Coping with Grief After a Loved One Dies

| Planning for Myself or a Loved One

Couple embracing at cemetery

November 19 is National Bereavement Day in Canada. The theme for 2019 is “Coping with grief, together through living and grieving.” 

Grieving the loss of a family member or a close friend is among the most painful of human experiences. Even when a loved one’s death is not sudden, we may feel many intense emotions, such as shock, anguish, anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, numbness or guilt. The passage of time can ease these feelings, but grief can persist indefinitely.

You may be familiar with the five stages of grief, as described in the iconic book On Grief and Grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Each stage is a common reaction to a loved one’s death; however, you might not experience all of them, and you might not go through them in the same order. Grief is unique to each person, and it doesn’t follow a neat, linear path. Painful emotions can resurface anytime, months or years after someone dies. You may also feel renewed grief and sadness on significant dates, such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.

The loss of a loved one is not something we “get over,” and we may never feel a complete sense of closure. We can, however, work towards living with our grief in a way that allows us to move forward.

How grieving can affect your health

Grief is stressful, emotionally and physically. In addition to experiencing powerful feelings, you may notice changes such as lack of appetite, sleeping problems or a weakened immune system. You may also feel fatigue or have muscle tension or headaches. Some people suffer from abdominal pain or chest pain. (If you are concerned about symptoms, seek medical attention.)

Maintaining your usual healthy habits – including exercising, eating a healthy diet and taking prescribed medications – can be challenging after a loved one dies. Try to practice self-care, as difficult as it may seem. Even going for a brief walk each day is beneficial. Eat regularly, even if you have very little appetite. Seek out the company of friends and family members. Get professional help, if you need it.

The world may feel very bleak in the weeks and months following the loss of a loved one, but over time, you will regain your strength, and your outlook will start to feel a little brighter.

Coping with grief

Grief expert David Kessler, who co-authored On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, recently published  a book about a sixth stage of grief: Finding Meaning. He explains that finding meaning is the key to transforming grief “into a more peaceful and hopeful experience.”

Kessler himself has experienced devastating losses – his mother died when he was a child, and his 21-year-old son died by suicide three years ago. In Finding Meaning, Kessler explores how to “move forward in a way that honours our loved ones.” Our grief will not disappear, but we can find our way through it.

There are many ways to honour someone who has passed away, such as holding a celebration of life, finishing a project they started, or volunteering for a cause they cared about. These and other activities can offer comfort and a sense of purpose.

People who are grieving may also find these coping strategies helpful:

  • Write about your feelings in a journal.
  • Talk to others who are grieving. Share stories about your loved one.
  • Spend time with family and friends; avoid isolating yourself.
  • Ask for what you need, whether it’s practical help (funeral planning, household tasks) or emotional support, and accept help when it’s offered.
  • Attend a bereavement support group.
  • Seek counselling from a therapist or psychologist.
  • Anticipate difficult days, such as holidays and anniversaries, and prepare yourself for them.

Bayshore Home Health offers a wide range of home care services to help Canadians live independently for as long as possible. Contact us at 1-877-289-3997 for details.