Coping with GriefThese are some frequent symptoms people experience as they go through the grieving process. Not everyone goes through the same things, and what each person feels and experiences will be as unique as the individual person.
- anger, irritation, resentment (at others or at God)
- bargaining with God
- comparing the loss to the losses of others
- disinterest in life - distorted or lost time
- disturbed sleep habits (insomnia, waking up erratically)
- easily distracted
- embarrassment about emotions and feelings
- feelings of being out of control
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- feeling crazy
- feeling disconnected from family and friends
- feeling drugged
- feelings of hopelessness
- feelings that nothing matters or has meaning
- inability or reluctance to make decisions
- pains and aches
- unpredictable appetite
How to Help a Grieving PersonThere are many ways to be supportive of a person experiencing the grieving process
Listen in a non-judging way, and allow them to tell the story or stories over and over if they need to. Repetition is often a key part of the healing process.
Reflect on the feelings they are experiencing - but as you share, be careful not to start one-upping their feelings, or comparing your loss to theirs. And don't say "I know exactly how you feel." It's usually much more helpful to say something along the lines of "I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now," because most grieving people feel like no one else could know what they're experiencing.
Some can recover quickly, while others can take a full year or more. Be careful not to impose a time limit or tell people to get over it and move on. Feeling that they've grieved too long can cause people to suppress their feelings, and slow or stop the healing process.
Understand that grieving people are very likely to have emotional setbacks, even after a long period of healing and outward "improvement." Something could spark a memory that causes them to spiral downwards - dates that were important in the loved one's life, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, are often triggers for setbacks.
Remember that there's no definitive way to experience grieving, and that everyone experiences a unique set of feelings or physical symptoms.
Understand that the grieving person will always feel the loss, but that he or she will learn to live with it over time.
It may sound strange to talk about celebrating, but it can help grieving people heal. Help them develop rituals they need to get through the difficult early stages of the grieving process.
If you notice signs of suicidal behavior or fear they may harm themselves or others, it's your moral, legal, and ethical duty to refer them to a mental health professional.
While there are many things you can do to help people through the pain of their grief, there are also things that don't help at all. Here are some thoughts on things it's best not to do.
- Don't try to "fix" things, or make it all better for the person suffering the loss. No one can ever do that.
- Don't tell people that time heals all wounds. The wound of loss will never really heal, but they will learn to live with the loss over time.
- Don't compare one griever's loss or experience of grief to another's. Comparisons seem to minimize the loss or to force grievers to behave the "right way" instead of the way they are reacting.
- Don't encourage grieving people to make major changes, such as moving, changing jobs, etc. Extreme grief clouds judgment, and the people may later regret their decision.
- Don't attempt to cheer them up.
- Don't scold, give advice, lecture, etc.
- Don't suggest the person can replace the one they've lost ("You can have another baby," or "you'll find someone else").
Coping with Grief during the HolidaysWhether your loved one died recently or decades ago, the holidays bring forth powerful memories that may stimulate your grief.When trying to deal with grief, it's important to understand that grief is cumulative.
We don't suffer a loss, move through predetermined emotional phases, then surface on the other side. Here are some tips to help you cope with grief during the holidays:
- Expect to have some pain. When the feelings come, let them
- Accept a few invitations to be with close family or friends. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time and avoid the ones that feel more like obligation
- Talk about your feelings. Let people know if you're having a tough day
- Incorporate your loved one into the holidays
- Share your favorite stories over dinner
- Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance
- Make a donation in his or her name
- Help others
- Take a meal to a homebound couple
- Volunteer in a shelter or soup kitchen
- "Adopt" a family to buy presents or food for
- Modify or make new traditions if it feels right. Just remember to include others who are grieving, especially children, in the decision
- If the idea of holiday shopping overwhelms you, buy gifts online or through catalogs
- Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. The National Funeral Directors Association suggests affirmations such as, "In spite of loss, I will try to enjoy this season"
- Prepare yourself for January. Sometimes the aftermath of the holidays can bring more sadness than the holidays themselves
- Don't hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or protect them. You'll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings
- Don't isolate yourself. Although you may not feel much like celebrating, accept a few invitations
- Don't accept every invitation or throw yourself into work in an effort to keep busy. It may only add more stress
- Don't expect to go through defined stages of grief. Every person is different and every relationship is unique
- Don't act as if your loved one never lived
- Don't be afraid to cry
Encourage him or her to talk about their feelings. Listen to them. According to Moeller, 98 percent of people who have recently lost someone want to talk about the person who died
Let them cry
Don't pretend their loved one didn't die - it's okay to say the deceased's name.
Don't say things like:
- At least he's not suffering anymore
- She's in a better place
- I know you'll miss him
- I know how you feel
Children and GriefCaring adults should adapt our suggestions to fit the age and maturity of the individual child. A special section about teenagers adds insight for that age group.The most important message is: You can't fix grief. Caring adults who try to 'fix' or 'solve' a child's grief will be frustrated. Their good intentions will not work. Instead, caring adults need to honor and support the child's grief.
Death is an event that leaves a permanent hole in a child's life. It cannot be fixed.
Allow the child to grieve. Be available for the child. Listen. Do not set a time limit on grief. Encourage them to share. Help them find their own words.
Inform the child as soon as possible. The child should hear the truth from someone close to her, not from outsiders. Waiting for the 'right time' causes confusion and resentment, and it damages trust.
Children need to know what happened to the body. Some want more details than others. But they all deserve a factual explanation of what happened. Explain clearly, simply, and honestly what caused the death. Do not lie. Avoid euphemisms.
Do not say:
- God needed an angel.
- She went on a trip and can't come back.
- He went to sleep and won't wake up.
- Her body stopped working and could not be fixed. She couldn't breathe or eat anymore.
- He was very, very sick for a long time, and there was no medicine that could help.
- She died.
Explain that the death was not the child's fault. Children commonly believe that something they did, said, or thought might have caused the death. If this is the case, assure the child that he did the best he could.
Be prepared to repeat what happened, over and over again. This is especially important for a very young child. Be patient. If the child was present, it is often helpful for the child to go over what happened.
If the child's family has a spiritual belief about life after death, talk about this belief with the child. Share with the child if the religion includes survival of the spirit or afterlife.
You may prefer to talk about a caring and comforting God, instead of describing death as God's doing.Knowing what a family believes may help a child feel better about what happened to the loved one's spirit. It is not a substitute for explaining what happened to the body.
The most important thing is to be honest. Admit if you don't know all the answers
No matter what rites are used to remember a loved one, they are likely to be new and mysterious for a child. Include the child in the preparations - receiving friends at home, visitation, wake, funeral, memorial service, cremation, or trip to the cemetery.
Describe beforehand what will happen in clear and simple terms. Tell the child what he will see and hear.
- Arrange flowers or help with the food
- Choose a favorite song or story for the service
- Write a note to go inside the casket
- Take a special gift or flower to the service
- Invite friends and teachers
- Create a collage of photos
Encourage your child to attend the services. Taking part in even some of the rituals helps the child to understand and feel less alone.
If the child is reluctant to attend, gently mention that she may later regret missing out on this important day. Remind him that a close relative or adult friend will be nearby the whole time. Do not, however, force the child to do anything against his will. Try to have the child attend at least one small part. Allow for a last - minute change of mind.
Grief is a normal reaction to losing someone who was loved or important. Each individual mourns in a different way.
Some children grieve openly from the start; others show no sign for months. There is no right or wrong way. Avoid judgment words.
Do not say:
- Stop crying all the time
- It's been long enough. You should be over it by now.
- You should be crying. You should be showing you are sad.
Express your own feelings. Your displays of emotion give the child permission to be open and honest with her feelings.
- I am so angry
- I am so sad
- I can see that you are sad
Tell the child that it's normal to feel angry, guilty, frustrated, scared.
- Punch a pillow
- Scream really loud
- Keep a journal
- Tear up old newspapers
- Hold the child close, if he desires
- Sit next to each other whenever possible
- Cry together
- Allow the child to sleep with or near you
- Talk about the loved one
If the child prefers to be alone, that's okay, but check in on her.
Talking and ListeningEncourage communication, but don't force it. Listen carefully. Acknowledge and validate the child's feelings. Take seriously what the child is saying. Address concerns as they come up.
- Who would take care of me if you died?
- Will Susie die when she goes to the hospital to get her tonsils out?
- Talk about your own feelings
- Use memories and stories to help the child find words
- Play a sport or game together
- Draw a picture of your family together
- Read a book or watch a video together
- Take a walk or a car ride where you're alone together, but not face-to-face
- Arrange for an adult, who is not the parent, to be around and listen
- Seek the help of a support group or professional counseling
- I can see you're feeling sad today, and I'm sad too
- Remember when your sister used to sing that silly song?
- Let's look together at the scrapbook about Daddy
- Your mom loved the way you played soccer
Often a child may feel very helpless after a death in the family. Anything which gives confidence is good. A new skill can help a child regain lost self-esteem. It can renew a sense of personal strength and control. Also, nonverbal expression, through arts or sports, might be an easier way for some children to cope.
- Offer music or art lessons
- Find a class in karate, wrestling, chess, ceramics
- Supply materials for arts and crafts projects
- Make or give the child hand puppets
- Provide a blank notebook as a journal or sketch pad
- Find a charity to give to or work for in memory of the one who died
Try to suspend judgment as long as the child is not hurting herself or another person.
It takes a long time to adjust to the loss of a loved one. A temporary stage of acting out or temper tantrums will often pass if the family allows the child to leave it behind.
Love each other and share hugs often. Express affection in a way your family finds most comfortable.
A child may change his appearance drastically or develop a very different attitude. It is possible that he might not return to being the exact same child he was 'before.' Sometimes a grieving child will change his crowd of friends. Actively check into new friends and situations in a positive and interested way.
People who have experienced a death undergo tremendous personal change. Allow the new self to emerge slowly. Give the child support and help. Change is difficult in any circumstance.
Try to spend more time with each child individually. Also spend time as a family.
- I'm thinking about moving. Would you like to stay in the same neighborhood or explore a new area?
- Who should have the empty room?
- What toys or books or clothing of Becky's would you like to have or keep
School can be a source of additional stress. Don't push the child to return to school immediately after the death. Work closely with the child, teachers, and school staff. Help create an understanding environment.
Set up ways to help the child deal with:- Trouble concentrating on school work
- Problems with classmates
- Days when she feels especially sad or vulnerable
Grieving is a process that takes a very long time. The child will never stop missing the absent loved one. The pain will slowly, gradually, decrease IF the child is allowed to grieve and express feelings.
Daily life contains many hidden pitfalls for children who have lost a close relative. New friends ask how many siblings are in the family. Other kids complain about their parents. A girl's first period without a mother around. Father & Son camp-out. Birthdays. Anniversaries of death, even the date (like the 10th of the month). Holidays.
Children deal with bits and pieces of reality as they mature. Grief may seem to resurface years later. The child might withdraw, mope around, act out, be on edge, or cry.
Be sensitive to what may have triggered it. Talk about it, if they want.
Express your love.
Teenagers can sometimes get caught in the middle. They understand more than little children do. But the pain, fear, and feelings of abandonment are just as strong and raw.
Since they look like adults, people may make the mistake of thinking that teens have adult ways to cope. A quiet teenager, as well as a talkative one, might give the impression that they are doing better than they really are. Sometimes significant adults mistakenly keep a low profile.
- Protect a parent or avoid hurting a parent
- Feel they need to take the place of the person who died
- Conceal feelings or actions they may be too ashamed to admit
The emotional turmoil of adolescence can add to the confusion. Whether the death was recent or long ago - when a child enters puberty, the loss will be keenly felt.