You've lost a loved one. Now what? It can feel like you're floating through a haze of sadness and confusion. The grief of losing a loved one, whether they are a friend or a family member, immense. There is pain and emptiness in realizing that a person who has always been there for you -- with their laugh, face, touch, and words -- is no longer there. These emotions are real and deserve time and space to be felt and moved through in order to heal.
It can be hard to imagine that healing is possible when a loss is very new. But, eventually, you will feel joy, laughter, and life again. Here are my top three tips to help yourself move through grief & loss in a healthy way that will protect your heart and allow yourself to see better days ahead.
1. Try not to second guess yourself: You will spend time bargaining in your head about what could have been different. You will wonder if you could have done something to change the course, timing, or nature of the events that ultimately led to your loss. You will replay the last conversations you were able to have and wonder if there was something else you might have said. You'll wish you could have had just one more day. You'll wonder if you did things right by them. Try to be kind to yourself during this time. Nobody is perfect, and often times at the end of life, family/children are left guessing what it is their loved one really wants. Communication and coherence can be gone even when there are still decisions left to be made. Know that you did the best that you could at the time with the information and resources at hand. And then try, one day at a time, as hard as it is, to let it go.
2. Call in the troops: This is the time to allow friends and other family to do things for you. Say yes to offers (for anything). Delegate duties. For example, one common situation when you lose a close friend or family member is that you may now be facing the mighty task of cleaning out or disposing of their belongings. Know your own limits. Perhaps it's too hard for you to sort through every last piece of your mother's clothes and the sight of her shoes brings you immense grief. If you have the funds, hire a professional company to come in and clear the space, or, if you're tight on cash, get friendly neighbors, close friends, or members of your faith community to pitch in to fill garbage bags, and have another friend volunteer to drive a truck to and from the local donation center. Let other people handle these things. Believe me -- they want to. It's their way of doing something for you. And, most importantly, because it's easy to feel helpless in the face of another person's loss, people want to do whatever they can during this time.
3. Give yourself time: Grief does not follow a formula. The experience of mourning is immensely different for each person. It is easy to question whether or not your emotions are normal after you experience a loss. For example, some people, though grieving, do feel a sense of relief that their loved one has passed on. Perhaps the last few years had been challenging; you witnessed your loved one struggling to deal with an illness, you saw others stressed out trying to support them, or you knew that the life they had been living toward the end was not the way they would have wanted to live. Relief, and feeling like your loved one is in a better place, is okay. Likewise, prolonged grief can be quite normal, too. Extended periods of tearfulness, upset, and disbelief that you'll never see, hug, or talk to your loved one again, can be like waves that hit any time and any place. These emotions are not only normal, but welcomed. It's likely that you need to allow yourself to feel the magnitude of your loss in order to be able to eventually heal. A mental health provider can help you understand and work through understanding healthy versus unhealthy grief if you have concerns.
Day by day, you will eventually heal. But don't rush it, and don't force yourself. If it takes two weeks, two months, or a year for you to smile again without missing your loved one, that's all right -- and, try not to feel guilty when you do feel happiness again. Or, when one day you realize you aren't missing them every single moment as you used to. This is a healthy, normal, and natural part of finally turning that new and heavy grief into the lasting love and memories you will always have.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.