Many people feel such intense grief following the death of a loved one that they wonder how they will ever learn to cope. There is no road map for grief – every person will grieve a loss in their own way and at their own pace. It may be hard to believe in the early days, but most people find that the pain does ease as time passes. It can be a difficult process but, as we work through our grief, thoughts about the person who has died can become more comfortable as we adjust to life without them.
Just as everyone’s experience of grief is different, so are the strategies that help us to cope with its impact. While coping with the death of someone you love is one of life’s biggest challenges, there are many ways to care for yourself as you come to terms with your loss.
Some strategies for coping with grief
Grief is a highly individual experience. How we cope with grief also differs across cultures, age groups, genders, religions, professions and communities.
Some people need to have others around them in the first few weeks and months after a loved one has died. For them, the company of family, close friends, pastors or counsellors can be an important source of comfort and support.
Others find it better to be alone, preferring to set aside opportunities for ‘time out’ when being with others is getting too much. Turning off a mobile phone may help to create a quiet space alone when we can deal with emotions that have been stored up during the day.
There are different ways of grieving at these times: thinking, crying, praying, meditating, writing, drawing, or talking to a pet.
Some people like to keep a diary, writing down their feelings and the memories of the loved one they have lost. Reflecting back on how their grief has changed over a period of weeks and months can become proof of healing for them. If the diary is kept in a safe place, the written memories become precious in the future.
Many people feel less alone by grieving with other family members, including children. Sharing their grief with others can provide an important sense of connection.
Tears are a natural response to emotional pain, however some people may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about crying in front of others, or even when they’re alone. It’s important to remember that there is nothing wrong with crying. Many people find crying brings a sense of relief and can help to calm them when they are distressed. Rather than being an indication of weakness, tears are often a sign of strength and show that the bereaved person is prepared to work through their grief. Some people find it difficult to cry, and yearn for tears to release their grief.
The grieving process can seem long and lonely, so many people find it important to confide in a trusted relative or friend. Doctors, grief counsellors or the local community health centre may be able to help in this way. Some people contact a support group of people who have been through a similar situation and find their experience invaluable.
Some other useful strategies
Although everyone grieves differently, some of the following strategies may be helpful:
- live one day at a time
- do something special for yourself every day
- avoid making any major decisions, such as selling the house, in the first year following a death if possible
- talk to a caring friend, pastor or counsellor
- join a bereavement support group
- read books on grief
- write letters to the person you have lost to express your feelings or as a way of saying goodbye. You can keep these in a safe place, bury them under a bush you plant in their memory, or scatter the pieces in a significant place
- keep a diary or journal as a record of your own journey of grief
- create a memorial for the person who died by planting a tree, creating a memory book or photo album. Children often like to collect items for a memento box
- commemorate the person you lost on special days, such as birthdays.
Self-care is important to prevent further stress to the body and to meet your own physical and emotional needs. The following activities may be helpful to you:
- a regular daily routine with set times for getting up, meals and going to bed
- a balanced diet including fruit and vegetables, breads and cereals, meat, fish and dairy products
- avoiding too much coffee and tea to help you sleep at night
- outdoor activities, such as going for a walk, gardening, or just spending time in nature, to take you away from the stress and refresh you mentally
- exercise, such as swimming, walking and team games, will produce chemicals called endorphins in the body which help to counteract depression and make you feel good. The exercise does not need to be strenuous. If you have doubts about your fitness consult your doctor.
- relaxation: meditation, massage, or listening to music
- a relaxing pre-sleep routine: winding down before bed and limiting screen time
- avoiding seeking relief through alcohol, smoking, medication and other drugs
- consulting your doctor about physical symptoms, getting a health check, or for practical help with your grief
Be patient, tolerant and gentle with yourself as you grieve. It is important to seek professional help when you feel overwhelmed by your grief or memories. No one has to bear it all alone. There is help available.
Suicide Prevention Service: 1300 07 77 98
Living Beyond Suicide: 1300 76 11 93
Providing specialised support to individuals who have had a recent suicide attempt, and those affected by suicide loss.
Supporting anyone experiencing grief, facing any type of loss, providing access to free telephone and online support services and resources.