- Grief is an incredibly difficult as well as unpredictable process—which means that it looks different for everybody.
- We must all learn how to grieve effectively, through strategies that work specifically for us and our situation.
- That being said, there are healthy tactics that are important for any grieving individual to employ such as eating well, prioritizing sleep, and talking with a grief counselor.
- Grief counseling provides us with healthy coping skills and also serves as a healthy outlet for expressing/working through the painful emotions we experience.
- Furthermore, grief counselors can help us to address and manage potential issues—behavioral, cognitive, physical, and spiritual—that may arise as a result of the loss.
Up until a few years ago, I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of grief. Not even remotely. I was fortunate enough to have never experienced the loss of a close loved one. All of my immediate family members, friends, even pets, remained in virtually good health for the majority of my childhood. Then, in the fifth grade, my best friend called me bawling. Her mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Throughout our middle and high school years, it was a struggle. It was a struggle for Anna’s mom to care for her five girls (let alone, do anything) in sickness. It was a struggle for Anna to watch her mother lose strength. And it was a struggle for me to watch my friend lose hope. But still, I didn’t yet understand what grief looked like… what it meant and felt like to suffer from losing someone so incredibly close and important to you.
Flash forward to my freshman year of college: I receive a phone call from my best friend—she’s calm. Anna informs me that her mother passed away that morning. Relaxed and nonchalant, she says she’s doing just fine, but has to go. She’ll talk to me later and hopes I have a great day. Over the next few months, Anna came undone. She went through periods: there were times when she insisted (and truly believed) she was just fine; there were times when all she could do was cry; there were times when she went to school and work without issue; there were times when she drank herself into oblivion and cursed God for “doing this to her.”
Anna was a lost, reckless ball of emotions. She didn’t know how to feel, how to act, how to continue on without her mom. Through the next couple years of holding her, consoling her, checking up on her, and worrying every single second about her—I began to grasp just how truly difficult loss can be. I saw the pure agony loss brings. I saw how truly painful grief is. But more importantly, I saw someone climb out of that low level of despair and move forward with their life after a devastating loss.
Tactics for Grieving Effectively
Anna clearly went through some rough patches (and still does, five years later), but she ultimately decided to take control of her life again. As sad and hopeless as she felt, she knew she had to address those emotions more effectively and take productive steps toward healing. So, she swapped the bottle of alcohol for a glass of green tea each morning. She started exercising again and scheduling time with friends. And she took a much-needed month’s break from work.
These simple changes created a solid foundation for Anna. They helped her begin to heal and set the tone for grieving more effectively. That’s not to say, however, that this is the right course of action for every person struck by grief. Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, MSW—expert in grief, death, and dying—explains that every grieving process differs from the next. You ultimately have to find what works best for you… but a great place to start is creating a healthy routine and talking with a mental health professional:
“Our grieving process is going to be different from another, but while life goes on, so must we. You might not feel like it, but you have to go on. Do your best to stick to a routine, but be gentle with yourself. If you don’t feel you can go to work or school, give yourself another day off, but don’t overdo it. Keep moving forward as best you can, gently, while allowing yourself time to grieve and share with others. Continue, or begin a routine of eating healthy and getting enough sleep while seeing a grief counselor. There isn’t a “one size fits all” model to grief. This is a life lesson that we need to learn because life is filled with grief and loss as we age. It’s best to learn as much as we can about it so we’ll be able to cope well when it happens again.”
Deal with Difficult Emotions in Grief Counseling
I plead with Anna to see a grief counselor, but she insisted she would be okay without it. And while that might be true—as she’s back to her happy, motivated, hard-working self—talking with a mental health professional would’ve helped her deal with all of those troubling emotions as well as identify a healthy plan for moving forward. Kevorkian explains just how grief counseling can help us learn healthier coping skills and save us from potentially harmful side effects:
“The impact grief has on us often depends on the relationship we had with the decedent. If the person who died was a person that you were very close to, I’d recommend grief counseling to help make sure you’re grieving process is healthy and that you have someone to talk with about it. Furthermore, losing a loved one can cause behavioral, cognitive, and physical issues not to mention spiritual, especially if you lose a child. In that case, the bereaved might not want to eat, perhaps sleep, all day. They may also have feelings of despair and anger towards a religious figure, which is another reason why grief counseling is recommended.”