A Grief Recovery Guide
Grieving is one of life’s most challenging experiences.
No one lives a life without loss or suffering.
“Life is a long series of losses.
It’s pretty much the only thing that is guaranteed in our existence…
I’m no stranger to loss. I don’t think any of us are. I’ve watched family members and friends die. I’ve had romantic relationships end in a spectacular explosion and I’ve had them end in a long, drawn out silence…
Every loss is a form of death. In every case, there once existed an experience — a thing, an idea, a person — that brought your life meaning. And now it no longer exists…
…We are forced to feel an internal emptiness and to accept our pain. We are forced to confront that horrible, horrible word: “Never.”
“Never” hurts because never means that it can’t be changed. …“never” means it’s over. It’s gone. And that’s really hard to bear. You can’t bring a dead person back to life. You can’t restart a broken relationship…
When it’s gone, it’s gone. And it will never be the same, no matter what you do. And this, in a real psychological sense, destroys a small piece of you. A piece that must eventually be rebuilt.” — Mark Manson
Nothing hurts like heartache.
Heartache is in fact a systemic “injury.” Psychologist Ethan Kross and his colleagues at the University of Michigan used a functional MRI scanner to analyze the brains of volunteers who’d recently experienced a painful breakup. They showed the participants images of the person who’d left them. The team then compared that to their brain activity when they experienced physical pain — the result of a heat source applied to their forearms. The scientists found that the emotional pain of heartbreak causes the same reaction in our brains as physical pain, which the volunteers described as “unbearable.”
Is it any wonder then that it’s so hard to function normally when we’re heartbroken!
It’s said that time heals all wounds. There’s truth in that, but it doesn’t mean we have to just wait our heartbreak out.
In fact, there’s plenty we can do to expedite the healing process. And that’s the purpose of this post.
“If you’re hurting, know this: It’s difficult, it is a battle within your own mind and you have to be diligent to win. But you do have weapons. You can fight. And you will heal.” — Guy Winch
If you’re looking for actionable recovery strategies for dealing with heartbreak and grief, let’s read on together.
What Is Grief?
Grief encompasses the range of unpleasant emotions that occur after a loss. Grief is most often associated with death, but many other types of loss can result in differing levels of grief. It can be a strong and overwhelming emotion. You can feel numb and separated from your daily life.
Everyone can understand this natural reaction to great loss, yet
the experience is also uniquely personal.
No one else can fully understand how you feel and how the loss has affected you.
These sad events are just some of the types of loss that can cause grief: death of a loved one; divorce or breakup; serious illness or disability; miscarriage; unemployment; or death of a pet.
The process of grieving can’t be completely controlled. The process can take months, or even years to pass. Fortunately though, the pain tends to lessen over time as your life adapts to your new circumstances.
Loss and grief are inevitable, it’s part of life to suffer loss.
Grief is an emotionally painful part of life and can occur at any time.
But know this,
“Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.” — Rumi
The 5 Stages Of Grief
The most popular model of the grieving process is the Kubler-Ross model. This model consists of a series of emotional stages that are experienced after the death of a loved one.
Not all grievers experience the same emotions, and the order of the stages can vary.
Understanding the stages can be a comfort. You’ll know what to expect.
The stages of grief:
1. Shock and denial.
This is the ﬁrst stage of grief. It’s considered a survival response. Rather than feeling miserable, it’s common to feel numb and confused.
Denial is a way of holding the most challenging emotions at arm’s length and dealing with them at a manageable pace.
There’s only so much a person can take. Denial is one way of softening the blow while you deal with the initial loss.
It’s common to feel anger toward God, the universe, your lost loved one, or anyone else in your life. Anger has no limits.
After it becomes obvious that anger isn’t going to return your life to its original state, it’s natural to begin bargaining.
It’s common to make deals with God or even directly with your pain. “What if” statements also become a tool during the bargaining process.
Feelings of guilt are very common during the bargaining stage.
This is the stage when grief starts to hit home. You start to feel empty and notice the loss on a day-to-day level. This stage can feel as if it’ll never end.
Depression felt during the grieving process is typically not a form of mental illness.
Feelings of grief are greatest at this stage.
Acceptance is not the same as feeling like your old self. Acceptance consists of the full awareness that you’ve suffered a loss and your loved one will never return.
Your life is in the present. It’s possible to build new relationships and connections in the future.
These stages aren’t universally accepted by all counseling professionals, but the Kubler-Ross model of grief is the most respected. Take note of the stages as you track your grieving process.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Be patient with yourself.
“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” — Henri Nouwen
Facts About Grief
Gaining additional knowledge about grief can help to soften the process.
Having reasonable expectations is important.
The grieving process is complex:
The only path out of grief travels right through the middle of it.
Since grief is painful, the obvious response is to avoid it at all costs.
But grief can’t be avoided permanently.
It’ll wait for you until you’re ready to face it.
Until that time, you’re not fully living.
Overcoming grief is work.
Successfully managing grief is more than biding your time until it passes. Grief is hard, both physically and psychologically. There’s a reason why you feel exhausted after a signiﬁcant loss.
Be good to yourself.
Physically, that means eat right, sleep right, and exercise regularly.
Emotionally, be kind and patient with yourself.
Grieving is a normal process.
Feeling upset and crying are normal.
How unusual would it be if you felt nothing after losing someone close to you?
Just because grief is normal doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Grief is a challenging, but normal, response to a loss.
Grief can take longer than some expect.
It’s easy for an outsider to look at a situation and determine that it should take a certain amount of time to heal. But it can be a long process.
The ﬁrst few months can be especially challenging.
Depending on the type of loss, the ﬁrst round of holidays can be hard. The ﬁrst Christmas, birthday, or Thanksgiving can also be difﬁcult times.
No one else can determine how long your grief will require before healing takes place.
It takes however long it takes.
Grief can’t be predicted.
While there’s an accepted outline for the grieving process, there are just as many variables. For no particular reason, one day may be much more difﬁcult than another.
You might believe you’ve moved beyond your grief, only to have it come rushing back.
It’s a vacillating process.
Grief is obviously different from let’s say the ﬂu. The negative feelings associated with the ﬂu build and then gradually dissipate.
Grief can come and go.
The initial shock of grief can mask the physical and emotional pain.
Your grief might be greater after several months than it was at the time of the loss.
When grief returns after a period of reprieve, it can be frustrating.
But over time, grief will return with less frequency and intensity.
It’s not possible to heal from grief alone.
Withdrawing from others after a loss is a natural response. While grief is a very personal process, keeping it to yourself is a mistake.
Other people often follow suit. They believe the best course of action is to leave you alone. In many cases, others don’t know what to say or how to help.
This is one reason professional help can be so valuable. You might not have another effective option for communicating about your grief.
There are many support groups led by experts in the grieving process. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet others that are having the same experience.
Knowing these facts about grief, you’re in a better position now to deal with your grief, or to help others deal with their challenges.
The grieving process takes time and can’t be predicted 100%.
Be patient with yourself and others.
“Grief is perhaps an unknown territory for you. You might feel both helpless and hopeless without a sense of a ‘map’ for the journey. Confusion is the hallmark of a transition. To rebuild both your inner and outer world is a major project.” — Anne Grant
12 Ways To Lessen Grief
While it can take time to get over the negative feelings of grief, there are things you can do to make the time pass more easily.
Be assertive and do what you can to manage your grief.
No list of tips will take your grief away, but the process can be made easier.
Soothe your grief with these tips:
1. Find other grievers.
Grief is such a universal process and emotion. It’s easy to ﬁnd others facing the same obstacles. Find a local support group. Any local hospital should have a list. You can also do a quick search online.
If you’re a private person, consider joining an online forum. You can easily remain anonymous and share more freely.
2. Write a letter to your lost loved one.
You probably left a few things unsaid. We all do. Now is a chance to say what needs to be said. Write a letter to the person you lost and read it aloud.
3. Avoid the use of drugs, alcohol, food, and sex to numb your pain.
Creating another challenge on top of the one you’re already facing doesn’t make a lot of sense. Avoid creating further difﬁculties for yourself .
The last thing you need now is to gain 50 pounds or develop a drug or alcohol addiction.
Deal with your grief intelligently.
4. Make your health a priority.
It’s not unusual for someone in the grieving process to ignore their basic hygiene, eat poorly, stay up late, or avoid exercise.
Grief is easier to manage if you’re at your physical best.
Take care of yourself and see a physician as required.
5. Resume your normal life.
Returning to your normal routine will keep your mind busy and show you that parts of your life are still intact.
Take the time you need, but get back to work.
Return to your social and recreational pursuits. Your friends are waiting for you.
Providing assistance and relief to others can help you to deal with your own grief. It also demonstrates to you that you’re valuable to the world. There are people that need your help.
7. Be patient.
Avoid getting frustrated with yourself and others. Your friends may mean well when they tell you to “snap out of it.” Let them know that you need time.
Similarly, be gentle with yourself.
It can take years to feel like your old self again.
Celebrate each day and enjoy the little victories.
Small steps are signiﬁcant if you take enough of them.
8. Talk with your friends and family about the loss.
Talking about your loss can be beneﬁcial. There’s no reason to keep your pain to yourself. Reach out to others and let them help you.
9. Indulge in your hobbies.
Hobbies are optional activities that we enjoy. We only do them because we enjoy them. Why not spend some time on something you enjoy?
Even if you don’t feel like it, make yourself take part in the hobbies that you’ve enjoyed in the past.
10. Find a new hobby.
Now might be a good time to show yourself that your life can change in a positive way, even without your loved one present. You have interests that you’ve never indulged in — it may well be the time to explore one.
Getting away from your usual surroundings can renew your perspective of the world. You’ll notice that other people are living their lives.
Getting out of your normal routine can be helpful and provide a little relief.
12. Exert yourself physically.
When you’re stressed or sad, a little exercise can provide huge beneﬁts.
The more complex the activity, the less time you’ll spend focusing on your loss and misery.
Your natural tendency during periods of loss is to sit at home and brood.
Get out of the house and get your body moving.
The grieving process can be long and slow. There are however, ways to make the journey a little easier. Apply these tips to your situation and note the effect. Keep trying — you might be surprised by which are the most helpful.
“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reﬂection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” — C. S. Lewis
When To Seek Professional Help
Everyone is different.
Some of us can deal with grief effectively in the absence of professional help, while others need more assistance.
Consider seeking professional help if you experience any of these signs:
Neglecting your personal hygiene.
This is a common sign in both grieving and various types of mental illness. It’s easy to forget, or to convince yourself that it doesn’t matter. This is often the ﬁrst sign that more help may be needed.
An inability to enjoy your life.
It’s common to be unhappy for a while, but enjoyable activities should become enjoyable again. If you’re unable to ﬁnd any enjoyable activities after grieving for a few months, consider contacting a professional.
Any thoughts of harming yourself in any way.
You’re important. You don’t deserve to be harmed in any way by anyone, including yourself. It’s critical to seek help if you’re feeling this way.
Why add an additional burden to your life? This is a sign you’re moving backwards.
Any negative thoughts and feelings that don’t lessen over time.
After the initial grieving period, it’s normal for your outlook on life to slowly improve. If your emotions are stuck, seek help.
Keep your eyes open for these signs. If someone else in your life is grieving, keep an eye on them.
It’s not easy for someone to recognize that they need help.
“Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn’t serve anyone, and it’s painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you’re magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.” — Patti Smith
How To Help Others In Grief
Grief is a universal experience. Sooner or later, a friend or loved one will face a situation of grief. It’s not easy to know how to proceed. Should you leave them alone or be a constant presence?
What should you say and do? It’s not an easy question to answer. It’s especially difﬁcult if you’ve never dealt with grief yourself.
It can be uncomfortable to reach out to someone in need, but your support is critical.
It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect words at hand. Provide your support in a helpful manner and be understanding.
There are many ways to help others dealing with grief:
Keep the lines of communication open.
Those that are grieving will approach you on their own schedule. Some prefer to be alone for a while and would prefer to talk later on. Others prefer to have a conversation right away.
Let the person grieving know you’re available, but avoid being pushy or intrusive.
Focus on being a good listener.
There’s not much you can say to help, but you can provide relief by listening.
Arranging a funeral and contacting the necessary people is a true burden. Offer to help with the phone calls and arrangements.
Send a note.
It’s easier to read a note than to have a conversation. In fact, it’s easier on both of you. Avoid sending a sympathy card without a not — it can come across as too casual and impersonal.
Help raise money.
Funerals can be expensive. Setting up a fund to deal with the expenses could be helpful.
Help them to ﬁnd the support they need.
A grief counselor or support group has the expertise that you lack. There’s nothing wrong with getting expert assistance. Find a few options and gently present them.
Make a meal.
Those that are grieving often forget to eat. When they do eat, they often don’t eat well. Why not make a healthy meal and take it to them?
Help with other daily tasks.
Laundry, shopping, car maintenance, driving the kids to school, and mowing the lawns can provide a lot of help and relief.
Consider all the things you have to do each day for yourself.
Get them out of the house.
Eventually, life must go on. Some people can become stuck in their grieving state. Encourage them to get out — maybe go out for dinner or a walk in the park. They’ll feel better and see that the world is still turning.
Consider what you’d like to hear if you were in a similar situation.
Most experts agree that saying things to minimize the loss is a mistake.
This would include saying things like:
- “At least they’re in a better place.”
- “You’re young. You can always ﬁnd someone else.”
- “You can always have more children.”
- “They were old. They lived a long and happy life.”
Keep in mind that the ﬁrst year will be especially difﬁcult.
Stay in contact and continue offering support.
Remind them that others love them.
It’s easy to feel alone during times of grief. A little reminder can be reassuring.
Seeing someone you love in pain is challenging.
While you can’t remove that pain, you can help.
It’s difﬁcult to walk that ﬁne line between being helpful and being a burden.
Go slowly, but do what you can.
Your love and assistance will never be forgotten.
“Tears are the silent language of grief.” — Voltaire
Death or other loss results in grief, and grieving is one of life’s most challenging experiences.
Those in grief often feel alone, depressed, angry, and guilty.
The emotions are unpleasant and intense. We aren’t faced with such strong emotions on a regular basis, which makes dealing with them particularly challenging.
If someone you know is experiencing grief, be there for them. Help them with life’s day-to-day chores and strive to be a good listener. You might be limited to offering your condolences. Allow the griever to determine the pace.
Most importantly, seek out professional help for yourself or others if necessary. One tragedy is enough.
Time may not completely heal all wounds, but it does lesson the sting, and it can definitely help expedite the healing process.
Remember that life is short. We all have a limited time on Earth. Grieve, but remember to honor the death of a loved one by living your life to the fullest.
“I couldn’t have foreseen all the good things that have followed my mother’s death. The renewed energy, the surprising sweetness of grief. The tenderness I feel for strangers on walkers. The deeper love I have for my siblings and friends. The desire to play the mandolin. The gift of a visitation.” — Mary Schmich