Navigating Grief: A Journey to Healing and Hope
Grief is a natural and complex emotional response to the loss of a loved one. It can also involve other losses such as a job, home, pet and really any object we hold dear that often provides an anchor or marker for our lives. Grief can manifest in various ways and affect individuals differently. Coping with grief and providing support to someone who is grieving can be challenging, but it’s essential to acknowledge and understand this process. Here are some guidelines for understanding grief and providing support:
Grief is a Process: Grief is not a one-time event; it’s a process that unfolds over time. It can be characterized by various emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and even moments of relief or acceptance. We often experience these feelings at different times, and we can easily move back and forth between the various emotions.
Individual Experience: Grief is highly individual. Everyone grieves in their own way and on their timeline. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is very hard to not think about your own personal experience and offer up your path to acceptance, but everyone is different and needs their own process.
Physical and Emotional Impact: Grief can have physical and emotional effects. It may manifest in physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and changes in appetite. Emotionally, it can lead to anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. Acknowledgment of these physical and emotional effects is important.
Grief Triggers: Grief can be triggered by various events or reminders of the person who passed away. Holidays, anniversaries, and even everyday items or places can evoke strong emotions. It is not a surprise that a birthday or anniversary is a trigger, but you may be surprised at some of the other events and reminders that can also be a trigger.
Support Systems: Grieving individuals often benefit from a support system of friends and family. Simply being there to listen and provide comfort can make a significant difference. In many ways, the process of a funeral or celebration of life was part of this support. COVID has taken this step from many of us, and it will be interesting to see the many rituals that may come about with formal programs being diminished.
Coping with Grief:
Allow Emotions: Encourage the grieving person to express their emotions without judgment. Grief involves a wide range of feelings, and it’s essential to allow these feelings to surface. Sometimes just being there and not trying to identify a specific reply can be invaluable.
Patience: Grief has no timeline. Be patient with the person as they work through their emotions and don’t rush them to “move on.” It would be so easy to say 3 days, 3 weeks, or 3 months but grief does not work that way.
Self-Care: Encourage self-care, which includes getting adequate rest, eating well, and engaging in physical activity. These habits can help mitigate some of the physical effects of grief. Of course, this individual who has lost a partner is probably not wanting to cook for one or may now have trouble sleeping so it is important to see if you can support in small ways to encourage self-care.
Seek Professional Help: If the grief becomes overwhelming or leads to severe depression or other mental health issues, encourage the person to seek professional help, such as a therapist or counsellor. There are groups as well that can support people who have lost a partner.
Memorialize and Remember: Encourage the person to celebrate the life of the loved one by sharing stories and creating memorials or rituals that honour their memory. Celebration of life events may be an ideal event at an appropriate timeline.
Listen Actively: Offer a listening ear without trying to fix the person’s grief. Sometimes, people just need someone to talk to and validate their feelings. It is so hard to not want to fix things for others. But stopping and pausing around your response is as important as listening.
Practical Assistance: Offer practical help with tasks like cooking, cleaning, or childcare. Grieving individuals may have difficulty with daily responsibilities. These activities are also specific and can be limited to what you can do even on your own time. Preparing extra meals at home and dropping them off is an amazing gesture.
Avoid Clichés: Avoid using clichés like “everything happens for a reason” or “they are in a better place.” These may not be comforting to the grieving person. It is hard not to practice these clichés and you may hear them coming from the surviving partner. Think about the context of the comments and mirror them when appropriate.
Respect Boundaries: Understand that some people may need space and time alone. Respect their boundaries and let them reach out when they are ready. This is always a balancing act. The best is to ask what the person needs.
Check-In Regularly: Grief can be a long-lasting process. Continue to check in and provide support even as time passes. People can appear to be high-functioning, but we do not know what goes on behind closed doors. Checking in is an important support tool reflecting your understanding and commitment to the surviving partner.
Remember that grief is a unique and individual experience, and what helps one person may not help another. The most important thing is to be compassionate, patient, and available to offer support in the way the grieving person needs. If you are the one grieving, seeking professional help can also be beneficial in navigating the complex emotions and challenges that come with loss.
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This material is for general information and educational purposes only. Information is based on data gathered from what we believe are reliable sources. It is not guaranteed as to accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions.