Getting through grief: 3 coping strategies for unusual times
Even under "normal" circumstances, processing loss and getting to the other side of grief is a challenge.
Figuring out how to face our feelings, accept them and eventually move forward is an ongoing battle for people everywhere, especially now.
Because no one, nowhere, is immune to loss. And grief is the end result of all manner of losses:
- The passing of loved ones, compounded by not being able to be by their sides at the end.
- The collective societal grief of losing hundreds of thousands of people to a pandemic.
- The sudden death of beliefs you had about safety, life in general, and how the world works.
And the list goes on. But whatever you’re mourning, it’s hard to know how or when to turn the page.
And dealing with loss is more difficult right now
To add insult to injury, (thanks, Covid-19), the usual ways we deal with grief may not be available to many of us—spending time with family reminiscing at funeral services, a hug from a dear friend.
And the people that might typically offer us support may also have less emotional bandwidth to share as they handle their own feelings and reactions to the crisis.
Everyone experiences grief in their own way
If you’re experiencing loss, it’s especially important to remember that different people mourn in different ways and the grieving process doesn’t happen on a set timeline. In fact, even though experts talk about the five (or six) stages of grief, it’s safe to say that for many people, healing isn’t linear at all.
As is true in less-painful areas of your life, your experience of loss is 100% your own and does not have to resemble anyone else’s. Forget any "shoulds" or comparisons here—they don’t help heal anyone.
A few ways to cope with grief
As mentioned earlier, there’s no set timeline for grief, and there are no shortcuts to healing. There are, however, some coping strategies that may be of help, especially in these strange times we’re living through.
Name (and claim) your feelings
This is especially key if you’ve been pushing aside your grief because you feel like what you’re feeling isn’t appropriate for whatever reason. Whether it’s because you feel like you should be "over it" already, or that what you’re mourning is "no big deal" this is usually because you’re comparing your experiences to those of other people.
To process your grief, you’re going to have to identify your feelings and accept them as valid and more importantly, transient. Your feelings will fluctuate and change from day to day and even moment to moment. But meanwhile...
Give yourself all the time you need.
It doesn’t matter how long it took someone else to feel better after a loss. You’re the only person living your life in your body, so it follows that your experience may be different. And by the same token, take lots of time to take care of yourself (physically and emotionally) while you recover.
Give yourself the gift of understanding and plenty of mental space. And if you find yourself ruminating on what could have been different, or how you could change the past (you can’t), you may want to start keeping a thought record during your bereavement to work with these repetitive thoughts and replace them with more useful thoughts. And if you find yourself thinking about your loved ones often, it may be useful to redirect your thoughts to ways you can….
Remember and celebrate the lives of loved ones
Even if you can’t attend a funeral or wake right now, there are other ways to remember and celebrate the lives of people who’ve passed on. Connect with people who knew and cared about the person, too, and tell each other stories about the good times over a call or videoconference.
Or if you’re not feeling up to talking with another person just yet, write down your happy memories in a journal. You can also make a donation in your loved one’s name to a cause they supported or plan an in-person commemoration at a future date.
If part of your grief is feeling like you didn’t have a proper goodbye, writing a letter to the person you lost, telling them how much you valued their presence in your life could help you find some closure.
Grief is a natural (if uncomfortable) part of adapting to significant changes in our lives. It’s not easy, by any measure, but research shows that most of us are able to recover and move on with time and effort.
It may feel impossible to comprehend at the moment, but grief has a purpose—and it’s to help us. Not only does experiencing grief help us to recover from loss, but it also helps us adapt to changes we may not welcome but have to coexist with.
Grief is a normal part of life. But sometimes you just need to talk to a real, live person. If that’s where you’re at right now, here’s a list of Grief Hotlines from the Grief Resource Network you can call or text for support.