Grief is a natural reaction to loss and yet people can sometimes be surprised by their feelings following a death. We all process grief differently, but being able to work through your emotions and manage your feelings is an important part of the healing process. There is a wealth of information about the stages of grief and various support resources online for those who prefer to independently explore their options. Many communities also have local groups that may be a good choice if you are looking for in-person support or to meet people who are experiencing similar feelings.
We have collected a few helpful tips for you to remember while working through the grief process yourself and considerations for others who may also be experiencing loss.
Self-Care and Supporting Yourself During Grief
As the airplane safety briefings remind us, you have to secure your own oxygen mask first before you can adequately take care of other people. The same is true when managing grief; you have to ensure your own needs are met while you are managing all of the details that arise after a death.
Here are some important things to remember:
Understand That Your Feelings Are Okay
You may encounter a range of emotions while you are working through the grief process. Do not be surprised if you experience a variety of reactions, both mentally and physically. It is not uncommon to have symptoms of grief including fatigue, changes to your sleep patterns, appetite changes, moodiness or irritability, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, or sadness.
It is important to process your feelings and allow yourself to experience a wide range of emotions, even when that may be difficult. You should also know that people often feel disconnected from their grief, especially the early days following a death when they feel consumed with tasks to complete. It is okay if you do not feel a strong reaction or overwhelming feelings of sadness, or even feel a sense of relief. Many caregivers have said they feel more at peace after a death, especially following long illnesses where the deceased had been in pain or ready to move on. Grieving is a personal process and you cannot always predict how you are going to react.
Give Yourself Adequate Time To Grieve
There is no “normal” timeframe for grieving and everyone must go through the steps in their own personal way. Be patient and give yourself some grace in those times when you may be struggling with working through your feelings. It can sometimes take months or even years for people to navigate their stages of grief. Also remember to give yourself space and don’t overcommit with responsibilities beyond your limitations. You are allowed to take time to rest and heal after experiencing a loss.
Take Care Of Your Physical Needs
People can very easily forget about their physical needs while they are grieving, however it is important to ensure you’re remembering your basic self-care. Simple things like taking a shower, eating healthy meals, getting adequate sleep, and prioritizing physical activity can work wonders in helping you feel better. It may seem difficult to focus on these things for yourself when you feel overwhelmed, but establishing consistent routines can make a world of difference in the way you feel. The time following a death can be challenging, so take the steps you need to in order to best support yourself and your family.
Ask For and Accept Help
Grief can be exhausting and overwhelming for many people, especially after losing a close loved one. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and accept offers of help from those who provide it. Simple things like meal preparation, house cleaning, transporting children, yardwork, and other daily activities can feel daunting while you are grieving. People are usually eager to help support you after a death, they may just need some guidance on the ways they can be most effective. You should also know that professional support and help is available if you need more guidance during your grieving process.
Supporting Friends and Extended Family
Knowing what to say and how to support someone who is grieving can often be intimidating. People frequently feel uncertain about how to best support loved ones during this time. Fear of saying the wrong thing can make people feel hesitant to reach out when they truly want to provide support. The most important thing to remember is to be compassionate, understanding, and honestly communicate your desire to help.
Check In With Them
Taking a moment to check in with a friend who is grieving can be very meaningful, even if it feels like a simple thing. A quick phone call, text message, card, or visit can provide support during a hard time.
Another important reminder is to give the person time to speak and listen to them. Allow for times of silence and be okay with the discomfort as you give them space to share their thoughts and feelings.
Help with Daily Tasks
Sometimes the most help comes from the simplest things. Stepping in to help with tasks like grocery shopping, yard care, cleaning, transporting kids to school and activities, or helping care for pets can be the most impactful during times of grief. Relieving the mental load of the grieving person goes a long way to giving them the time and space to work through their emotions and healing.
Recognize Significant Dates
Remember special events like birthdays and anniversaries and reach out during those times. Holidays can also be hard after experiencing a death, so try to include those who are grieving in plans or activities when possible.
Don’t Be Afraid To Talk About The Person They’ve Lost
It may seem uncomfortable to speak about a person after they’ve died but sharing stories and memories of the deceased can provide a lot of comfort during grief. Remembering their life and sharing special moments can bring cheer and remind a grieving person how much their loved one meant to people.
Supporting Children Through Grief
Children usually understand the idea of death from a very young age, but actually handling grief and loss first hand may be a new experience for them. It is important to understand that children may react to death differently than adults. Do not think that a child is not experiencing feelings related to the loss just because their reaction doesn’t appear to be what you’d expect. It is normal for children to go through a range of feelings after a loss, including depression, guilt, anxiety, or feeling angry with the person who died.
You should encourage children to express their emotions and feelings, whatever they may be. Some children may be reluctant to talk about their feelings or unable to express them. Sometimes these conversations can be made easier by reading books, telling stories, or looking at pictures to help them work through their feelings and process their emotions. Also take into consideration the child’s age and don’t expect them to be understanding the situation beyond what is developmentally appropriate for them. Some children may also experience regression and start behaving like a younger child when they are struggling with trauma or loss.
Attending a funeral can be a helpful step in the grieving process for some people, but the decision of whether a child should attend is very personal and specific to that child. If the child had a close relationship with the deceased and is of an appropriate age to understand what is happening, attending the funeral may be helpful for closure and grieving. However, you should always ask whether the child wants to attend and if so, prepare them in advance for what to expect. This is especially important if there will be a casket present. If you decide that it is not appropriate for the child to attend the funeral, you might consider having an alternative ceremony that provides meaning for the child. Some people choose to plant a tree, get a special keepsake, or do another event that is symbolic of the person you are remembering.
Following your typical routines and schedules is very helpful and comforting for children. You may be working through your own grief while also trying to provide comfort to your child, so do not be afraid to ask for help if there are people who can give you additional support during this time. Remember that it is okay to show emotions and grief as you process your feelings, but try to avoid teaching your children any unhealthy ways of managing these feelings. Some children benefit from speaking to a therapist or grief counselor, so it may be a good idea to reach out for more help if you feel your child seems unable to cope with their feelings or is overwhelmingly upset.
Animals and Grief
We sometimes forget that animals experience grief just as humans do, even though it may not look the same. Losing someone can be tough on all members of the family and pets have their own way of grieving. Animals find comfort in stability and depend on their packs for a sense of safety. When something changes to disrupt that group, such as a death in the family, you may notice changes in your pet’s behavior. It is not uncommon for animals to show increased anxiety or signs of distress following a death. These sometimes manifest as behavioral problems that weren’t present before. Our pets may also sense our own grief and respond to that change in similar ways.
There are a few common signs that your pet may be grieving after a loss. Changes in habits and routine are typical and sometimes include sleeping more than usual, hiding, pacing, or sulking. You may notice your pet becomes withdrawn or doesn’t want to play as much as normal. Changes in bathroom or grooming habits are also frequently seen, so do not be frustrated if you see more accidents during this time. Your pet may have changes in vocalization such as barking, whining, or meowing, either increased or decreased, depending on the animal. You may also notice them continually seeking out the person they’ve lost.
Try to be patient and give the animal time to adjust to the new situation. Be sensitive to their emotions and grief and remember to manage your own emotions as much as possible while you are around them. Your pet may try to console you and try to help comfort them as much as possible, as well. Try to spend quality time with the animal and don’t forget to follow traditional routines as much as you can. A daily walk or play time may make you all feel better while you adjust to life without the person you’ve lost.