Coping With the Loss of a Loved One

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Coping with loss

Ideally, a bereaved person will be able to work through the process of grieving. With time and support, they’ll accept and make sense of the loss, work through the pain, and adjust to a new life and identity.

If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, the following tips may help you cope with the loss:

  • Let yourself feel the pain and all the other emotions, too. Don’t tell yourself how to feel or let others tell you how you should feel.
  • Be patient with the process. Don’t pressure yourself with expectations. Accept that you need to experience your pain, your emotions, and your own way of healing − all in your own time. Don’t judge your emotions or compare yourself to others. Remember that no one else can tell you how you should mourn or when to stop.
  • Acknowledge your feelings, even the ones you don’t like. Let yourself cry. You need to do both for healing.
  • Get support. Talk about your loss, your memories, and your experience of the life and death of your loved one. Don’t think you are protecting your family and friends by not expressing your sadness. Ask others for what you need. Find and talk to others who have lost a loved one.
  • Try to maintain your normal lifestyle. Don’t make any major life changes (for example, moving, changing jobs, changing important relationships) during the first year of bereavement. This will let you keep your roots and some sense of security.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well and exercise. Physical activity is a good way to release tension. Allow yourself physical pleasures that help you renew yourself, like hot baths, naps, and favorite foods.
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol or using other drugs. This can harm your body as well as dull your emotions. It’s also likely to slow your recovery and may cause new problems.
  • Forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. Compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others is important in healing.
  • Give yourself a break from grief. You must work through it, but you don’t need to focus on grief all the time. Find distractions like going to a movie, dinner, or a ball game; reading a good book; listening to music; or getting a massage or manicure.
  • Prepare for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries knowing that strong feelings may come back. Decide if you want to keep certain traditions or create new ones. Plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom. Do something to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Join a bereavement support group. Other people can encourage, guide, and comfort you. They can also offer practical advice and information, and help you feel less alone. If you can’t find a group near you, online groups may be helpful.
  • When you feel ready, do something creative. Some options include:
    • Write a letter to the person who died to say everything you wish you could say to them.
    • Start keeping a journal.
    • Make a scrapbook.
    • Paint pictures.
    • Plant flowers or trees.
    • Involve yourself in a cause or activity that the deceased loved.

Family changes

When a loved one dies, it affects all their family members and loved ones. Each family finds its own ways of coping with death. A family’s attitudes and reactions are shaped by cultural and spiritual values as well as by the relationships among family members. It takes time for a bereaved family to regain its balance.

It’s important that each family member be able to grieve with one another to help the family cope. Each person will experience the loss differently and have different needs. As hard as it may be, it’s important for family members to be open and honest when talking with each other. This is not the time for family members to hide their emotions to try and protect one another.

The loss of one person in a family means that roles in the family will change. Family members will need to talk about the effects of this change and work out the shift in responsibilities. This time of change is stressful for everyone. This is a time to be even more gentle and patient with each other.

Getting professional help for the grieving process

Bereavement counseling is a special type of professional help. You may be able to find it through hospice services or a referral from a health care provider (doctor, nurse, or social worker). This type of counseling has been shown to reduce the level of distress that mourners go through after the death of their loved one. It can help them move more easily through the phases of grief. Bereavement counseling can also help them adjust to their new lives without the deceased.

Last Medical Review: 12/23/2014
Last Revised: 03/11/2015