Losing someone we love is likely the hardest thing that any of us will ever do in our lives. Grief is such a strong and painful emotion, and it can be scary to think about. The loss of a loved one can turn our lives upside down and change our entire perspective on life. Societies often have rituals, such as funerals, to help individuals come together in times of grief and sadness, and these rituals can be so meaningful and important to our healing process.
If you’re grieving the loss of someone, I encourage you to read this post. Grief can be difficult and isolating, and there are often many mixed emotions. This post is meant to help you move through these thoughts and feelings in a way that is non-judgmental and allows you to heal.
We’ve all heard of the stages of grief before, but we believe that everyone has their own unique process, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The most important thing to remember is that you are allowed to feel everything you are feeling. Acceptance of what we are feeling is key any time we have any strong emotion, positive or negative. In other words, it is important to allow yourself to feel however you feel, without trying to restrict or minimize what you’re feeling. This tends to be fairly easy early on in the grief process, as we are expected to be sad or angry in response to the passing of a loved one. Later on, however, when others have seemingly moved on and you’re still in the depths of your despair, it can be more difficult to be accepting of how you are feeling.
It is important to remember during these times that you are not alone, and it is okay for you to grieve for as long as you need to. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is that comes up. Perhaps do some mindfulness to really notice what thoughts and feelings are showing up. Often, when someone close to us passes, there are more complex emotions than just sadness; emotions that we don’t always talk about as a society. There may be anger, frustration, regret, hatred, or other emotions that you may think to yourself that you should not be feeling. We are here to tell you that these are perfectly normal feelings to have. The more that you try to make them go away or ignore them, the more persistent they will be. Instead of trying to get rid of these feelings, try holding them lightly. See if you can allow them to be there, and acknowledge that they can’t harm you. They are simply thoughts and feelings, and although they may hurt, you are in control of how they affect you. Hold them gently, and if you have difficulty doing so, it may be helpful to practice one of the following techniques to help you process these thoughts and emotions so that you may be able to hold them more lightly in the future.
1. Write Down how you feel
Writing can be an extremely powerful action. While we don’t necessarily understand why, writing down how we are feeling and what we are thinking can help us sit with these thoughts and feelings more easily. It’s almost as if we are holding in all of this pent up emotion, and writing it down allows us to release it, and let go in a sense. This doesn’t mean that the thoughts and feelings are going to go away entirely, but that you may be able to better understand them, and begin to move forward.
You can start by writing down what you’re feeling in that moment, and just let your words flow. It may not be in full sentences, but rather specific words. You can try writing on lined paper, or you can use blank paper and colours and write things out the way that feels right. Notice how it feels when you write down those words. Notice what you feel in your body, and how it feels before you write it out versus after. See if you can do this without judgement of your feelings – recognizing that it’s okay to have any thoughts or feelings about the situation. Our thoughts and feelings will ebb and flow like waves in the ocean, and this is all part of the process.
2. Write a Letter
While general writing can be extremely helpful, sometimes we feel as though we have unfinished business with someone who has passed, or we have things we wish we could have said to them. Writing a letter addressed to the person who has passed can be a really powerful exercise. You have an opportunity to say what you need to say, or what you’d like to say, in any way you want. You can address the person directly, and let them know how you feel about them, how their passing has affected you, maybe how they made you mad, or what you’ll miss about them.
Once you’ve finished your letter, you can save it somewhere, or let it go. Letting it go may be something like crumpling it up and throwing it out, burning it, burying it, or whatever feels right to you.
3. Honour their Memory
This one is a little bit more vague, because it depends on the individual. This can be different based on the person who has passed and the person who is in mourning. Perhaps the traditional ritual of our society isn’t something that has helped you grieve and move forward, and there’s something else that you need to do. This is likely why celebrations of life have become so popular, because people often prefer to celebrate the life of the individual in a way they would have preferred.
If your loved one really loved animals, perhaps you may volunteer at an animal shelter in their honour, or donate some treats or toys. Maybe you go to their favourite restaurant and order their favourite food with some of their closest friends. Or maybe you plant a garden or a tree in their memory. You can choose to do whatever feels right for you, and whatever makes you feel closer to that person.
4. Spend time with Loved Ones
Another advantage to celebrations of life is that it allows individuals to speak more freely and talk about the individual in candid ways. Spending time with others who loved this person and being able to reminisce about good times you all had can be extremely healing. While we expect sadness following the passing of a loved one, we often forget about how many positive memories we have with that person. When we spend time with others, it allows us to create a dialogue of positivity around celebrating the individual’s life while also allowing you to mourn their passing. Laughing about funny things that happened, remembering how sweet they were, and just talking about them in a positive light can help you move forward in realizing that this person had an impact in your life, and nothing can ever take that away.
5. Be Patient with Yourself
This is probably the most important part. Everyone’s grief process is different, and you cannot rush your feelings. Furthermore, just because someone seems ‘okay’ on the outside, doesn’t mean they’re not hurting on the inside. You may decide to return to work and go back to a ‘normal’ life, and that’s okay. You may also feel really sad and cry often, and that’s okay too. Likely, you will have good days and bad days, and having a good day doesn’t mean you didn’t love that person – it just means you’re moving forward. Life is a rollercoaster of emotions, and we have to ride them out even when we’re grieving. So not only should you practice being patient with yourself and your emotions, but also compassionate. It’s okay to be happy sometimes, or angry, or sad.
All in all, every single person experiences and expresses grief differently. We don’t need to fully understand it, but we do need to practice being compassionate towards the process for others, as well as our own process.
Remember, there are people who love and care about you, and you do not need to go through this process alone. It is important to reach out to others during this time, whether that be family members, friends, coworkers, or a therapist. Grief is an extremely difficult and transformative life process, but also a sign of incredible love and devotion. As Thomas Campbell said, “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”.