Dealing with Grief: When you miss someone or something you loved

Grief is a natural reaction to loss, but it can become all-consuming and overwhelming. You may not appreciate the potential depth of grief unless you are in the throes of it. Understanding grief and knowing how to work your way through it (at your own pace, in your own way) is important.

Grief is most often associated with the loss of a significant loved one (through death or a break up, for example), but it can also occur when you lose an important part of your life (like a job), or lose your independence (as through disability). It can also occur when your expectations or hopes change (a prime example can be parents whose adult child is struggling with severe mental illness and so may no longer be able to hold a job or have a family of their own).

The loss of something special to you may bring out an emotional, mental, or physical pain that can come and go in waves, feel chronic, or hit you in unsuspecting bursts with pangs of shock, sadness, anxiety, and helplessness. Some may experience grief through stages of denial (struggling to accept the new reality), anger (at the world or those around you), bargaining (wherein you plead for a different outcome), depression, and finally acceptance of the circumstance. Others may skip the stages altogether, jump from one to another, or may be stuck in one maladaptively. It is important to note that grief is a very individual experience—everyone copes with losses differently.

How can I help myself when I am grieving?

Connect with others: Lean on your friends and family for support and reach out for help whenever you need it. You can also join support groups for those who have dealt with or are currently dealing with the same type of loss for a sense of community and understanding.

Practice self-care: Make sure to be aware of your eating habits, sleep patterns, exercise, social interactions, hygiene, and hobbies. Although it is easier said than done, be sure not to let go of the things you love and lose yourself in your grief. Asking a trusted loved one to help you with your self-care can also be a good practice.

Recognize your own struggles: If you think your grief is too overwhelming, or that it is interfering with your daily functioning to the point that is crippling, seek mental health professionals and therapies as needed.

Try and find meaning in the loss: Whether it’s a friendship breakup, a loved one’s passing, or a dream that was crushed, grief can be the reaction you have when something or someone you loved is no longer there. That is stressful and heartbreaking, but remembering the good and making sense of the loss can help you focus on the positive. While, for example, losing a loved one is tragic and horrible, how beautiful is it that you loved someone so much that their loss is this impactful? How lucky to have had them for as long as you did!

How can I help others who are grieving?

Help with tasks: Sometimes the crushing emotional grief a friend or loved one is experiencing is so debilitating that the everyday tasks of grocery shopping and laundry can fall through the cracks. Helping them out in practical ways can allow them more room to breathe and can help them feel like their lives aren’t spiraling out of control.

Validate their emotions while still gently guiding them away from maladaptive practices: For example, consider saying things like: “I cannot even imagine how heartbroken you are after breaking your engagement to someone you love so much, and you are allowed to take all the time you need to process it, but ignoring your boss’ calls will only hurt you in the long run. How can I help? Want me to help you draft an email asking for a few personal mental health days so they know what’s happening, and you get to rest a bit?”

Be there for them to vent to and talk to: Let them know there is no one way or timeline set for processing grief. And sometimes the best thing you can do is just listen.

Accept that they may not be themselves for a while: They could have mood swings, be angry at you and the world, flake on plans, not answer texts, or isolate themselves. This is not because of you, it’s because they are trying to adjust to a heartbreaking reality. Remind them gently you are always there for them, even when they need some time alone.

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 – Nazila Tolooei
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