How to Grieve Healthy

December 17, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Raquel Choua, M.D.

By Raquel Choua, M.D.

Everyone has a picture in their head portraying how you’re supposed to properly grieve. If I appear too happy too soon after a loss, will people think I don’t care? If I’m feeling uncontrollable sadness for prolonged periods of time, will people think I’m weak?

Loss on its own is hard and emotional, but it can make you feel even more overwhelmed if you don’t feel like you’re grieving the right way. But the reality is, there is no right way to grieve. Every person responds to loss differently and that’s perfectly fine. There are, however, techniques you can implement that help support a healthy grieving process.

First let’s step back and look at how grief is defined. Many people look at grief as an immediate response to a loss – like crying during a loved one’s funeral. But grieving is an emotional process, and can last a long time. Grieving often becomes most difficult when the memorial services are complete and everyone else goes on with their lives. Extended family and friends return home and you have to try to get back to a ‘normal’ routine while often burdened with deep sadness.

If you or a loved one is feeling significant grief and you’re struggling with how to cope, consider these recommendations that prove to help.

Lean on others. Gather with family and friends to talk about ways you can remember a loved one. Have an annual celebration of life on their birthday, or exchange photos regularly. Likewise, there are several bereavement support groups available that can help.

Try to continue your hobbies. It can be comforting to get back to the activities that once made you happy. Sometimes getting back to a personal interest can also help connect you with others and aid in healing.

Feel your emotions. It’s important to make time to feel any emotions that might arise. Whether its anger or sadness, or something else that’s tapping you from inside, don’t suppress your feelings. Acknowledge that you are going to have good days and bad days, and that is perfectly normal.

Express your emotions. One way to help bring those emotions to the surface is to express them in a creative way. Write a poem or a journal entry, or develop a scrapbook highlighting memories of your loved one.

Make time for you. Taking care of yourself and working hard to alleviate stress will help the grieving process. Consider taking yoga or aerobic classes, go for a long hike or get a massage. Self-care, and focusing on your physical and emotional needs will help you get through difficult times.

Be prepared for triggers. You may feel like things are going well and you’ve been healing from a loss, but an anniversary or holiday hits and reawakens the emptiness and sadness you once felt. Consider these big milestones ahead of time, and come up with a plan to honor your loved one or remember them on that special day. If a family tradition usually brings 25 people to your house for a meal and celebration, know it is okay to make alternate plans or even take a year off and cancel the holiday altogether. You can’t and shouldn’t be expected to put a timeline on returning to how things once were.

You can’t predict how you might feel after losing a loved one, and it’s not something anyone ever wants to plan for. It is important, however, to do what’s best for you. Trust your gut, grieve at your own pace without feeling guilt, and know that you always have support. If you are feeling completely hopeless, have difficulty finding purpose in your own life or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help from a behavioral health specialist. To learn more about the behavioral health services offered at Hackensack Meridian Health, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/BehavioralHealth.