Unfortunately, death and grief will come to all of us at some point. How will we handle it? How should we mourn? Is there any hope? How do we cope with grief?
Ultimately, we want to know: How can we grieve well?
Grief is hard work and it is important to face it so that you can come out stronger on the other side. You must understand that grief is, in a very real sense, like a job. That’s why we have to work through it.
Everyone copes with death in different ways. Some grieve and allow people to see it, others mourn silently and hold it all on the inside.
However we may choose to cope the loss of a loved one, the process is healthy and necessary. Continue to read and learn how to help yourself (or someone close to you) through this most difficult time.
Coping with Grief
What is grief?
Grief is deep sorrow in response to a loss. This loss can be anything, including the loss of a job or relationship or some hope for the future. The loss that often affects us most is the death of a loved one.
What is the difference between grief and mourning?
Grief is the internal flurry of emotions experienced in the wake of a death, tragedy, or other loss. Mourning is the external way that grief is processed.
So, yes, there is a difference between grief and mourning. Grief is what you are holding onto. You are keeping it on the inside. Mourning is what you are releasing and letting out.
Imagine yourself as a pitcher of water. You are holding grief inside and in order to express your grief into mourning, you have to pour it out.
It is important to recognize where you are in the process of grief vs. mourning.
What are the symptoms of grief?
The symptoms of grief may manifest differently at different times. Grief can show up in physical, emotional, or mental manifestations.
Physical problems may include:
- Heart palpitations
- Stomach problems
- Body aches and pains
Emotional symptoms may be:
- Loss of joy
- Feelings of guilt, shame, betrayal, fear, and more
When it comes to your mental health, depression, anxiety or even complicated grief can develop.
How long does grief last?
I am sorry to have to say that there is no set timetable for grief. You will grieve differently than your mother, sister, brother and father. We all have our own time frame.
If grief lasts longer and seems to run deeper than you are comfortable with, it is probably time for you to get some professional help.
For a more in-depth discussion, see our Grief Timeline article.
How long should mourning a death last?
Remember that mourning is the outpouring of grief, the expression grief that you show the public. Thus mourning may last for a set period of time, while grief has its own timetable.
Some religions require certain time frames for mourning. The Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, and Muslim religious sects have set mourning periods.
Society may also put a timeline on your mourning period. 12 months is a common timeline for the societal mourning period.
Wearing black, no dancing or celebrations, a black wreath on your door, covering the doorbell or knocker are just a few ways to let society know that you are in mourning.
What are some ways to mourn a death?
There is no wrong way to mourn. Recovering from your loss takes time and you truly cannot rush it.
You will want to know what your religious rules for mourning are. You can start by talking to your religious leader and setting up the services and viewings that your religion may require.
Having friends and family around you at a time like this will help you both emotionally and mentally. You are in mourning and it helps you to cope when you publicly announce it. Your community will stand by your side and help you out in ways you would never have thought of.
How to Grieve Well
There’s no definitive way to grieve well. We can’t promise you that if you do one or five particular things, you’ll find complete healing.
You may even think that you’re grieving poorly the whole time, only to realize – in a year, in five years – that you actually handled it all pretty well.
As you process your grief, your hope for healing will increase. While you’ll still always miss your loved one, you can look forward to a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.
So we’ve put together some helpful tips that can help you cope with grief. Here are some ideas that you can put into practice as you respond to your loss and express it through mourning.
1. Face your grief
Facing your grief can be hard. Your life will never be the same and that is a daunting prospect.
But don’t ignore your grief. This will not make it go away or make it easier to handle. As you learn to live differently, you can open yourself to the idea that you will live a full life again. However, these thoughts can be overwhelming at times.
So give yourself time to adjust. This is a new life that has been dealt to you. Continue to move forward – this is healthy for you and shouldn’t cause feelings of guilt.
2. Take care of yourself
It is vital that you take extra care of yourself as you mourn. If you need to shut out society right now, do it – for a time.
Close the door, turn off your phone, and have some quiet time, or even “me” time. Read that book that you’ve been putting off. Binge the television show you’ve been wanting to see. Catch up on some much-needed rest.
These are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend some quality downtime as you mourn.
3. Accept the natural effects of grief
When we grieve, our brain produces a torrent of hormones and neurochemicals. You may be foggy. I have had families tell me that their brain feels like “oatmeal.” They feel like they “have been drinking” and many other analogies.
Another common feeling is that you don’t “have it all together.” It is OK to feel like that – no one has it all together!
These are all natural feelings. Our brains protect us from the overwhelming feelings of grief. Things will start to come together for you. It just takes time and some grief work.
More: Symptoms of Grief
Physical activity can help improve those feelings of fatigue, brain fog, and mild depression. When you exercise, it releases endorphins and helps combat the negative effects of stress on your body.
Try jogging, riding bikes, or joining a gym. Invite a friend over for regular conversation and a walk around the neighborhood.
5. Begin to adjust
Adjusting to life after your loved one is gone will take time and effort. It will be slow, and you don’t need to make major changes right away, but this will happen because life without your loved one simply is different.
If you are one of the many people that have been a caregiver, it can be hard to adjust to all the extra time you may have. This might be a great time for you to develop a new healthy routine for yourself.
Because your loved one is gone, you’ve already begun to adjust. Take steps to ensure that these changes result in positive progress and healthy differences in your lifestyle.
6. Start something new
Consider starting a new hobby, taking up a new pastime, or getting involved in something fresh and different.
Over the years, I have had people tell me that getting a new pet is very helpful. You have something to nurture and love.
Traveling and a change of scenery can sometimes be very helpful to you. It can help to remind you of the beauty that is still abounding in this world. It may clear your mind and get you back to a sound emotional state of being.
7. Continue something old
While making new beginnings can be good and healthy, it’s important to remember the things you shared with your loved one.
Consider doing some of the things you used to do together. Invite a friend to go with you, or just go solo. Keep your family traditions alive, but find a way to incorporate a memorial or tribute to your loved one.
For instance, you might continue your holiday tree-decorating tradition. Get a special memorial ornament, set out a chair to represent your loved one, or simply keep your tradition going as a way to honor their memory.
8. Modify your environment
Your loved one helped to fill your home with effects. There is no reason to feel guilty for cleaning out and getting rid of material items. You can donate clothes. Maybe pass on some jewelry or other personal items to family members.
The important things to keep and hold onto are your memories. Save those precious photos and keepsakes, save a favorite t-shirt or hat, but know that you are free to give away or donate as you see fit.
9. Create a memorial
There’s a reason why we set up headstones permanently etched with the names of our loved ones. It’s because we treasure their memory.
When mourning a death, we have a natural desire to see the person remembered and have their life and legacy honored.
Here are a few of our favorite memorial ideas:
- Etch a bird feeder with their name & dates, set up near your kitchen window or porch
- Create a memory jar filled with notes, stories, and photos
- Commission a fine-art portrait or a fun comic book that tells their story
- Have their famous recipe engraved on an heirloom cutting board
10. Start a grief journal
Many people find it helpful to write out their thoughts and feelings throughout the grief process. A grief journal provides a private, safe space to express yourself (no matter how strange or negative your feelings might be!).
You can also write down memories of your loved one, or things that you appreciated about them. This can help by focusing on the positives, and can be a beautiful, life-affirming tribute.
- Get a nice journal, one that will last
- Set aside time each day, or several times a week, to journal
- It doesn’t have to be long – a sentence or two is perfectly fine!
- Write your own thoughts and feelings: how are you doing today?
- Write down something you remember about your loved one: a memory, something they loved or loathed, a personality quirk
Read next: 22 Honest Quotes About Grief