Grief is a reaction to the loss of a person, a relationship, a beloved pet, or even to an idea that has been dearly held for a lifetime. We usually assume that the grief reaction is an emotional one, but we often also experience physical, spiritual and mental responses.
Sometimes we do need the help of a professional to navigate overwhelming grief. This is especially true if we are unable to keep up our daily routine or cope with the activities of daily living. If grief has led to depression, thoughts of self-harm, or feelings of hopelessness, it is even more important that you seek help. If you blame yourself for the loss or for aspects of your relationship to the deceased, it is essential that you speak to someone who is experienced in grief counseling. What you are feeling is complex grief and you may not be able to easily reconcile your perception of the loss and how it relates to you.
Once the deceased is gone, we may regret that there was no opportunity for relational healing. As we say in mental health, “Death ends a life, but not a relationship.”
Hospice nurses, social workers and clergy speak of “The 5 Things”:
- I’m Sorry. Everyone has some regrets. Apologies pave the way for forgiveness.
- I Forgive You. This can be about anything and everything. You understand, love, remember, and hold in your heart this person just as they were. Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness does free you from the hold the issue has on your life.
- I Love You. Asking for, and granting, forgiveness opens your heart to the power of love. Acknowledging this love is an affirmation of the relationship, your grief, and the connection that you had with the deceased.
- Thank You. What did you learn from this relationship? What was special about your time together? How was your life changed by the presence of this person in it?
- Good Bye. There is seldom a right time to say goodbye. Saying goodbye after a death is a recognition of the person’s absence, your grief, and you having valued your time together.
Mindfulness teaches us that we cannot run from grief although we may try. Sometimes, we attempt to cope in unhealthy ways and revert to old, bad habits such as too much alcohol, food, drugs, sex, etc. Again, prolonged grief may lead to an episode of depression. Mindfulness also urges us to embrace the grieving process. This is called Radical Acceptance. It asks that we have a compassionate and welcoming attitude toward all of our thoughts and feelings including those of loss. It also urges us to have a realistic image of the deceased. By accepting the deceased as the total person – with all of their shortcomings – we respect them as they were.
On an action level, there are things that you can do to adjust to your loss. Action, rituals especially, can be very healing.
Actions to consider:
- Sort through loved one’s things. Offer keepsakes to friends and family.
- Spend time in the deceased room.
- Visit the final resting place. Talk to the deceased.
- Write letters to important people in the life of the deceased.
- Sit with photos of the deceased. Make a meditation/prayer spot and visit it every day.