How to Navigate the Death of a Loved One

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There is no template for how to deal with the death of a loved one. Coming to terms with this new reality can be painful and frightening, but it is possible to mourn your loved one while honoring their memory and caring for your own mental health.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good cry

Lean into your emotions, whatever they may be. The pain of grief has a way of washing over you before you realize what is happening. Allow yourself to feel – don’t push any positive or negative feelings down – and let it all out. Cry when you need to cry for a physical release of the grief and trauma; laugh when you need to laugh because you remembered a funny story about your loved one.

Accept that your emotions during this period will be varied and intense, and you do not need to feel guilt or shame about any of it.

In the same vein, don’t be too proud to accept the help and support of others. Sometimes a solid shoulder to cry on is all you need at the moment.

Remember their great qualities – and try to live them out

Think of the things that made your loved one special – their kindness, their sense of humor, their generosity, their talents, their commitment to their friends, family and community. These traits made the world a better place. Your loved one is irreplaceable, but their legacy can endure. If your loved one was an avid gardener, create a community garden for yourself and mutual friends, family and colleagues. If they were known for making friends with everyone they met, try to smile at someone who might need it.

Celebrate holidays, birthdays and anniversaries in their honor

Certain dates can be especially painful when grieving the loss of a loved one. Holidays, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, anniversaries of their passing and any other meaningful dates provide a glaring and painful reminder that our loved one is no longer here to celebrate with us. 

Even if these dates look different than they would if your loved one were still here, make a point to honor them and continue their legacy. If there was a specific activity or meal that they loved at certain events, make it a tradition going forward.

Find solace in others who are grieving your loved one

The loss of your loved one is likely affecting your broader community. This loss will affect each individual differently, but knowing that there are others who can understand your pain in some way will help you feel less alone in your grief.

Help the memory of your loved one live on

Even when our loved ones are no longer physically here with us, their contribution to your life is undeniable. Share your favorite stories, look at your favorite pictures and point it out when you see something that reminds you of your loved one. This will be very difficult to do in the beginning, but it may bring you comfort over time.

Grieve in the way that works for you

Everyone has different ways of coping with tragedy. Friends and family mean well when they give advice on how to cope with the death of a loved one, but this can be frustrating since what works for one person may not work for another.

Your loved one’s impact on your life was special and unique to the two of you. You are the only person who could begin to understand the totality of your loss, so you are the only person who knows what you need to navigate it. There is no one correct way to grieve, and your coping tools are something you will figure out as you go.

Understand that grief is not a linear journey

Grief is a funny thing. Some days, it will hit you in full force, knocking you over and getting in the way of your schedule. Other days, it will surely and steadily pulsate through you. With time, your grief will be contained to a small corner of your mind, quiet but present enough that you won’t forget it is there. Show yourself grace on the days that feel harder than others – those days will exist, and being hard on yourself will do you no favors.

Remember to take care of yourself

Grief can quickly disrupt your daily routine. While mourning the loss of your loved one, remember to sustain yourself. Try to eat easy meals or snacks throughout the day even if you don’t feel hungry, and remember to drink plenty of water. Go to bed a bit earlier in case you find yourself tossing and turning, to still receive the minimum healthy amount of sleep.

Practicing yoga or another form of exercise is a great way to get your body moving and burn off excess energy. Finally, showering and changing clothes every day are small steps that can go far in making you feel more comfortable. 

The Light Program provides compassionate mental health treatment to adolescents and adults through inpatient, outpatient and teletherapy programs. If you or someone you know is having trouble navigating the death of a loved one, consider seeking mental health support by calling (610)-644-6464.