How to Cope and Manage Loss and Grief

 “Intense feelings can surprise people due to their power and unpredictability”. (Thompson, Marney & Wainwright, Wendy, Transitions in Dying & Bereavement. 2nd edition. Health Professions Press. 2017)

Mourning the loss of someone you love is hard, but it can be made easier by understanding what to expect and how to handle the stages of grief. People often go through similar stages in terms of their emotions and behaviors following the death of someone close to them, although each person experiences these stages differently and at their own pace.

The five stages of grief first identified are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A more recently identified, sixth and healing stage is “finding meaning”. These stages are not necessarily listed in order of occurrence and people can experience more than one stage at once or repeat previous stages as they work through their grief.

The Stages of Grief

Identifying the stage of grief you’re in can help you cope more effectively. The five stages of grief (identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross) are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most people will experience all 5 stages before coming to a full acceptance of their loss. However, Ross said these stages are not linear and can occur in any order.  

People experiences things differently, so take your time and don’t rush through these steps!  David Kessler, an associated of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, identified a sixth stage he called, “finding meaning” which those who were grieving found personal ways to remember their loved one.   Kessler has written a book called Finding Meaning.

 “Ultimately meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your own life.  Although your relationship with your loved one will change after death, it will continue no matter what.  The challenge will be to make it a meaningful one” David Kessler

Coping With Fear

The first step in dealing with loss is hard. Whether you’re going through a divorce, grieving over a death, or loss of any kind, it’s important to take care of yourself. The first thing you can do when coping with loss is make sure you’re taking care of your health.

When people go through tough times, they often turn to unhealthy habits like smoking, eating or drinking too much alcohol.  Look for positive ways to manage, speak to a professional, therapist or trusted friend for help.

Coping With Sadness

Sadness is a normal part of life. It’s a response to disappointment, loss, feelings of failure, or other emotions. Sadness helps us recognize that something has changed, prompting us to take action. The first step in dealing with sadness is realizing that it is a natural part of life—and there are healthy ways of coping which involve “getting the sadness out”.  

Writing or talking, and shedding tears with another, trusted person is healing as your grief is being witnessed.  It’s important that another person accepts your grief and anything you express without judgment. 

Expressing your grief can be while alone revisiting memories, shedding tears, or not; it can be walking in nature as well as journaling and revisiting places you shared with your loved one.  Let yourself feel the sadness.

Coping With Anger

It’s hard when you feel like your anger is not rational. You might be angry at yourself, your friend or family member, or at an inanimate object. The important thing is that you understand there are several ways to cope with anger constructively.

Start by reminding yourself that there are healthy ways of expressing anger, so you don’t have to feel like you’re bottling it up if you need to yell at something or someone.  Make sure anyone involved understands what you are coping with and is OK with “hearing you out”.

When grief becomes anger, implementing these tips:   

Coping With Guilt

Guilt is a common feeling, even among those without a mental health condition. Coping with the perception of guilt isn’t easy, but it’s possible. This guide will help you figure out how to cope with guilt after a loss —and will also give you some tips on how to manage feelings of guilt if you experience them often.   “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

How to cope with guilt and regret:     

Coping With Depression

While everyone experiences a different set of emotions following a loss, sadness being very common in those who are grieving, depression may be less common and less common. Depression affects everyone differently; you may find that you have trouble functioning normally or even be unable to get out of bed at times.

This is normal and unfortunately not uncommon when coping with grief. The important thing to remember is that, with a healthy lifestyle routine you can come out of it, and it’s okay if you don’t feel like it right now. Talk to a trusted friend or an experienced therapist to support.

Practical Ways to Handle Your Emotions

When you suffer a loss, your emotions may feel out of control. There are steps you can take, however, to help manage them. Talk to a safe, trusted friend or an experienced therapist that can help you think rationally and come up with a plan for dealing with your loss. Here are some practical ways to do just that

  1. Acknowledge your pain
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you
  4. Seek out fact-to-face support from people who care about you
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically
  6. Recognize the difference between grief and depression 

Create a New Support Network

As people cope with grief, they often feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. They may not be able to socialize as they normally would. But it’s important for people not to isolate themselves completely from friends and family, even if it’s difficult for them at first. Instead, encourage them to rely on close friends or family members—or better yet, create a new support network consisting of people who have gone through similar experiences.

Learn About Mental Health Issues

It’s natural to want answers after a loss or tragedy. Why did it happen? Could it have been prevented? How do I move on? But asking why will lead you down a rabbit hole of pain, stress, and regret. Instead, focus on understanding your feelings so you can cope with them in a healthy way. And remember that managing grief is an ongoing process—it doesn’t end when time does.

I highly recommend David Kessler’s book: “Making Meaning” to channel your grief in a constructive, meaningful path that will literally give more meaning to your life.