hugely important you give yourself permission to grieve and allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling.”
For some people, grief may involve a lot of sleepless nights or an inability to focus. For others, their emotions may fluctuate as they begin to adapt to the loss. Happy memories may stir up a smile, and moments later, anger or sadness may flood to the forefront. Not surprisingly, different cultures have different ways of grieving: some more private and quiet, and others more open and unfiltered.
When navigating grief and loss, there’s no magical or normal time frame when you’re “all better.” What might last a few months for one person may be a year or more for somebody else. And that’s perfectly fine because everyone processes their emotions and feels things differently.
The good news is that research shows that “most people can recover from loss on their own through the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits,” says the American Psychological Association.
What Are Healthy Ways of Dealing With Grief and Loss?
Coping with loss, no matter how grave, is absolutely essential for our mental health. But where do you even begin, especially when you’re adjusting to a new normal that you weren’t prepared for?
While no two people’s experiences with grief may look the same, there are a few proven strategies to help yourself work through the pain, including:
- Look for the Helpers
Mr. Rogers’ advice couldn’t be more relevant. Seek out the company of those who will listen, support, and empathize with you through your loss.
- Don’t Bottle It Up
Share your feelings with those you trust. It’s helpful to process out loud. Documenting the good days and the difficult ones in a journal will also remind you how far you’ve come.
- Prioritize Your Health
While you may not feel like eating or going for that walk, it’s important to eat well, remain active, and get plenty of sleep. If you’re finding it difficult, seek out a doctor’s care.
- Take a Step Back
Avoid making huge life changes in the middle of your grief. Your perspective and decision-making will likely be askew.
- Be Patient
- Celebrate Your Loved One
If you’re processing the personal loss of someone you held dear, don’t be afraid to remember and honor them. Maybe donate to their favorite charity. Share a post on social media. Plant a garden in their honor.
What Can I Do When Grief Doesn’t Go Away?
Even if it takes longer than expected, most people are naturally resilient. While the loss is never forgotten, we’re able to endure and carry on with our lives.
But for some, grief may be so severe it falls into the category of complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder.
Research from Yale University psychologist Dr. Holly Prigerson suggests that 15% of people who lost a loved one might fall into this category marked by “broad changes to all personal relationships, a sense of meaninglessness, a prolonged yearning or searching for the deceased, and a sense of rupture in personal beliefs.”
When you’ve experienced loss, some days are undoubtedly easier than others. Triggers can come out of nowhere, and it’s important to have support and resources whenever you need it, especially when your grief doesn’t seem to be going away. Treatment is just the beginning of a lifelong commitment to recovery at Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, which is why MBH Onward is so invaluable. Research shows that the longer you are engaged, the greater your chance of a successful, long-term recovery. MBH Onward is here to help you with this by fostering your connection with other Meadows Behavioral Healthcare alumni. Reach out today to learn more about the many ways we are still here for in your journey.