When we experience the death of a loved one, we grieve. We feel lonely and isolated. We feel overwhelmed by details to remember, or we feel stuck and frozen in our shock. We might feel crazy or forgetful or numb. We feel fine one day, and the next day feels unbearable.
Grief changes our relationships and affects our families and friends. Some people may avoid you; some of your relationships will change. Some friends will truly show up, and some may avoid you for a time. Friends and family may say helpful things, yet even well-intentioned people may say things that hurt.We grieve loss in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Sometimes you feel as if you can’t breathe or you are stuck.
When you are stuck, try one of the six practices below. They may help you deepen, explore, and process your grief.
1) Write a Letter to Yourself
Write a letter to yourself in a journal. This is not for sharing with anyone (unless, of course, you want to!). This letter is meant to encourage you to reflect on what you need, to acknowledge struggles or challenges, and to remind yourself that you are loved and cared for. Your letter does not have to be fancy or well written. It just needs to be bold and honest. Step outside yourself for a moment and give yourself a bit of compassion and care.
Your letter might look something like this:
Dear [Your Name],
You are doing your best. You are getting through this. Remember to take walks in the evenings. Get 8 hours of sleep. Always make time to have a delicious cup of fancy tea in your favorite mug. Remember that it’s okay the laundry isn’t put away (hey, at least it’s clean!). Have a dance party with your friend. Drink lots of water. Find time to cry if you feel like it.Limit mindless social media, and stop comparing yourself to others. Savor the small things.
2) Reach Out to a Friend
Consider texting, calling, or emailing a trusted friend, even if you don’t really feel like it. Maybe you could grab coffee or go for a walk. Maybe you could ask him or her for some small, specific help, like picking up groceries or walking your dog. Or you could ask your friend to bring you Thai takeout or an indulgent ice cream sundae. Let them take you for a drive in the country. Our friends and loved ones truly want to help us when we are grieving, but they may be hesitant to bother us or invade our privacy (which is a bit silly, but it’s honestly what they think). They might even say kind things like, “Please let me know what I can do to help.” So take them up on that offer and tell them what you need. Be bold and be specific! They want to help.
3) Create a Remembrance Box
You can create a special box to store cherished items that remind you of your loved one. There are nearly infinite possibilities of what it can hold: a handwritten note, an old photograph, a piece of jewelry, a bowtie, a scrap of fabric, a rock, a bottle of perfume, anything. It’s a box that you can open and look through any time you need to feel connected to your loved one. You could even ask friends and family to write memories on pieces of paper, and you could store them inside. We need these small rituals. It’s beautiful and comforting to have something tangible that reminds you of your loved one.
4) Write a Letter to your Loved One
Try writing a letter to your loved one. This is widely understood to be a therapeutic practice. It’s not for anyone else to read. Be honest and brave, and say what you need to say. (You could even set it aflame – safely – when you are done, as a way to let go of the sentiments you’ve written.) If you are angry with your loved one for leaving you, say so. If you are lonely, say this. If you are worried about what’s next for you, write that. Express what is going on inside your heart and mind, and don’t censor yourself. You will likely find this helpful and even cathartic. If you would like a follow-up activity, consider writing a reply letter to yourself from your loved one. If it sounds odd, it’s not. You may find a surprising amount of insight into your grief if you take a step back and let the departed one speak to you. Again, don’t censor yourself. You know him or her. Let him or her speak to your heart. This can be a surprisingly beautiful way to hear the voice of your loved one again.
5) Create a Self-Care Plan
It may be time to assess your overall well-being and self-care. The term “self-care” gets thrown around a lot these days, but it is important. Take a hard look at your daily life and touch base with your physician for a check-up. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating appropriately? Drinking enough water? Spending too much money? Drinking more alcohol or using drugs? Review the areas that need work and take specific steps to work on this. Your health matters.
What are three concrete ways you can improve your self-care? Examples: going to bed earlier, asking your friend for a ride to the library, attending religious services, making sure you have healthy food in your home, taking a daily walk, sharing your feelings with a coach or therapist, going to your physician to discuss a health concern, setting aside quiet time, setting limits with others, learning to say no, and prioritizing joyful activities like dancing or going to concerts.
6) Do an Act of Kindness
One of the easiest ways to reconnect with a sense of purpose is to do an act of kindness for others. Consider doing something special for someone else: a loved one or a stranger, anonymously or not. The possibilities are many. You could pay for someone’s coffee in the drive-through. You could play the piano at a senior center, or enjoy dinner and a movie with a friend, or rake your neighbor’s leaves. You could buy (or knit) a bunch of warm hats and socks and give them to homeless people on the street. You could make a monetary donation to a worthy cause. You could buy lunch for people at your office (and you could even do it anonymously! How fun!). The goal is to do one small thing that brings joy to others. You may find that it puts a smile on your face as well and gives you a moment of grace and peace. Thank you in advance for sharing your love with others!
Which of these activities did you try and how did it make you feel afterwards? Share in the comments below.
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If you’re feeling stuck and overwhelmed in your grief and want to move forward, work with us. Our coaches can help you process your grief, reconnect with your values, and help you enhance your support systems.
Sarah Byrne-Martelli, DMin BCC-PCHAC is an Aging & Illness Coach at EpioneMD, palliative care chaplain, and author of Memory Eternal: Living with Grief as Orthodox Christians.