After weeks of coping with my own grief, I sit in front of a blank screen with everything and nothing to say at the same time. I’m coping with grief… sometimes I’m coping in healthy ways, other times it’s easier to avoid feeling and instead watch Netflix and disassociate from the world.
My sweet cat, Chewbacca, is terminal. She’s lived a long and healthy life, and now all I can do is give her my love and comfort as she fades away.
I play We Are Family by Sledge Sisters, hold her tight, and dance around the house sobbing. She purrs and stares back at me. Chewbacca is family and has been since the day we met. How will this house feel without her? What will I do to honor the unique connection we have? How will Chewy live on within me? How will I honor her life?
Chewabacca is always right by my side. As I work from home she follows me from room to room. If my stomach hurts, she’s intuitive enough to lay right where it hurts. When I have a migraine she cuddles up in the dark alongside me. She’s nothing but love, and it’s hard to imagine life where I don’t come home and see her running from the other room to greet me. She’s my girl, who I legitimately thought would live forever.
“Pets are so important to us, and they truly are such big parts of our lives that when you lose a pet, it truly is like losing a family member. And if you need time to grieve, take that time to grieve. No one needs to tell you how to grieve or when you should be done grieving. It is your own personal journey, and I don’t really say it gets easier. I mean, I think of Tank every day. I miss him every day. But I think it’s important that we celebrate what they brought to our lives.” – Dani O.
Coping with grief is hard and exhausting
After losing my baby cousin and my grandmother, I’m no stranger to grief and I know just how hard it can be for me. The physical effects, the mental health toll, the loss of productivity… all are things no one wants, but almost always show up when we lose someone we care about.
“I want to tell people that wherever you are in your grief journey, where you are is right where you need to be. To really just embrace all of the emotions and high and lows, the peaks and valleys that come while grieving, because it’s really, really, really hard, but can also be a really beautiful journey if you allow it.” – Taylor L.
A recent study, done before this pandemic by Amerispeak and WebMD, found that 57% of Americans are grieving the loss of someone close to them over the last three years. Now just imagine how that number has grown since the pandemic began.
And while navigating grief is no walk in the park, might it be what we need to experience in order to go inward and learn lessons that move us all forward?
Coping with Grief to Find Meaning
When my baby cousin passed, it brought our family closer and helped us all appreciate the time on this earth that he did not get. When my grandmother passed, it inspired me to start a garden, stand up for myself, and share my gratitude with others.
There are lessons to grief, we just need to be courageous enough to dig them out of a painful place. Countless stories from our Eterneva community include navigating grief while finding joy and learning lessons from the little things they shared with their remarkable loved ones.
Taylor shares how grief can be a beautiful journey if you allow it, Hope reminds herself daily to be the best version of herself possible, and Jacob’s parents remind us all that “You can’t live your life in a bubble. You have to let the cougar loose.”
We all need a beacon of hope when we’re grieving. We need to believe in something so that our loved ones can live on through our thoughts, words, and actions. We can transform our intense feelings and emotions into purpose, meaning and wisdom to celebrate the remarkable lives of those we love.
So today, as I write about coping with grief, please know that I share from a place of love, pain, gratitude, and hope. I wish nothing more than for you to walk away from this feeling inspired and not alone. I’m writing this for you and your loved ones in honor of my purrfect fur baby, Chewbacca.
I don’t promise to have all of the answers, and I still cry. But I also have an open mind and plan to share what has worked for me, what countless others are finding helpful, and even what a licensed therapist recommends. I appreciate your time spent reading and thank you for joining me on this journey.
How People Cope with Grief
We all cope with grief differently. Sometimes we face it head on, feeling all the feels, and other times we distract ourselves.
I like to think of grief as a bag we carry with us. Some days it’s super heavy and we’d rather just stay inside, cry, feel all of the feels because it’s too heavy to take anywhere.
Other days, we’re stronger and the bag feels lighter. Maybe we take the bag for a walk down the street and talk to a neighbor, go to the grocery store, write, meditate, and cook a healthy dinner.
Then, there are some days that we just don’t want to wear a bag! We just want to be free of any bags and attend a concert and drink some beers like we used to in the good ol’ days, before grief entered the scene.
No two people experience or cope with grief in the same way. We all have unique connections with our loved ones and we all express what we need to, how and when we need to.
“Who am I to tell you how to cope, who am I to tell you you’re wrong for hurting?”
–Grief Quote by Sha’Carri Richardson
Sometimes we may choose to face grief head-on, feel all of the feels, talk about our loved one, and celebrate them in unique ways. And other times we may need distractions to ease the pain. There is no wrong answer when it comes to how you cope with grief.
Licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Ryan Howes, helps us understand why coping is so important for healing:
“We encounter stressful and disturbing experiences throughout our lives, most of which we quickly process and move on. A parking ticket or getting stood up are painful moments that sting but we process the pain relatively quickly. Other injuries – in the form of trauma, loss, or difficult relationships, for example – are so challenging they take more time and energy to process and work within our lives. During this extended time of “working through,” we employ coping mechanisms to help us endure the time and the pain.”
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
I used to run from the pain — sometimes quite literally — and seek refuge in what made me feel numb, devoid of emotion. Whether it was grabbing a drink, scrolling through social media, jampacking my days with social activities, working, or starting another new season on Netflix. Numb and empty is how I felt.
As Dr. Ryan Howes shares, “Some coping mechanisms are unhealthy, as they only distract us from or deny the work at hand, which both prolongs the process and could do real damage in the meantime. Substance abuse, compulsive distraction behaviors (which could include shopping, gambling, even working out!), and anything else that avoids the work of feeling the feelings and dealing with the work of moving on, would be unhealthy coping.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms put off the work, and could actually do damage in the process. It’s human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain, so our draw toward denial is nothing to be ashamed of. But know that coping with hard things means feeling some difficult feelings and engaging in some difficult work. The good news is, the more you face it head-on, the quicker you’ll move through the most painful parts.”
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Now, there are days I write, meditate, create, go for long quiet walks, and share memories with my loved ones. I gauge my strength and check in with myself. Can I handle it? Seems like I can while I do these activities. Even though it still feels heavy, I can tell I’m growing stronger by carrying it.
Then there are days where I just need to sit with it. I cry, talk to loved ones, and find the space to honor those we’ve lost and celebrate their remarkable legacies. I find purpose through the grief of the loved ones I’ve lost. I’m usually not productive at making money on these type of days, but I’m certainly putting in the work.
As Dr. Ryan Howes explains, “Healthy coping mechanisms include talking, feeling all the feelings, crying, reaching out for help, sharing memories, and in the case of grieving a loved one, doing the work of planning or attending a memorial, and sorting through their tangible items or legal affairs, and caring for fellow loved ones.
In other words, healthy coping is turning toward the pain for a while so you can adequately feel and deal. Doing this in connection with others makes it so much more tolerable and even meaningful.
The only way out is through, the saying goes. Surround yourself with likeminded grievers and face the challenge head on. Many people I’ve known have found this to be the most satisfying and respectful way to move through this painful season, and the bond with others tends to strengthen as well.”
Ways to Cope with Grief and Celebrate Life
I talked to as many people as I could to understand exactly how they cope with grief. While I could see that there are a number of people who are ignoring the pain, shutting down, and just “pretending all is well,” I was blown away and inspired by how many people had found meaningful and healthy ways to celebrate their loved ones as they cope with grief head on.
I look at these activities people shared as acts of courage. Courage to feel, heal, and move forward with meaning.
Going through grief is tricky and usually feels quite foreign. By being mindful of our senses, we can become more grounded through the process and listen to whatever it is our body, mind, and soul need.
Next time your feelings become too much, take a deep breath and get curious about the present moment. What does the air smell like? What colors can you see? What do you hear? Take the time to slowly chewy your food and taste every bite. What does the soft blanket feel like on your skin?
Cry it out
This was a common response. People are feeling, taking the time to sit with their painful emotions, letting go of the need to keep it all together.
Some people went for bike rides to be alone while they cry and others cried in the company of others who are grieving.
Anger is a common emotion when going through grief and screaming can help release some of the pent up energy.
If you’ve seen the show Dead to Me on Netflix, you may remember the scene when Jen shares with Judy her “meditation” strategy to handle her anger.
Going inward with grief and sharing your feelings with yourself, or whichever god you worship, can be an excellent silent or out loud way to cope with the grief.
Finding deeper meaning during all of this may not come easy at first, but people find that over time this type of spiritual connection helps create a purpose for moving forward.
You will grow a lot through grief, which is often very challenging. Finding new ways to connect with yourself in this new normal is extremely important.
Guided meditations like the ones on free apps like InsightTimer are great resources to begin. There are plenty of different types of meditation and it may take a bit of trial and error to figure out what works well for you. InsightTimer even has an entire meditation topic dedicated to grief.
Positive self talk
One woman I talked to said in the beginning of her husband’s death would remind herself that he’s finally at peace with no more fear, stress or pain. This gave her great peace.
Sometimes we need the reminder and the only person who will give it to us is ourselves. What is the reminder that might help you? What would your loved one say to you? Try saying it out loud.
Talk about them
People aren’t always the most smooth when it comes to how to talk to those coping with grief about their loved one. However, it can be extremely therapeutic to do just that.
Whether it’s with an old friend or new friend, talking about your loved one can help them stay remembered and loved.
Share their hobbies
My interest in gardening started after my grandmother died. She had the green thumb in the family and I was determined to honor her by carrying down the tradition.
What hobbies did your loved one enjoy doing? Is this something you can share with them now that they’re gone?
Some people write letters to their loved ones, giving them updates about their life, and others write just to express what it is they’re feeling. Writing is a creative and expressive process that can help those who may have a hard time finding the right words or who never had the chance to say what they want to out loud.
As Dr. Ryan Howes shares, “On the most pragmatic level, many people who struggle with grief feel bad because they weren’t able to say everything they wanted or needed to their loved one. Many of them find it cathartic to write a letter to their deceased loved one, detailing all of their feelings, memories, and gratitude for them. Some choose to keep the note, while others burn it to send the words to the heavens. Regardless, expressing your feelings verbally or in writing is the most direct way to help you heal.”
Spend time with a pet
I can attest to this one personally. Chewbacca was always there for me when I needed to cry or spend all day on the couch when I was grieving.
There’s a reason why emotional support animals are becoming more popular… We all could use emotional support and a furry face who will give us a kiss when we’re feeling down.
Listen to music
Sometimes people want to listen to their loved one’s favorite songs and think of the memories, while others may just want to listen to songs that match the emotions of the grief they’re going through.
Music is therapeutic and has been a tool used for healing for centuries. So don’t be shy to put on a record and dance around the house.
While exercise can sometimes be a way to escape the pain, it can also be very restorative. Gentle walks, hikes in the woods, and bike rides may be a good place to start as you build your strength.
Did your loved one enjoy exercise? Maybe you can try an exercise they enjoyed to feel connected with them while also doing something good for yourself.
Grief can be very isolating and difficult for someone to do alone. As Dr. Ryan Howes shares, “Asking for help while grieving is an unfortunately counter-cultural act in our society today. People expect us to move on quickly and return to work and social functions at lightning speed, in comparison with other cultures presently and historically. There is no pre-set timeline for grief, and everyone grieves differently, so give yourself permission to take time and reach out to friends and family as much as you need as you attempt to feel and deal. If you find that the grief is still incapacitating you a couple of months after your loss, and you are having difficulty seeing light at the end of the tunnel, know that there are many therapists and grief support groups around to help you process your loss and move forward.”
Some people find local grief groups helpful, as they give you a space to talk about your loved one with others who are also going through grief. While others prefer a more personalized grief treatment program or grief therapist.
Keep a to-do list and stick to it
Sometimes it’s difficult to get out of bed, let alone get anything done when grief settles. By keeping a to-do list, some people find it helpful to develop a new norm and habits that support the new norm.
Whether it’s a daily or weekly to-do list, either may help keep you accountable to showing up for yourself in honor of your loved one.
Just as we mentioned earlier with writing, a creative expression like painting can be extremely beneficial as you cope with grief.
If you don’t have the words to express, then painting or drawing may be a wonderful way for you to express what it is you’re going through and what your loved one meant to you.
Cook and eat healthy
If you’re anything like me, eating is usually the last thing that comes to mind when grieving. My stomach is in knots and it’s hard to stomach anything.
With that said, I’ve found cooking broth and soups with fresh herbs and spices has made me feel better. The slight exercise of cooking is sometimes exactly what I need to turn my day around. The health of our gut impacts how well we feel and so this is extremely important in the healing process.
I mentioned this earlier as something I started doing when my grandmother passed, but I’ve since found many people who also head to the garden to cope with grief. Flowers, vegetables, fruits, you name it… all can be grown with your love and care.
Spending time in nature is curative and tending to new life gives us hope for a better future. One seed planted today is a harvest months from now. It gives us something to look forward to and we can honor our loved ones by planting their favorites.
Visit their resting place
Down the street from my house I always see groups of people visiting their loved one’s grave site, often bringing chairs and hanging out with some music.
It can be very hard to go to a graveyard or wherever the final resting place is for your loved one. However, it is how a lot of people choose to stay connected with their loved ones.
Set an intention for yourself
When my grandmother died and I was walking around sad, I gave myself a phrase or intention that I would remind myself of every day. “I live in peace” I reminded myself so often that soon enough, I began to feel at peace.
Whatever it is you need to hear and remind yourself of every day, write it down. Then come back to it every day. Say it outloud or inside your head, write it down, paint it, or do whatever you can to live by the phrase that will help move you forward.
Oftentimes when a loved one passes, we may feel a void of connection. By giving back to an organization that’s close to you or your loved one’s heart, you can begin making positive change in the world in honor of your loved one.
Whether it’s volunteering at a local farm, being a mentor for someone who needs it, or feeding the hungry, you can transform your pain into something constructive for your neighborhood.
Take it one breath at a time
There were a number of people who mentioned how they now take life second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day.
“You have to go through it. No skating around it.”
If your grief is feeling like too much to handle, return to your breath. Just get through the next breath, and then the next. Remember, you will make it through this.
Strategies to Start Coping with your Grief Today
As we wrap up this post, I want to again thank you for your time and consideration. What you’re going through is not easy, and you have every right to feel what you need to feel.I’ll now leave you with the wise words of Dr. Ryan Howes on how you can start coping with your grief today.
“Grief expert David Kessler, who wrote Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, says that grief is not a technique, we just need to resist the urge to avoid it. Push away the busyness and let yourself feel the loss once in a while.
Grief is the final iteration of love, he says, and when we can see that we can embrace grief as a way to remember and cherish and honor the person we lost.
It is also helpful to make meaning from this loss. What did you admire most about your loved one? What lesson could you learn from their life? If they were kind to the less fortunate, maybe you could try to incorporate that in your life as well.
If they were an exceptionally good listener, maybe you can hone your own skills in honor of them. If you make positive changes in your life as a way to continue their legacy and improve the world in the smallest way, you are honoring their memory in the best way.”
Now, how will you honor your remarkable loved one?
The Eterneva team is committed to sharing real stories that help celebrate the remarkable lives of loved ones who have passed and have started their new journey as memorial diamonds. These real stories are here to help heal, connect one another, spark joy, inspire gratitude, and move us forward together.