Self, Heartbreak

How To Deal With Grief & Overwhelming Heartache After A Loss

Photo: unsplash / Samur Isma
How To Deal With Grief & Overwhelming Heartache After A Loss

When you've just suffered a loss or death in your life, it's normal to feel lost, devastated, overwhelmed, — like you'll never be happy ever again. This is, unfortunately, a part of the grieving process that you must get through.

But even when your feelings are taking charge during mourning, there are coping skills you can learn in order to deal with grief, that will help you feel better and reassure you that happiness will come back eventually.

RELATED: 7 Ways To Ease The Pain Of The Grief Process After The Loss Of A Parent

Grief sucks. It really does. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced.

But learning how to manage grief and loss over time (lots and lots of time), helped me connect with joy on a deeper level, led me to allow more passion in my life, coaxed me into living with purpose, and gave me a new sense of strength.

There’s a quote about grief (well, there are millions actually), but this one resonated with me when I was crawling through my own experience: “In order to get through grief, you must allow yourself to grieve.”

It resonated because all the advice and outpouring of support were no match for what I was experiencing at that time. Nothing seemed to help in that extreme acute stage of loss, except the notion that what I was feeling was OK.

The not knowing was OK. The anger was OK. The deep sense of being stuck in the middle of heartache with no apparent end in sight was OK. The darkness was OK. Grieving my way was OK.

In order to know how to get through it — to manage grief and loss — you must grieve.

And getting through it might sound possible. Grief doesn’t ever completely dissipate, but it definitely morphs into something different, something tolerable, even.

However, there is no timeline for when this happens.

You can be years removed from a loss, and bam! a song will come on the radio or you’ll see someone that resembles your loved one, or you’ll smell your grandmother’s perfume while walking through the aisles of a grocery store and suddenly you’re back in the middle of that heartache.

If you’re still wondering how to manage grief and loss, it may help to understand grief itself.

According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are five stages of grief:

  • Denial: You don’t want the loss to be real. You may even experience it like it's only a dream and you'll wake up any moment to find it never happened.
  • Anger: You get angry at your loss; perhaps turn it toward others or even the person you lost.
  • Bargaining: I remember thinking when my cousin died from suicide, “If I could just have one more day, I’m certain this wouldn’t have happened.” You bargain with a higher power; believe things would be different if they can just bring your loved ones back.
  • Depression: This hits hard on many levels. This stage can seem endless. It feels like moving a body part, getting out of bed, or opening the blinds is a challenge. It can feel like hope died with your loved one and that there is absolutely no reason to continue on without them. This stage can be one of the most non-linear, frequent, and seemingly everlasting.
  • Acceptance: Many mistake this stage for thinking that it’s OK, that you’re OK. That is not acceptance. Rather, acceptance is accepting reality; not liking it or condoning that it has happened. At this stage, you understand that loss happened and there is no reversing it. You've accepted that your loved one is gone.

These are the general stages of grief. It may help to know these. Know that the stages are not linear, but can skip around and circle back.

Grief can feel like illness and some grief can definitely be traumatic, so arming yourself with knowledge about what your mind and spirit are going through may be of some comfort when you’re ready.

There are many ways to cope with grief. The one thing I know for sure regarding grief, though, is there is no right or wrong way to do grief. There is no one-size-fits-all model for coping.

RELATED: 10 Ways To Help Your Child Deal With Their Emotions & Feelings After The Death Of A Parent

That being said, here are 4 coping skills you can use after experiencing a loss that will help you deal with grief and feel better, even while you're still sad:

1. Surround yourself with supportive people.

Isolation can often be your first response to grief. It feels like shutting out the world is the only thing that can help. Fight against isolation when you can.

Allow yourself to receive help, to be in the presence of people who love you and may also be grieving with you.

Having worked for a grief center, I saw some of the most profound healing happen when I facilitated groups for people grieving similar losses. Seek out grief support groups.

And if you can’t muster the strength to drive yourself there, look online for groups. There are many wonderful Facebook groups dedicated to specific losses and specific populations that are struggling.

Being part of a community is one of the best ways to cope. It helped me to reach out to my family members who were dealing with my cousin’s loss as well. Being around people that you trust with your grief is extremely important and a catalyst for walking through the healing process.

2. Let yourself feel the pain.

When you're in pain, struggling, and suffering, you have a natural tendency to want to run from the discomfort. When you're in the grief process, those feelings can be an overwhelming part of this temporary, though not short, new normal.

Allow yourself special time to actively lean into the grief; cry, get angry, feel the hurt, confront the guilt, scream, do whatever it may be. These are all important experiences for moving with and eventually through the pain.

When you fight, ignore, or suppress, you simply add to your pain. If you’re afraid that once you start crying you won’t stop, set a timer and give yourself 10 minutes to cry at a time.

3. Share positive memories of the one you lost.

One thing that helped my pain and grief immensely was hearing stories others told about my cousin. It wasn’t easy to say his name in the past tense or talk about him not being here.

However, it was part of my healing process, part of my acceptance phase, and part of my allowing. Know that it is OK to laugh, reminisce about, speak of, and keep your loved one close to your heart by speaking about them.

4. Spend time in nature.

Light from the sun can actually increase serotonin levels and decrease cortisol. This is science. But what nature can also do, beyond the scientific, is provide you with perspective. When you grieve, you often begin searching for existential answers to “why” questions.

  • Why?
  • Why am I here?
  • Why are they gone?
  • Why did this happen?
  • How do I go on?

No one can truly and honestly answer these questions for you when you’re grieving. Chances are you usually aren’t interested in the answers anyway. You’re hurting.

But nature, the cycle of life, the gentle calm of the trees, the feel of the grass on your feet, the expansive sky overhead, the sun on your face — all those can impart a sense of calm, grounding, and clarity.

Take a walk. Sit by a pond. Or simply sit on your patio in the sun. However and whenever you can, be in nature.

Again there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Be gentle with yourself when learning how to manage grief and loss. Know that there are people out there who can help.

You do not have to grieve alone. Seek professional help when the weight feels too heavy, or you simply need to talk.

RELATED: 6 Healing Ways To Grieve The Loss Of Your Mother

Codie Surratt, LPC, MA, is a licensed professional counselor who helps her clients develop a deep sense of self-compassion to deal with the challenges life presents. Utilizing play therapy, humor, mindfulness, and more, she challenges her clients to live a beautifully balanced life.

This article was originally published at Life Care Wellness. Reprinted with permission from the author.