This week I’m going to be talking about something more serious than I usually write about on my blog. Lately I’ve been feeling a little stuck when it comes to being inspired about my blog. There’s a couple of reasons for this, but I digress. It did get me thinking though, sometimes I have things on my heart or mind to share, but tend to hold back. Partly because my blog is pretty light hearted, but also because it can be intimidating to be vulnerable. I want to talk to you about How to Cope with Grief & Loss. I bet you’re thinking woah, this is a bit different from a 24 Hour Guide to Rome. But stay with me.
I have had my fair share of loss in my life. As I’m sure most of you reading this have as well. Some loss hits in a different way than others. Four years ago was a tough season of my life, and the effect of that time period still ripple in my heart today. I wanted to write about it because this time of year reminds me of these losses, and while I am no expert, I have found some ways to help myself navigate the murky and turbulent waters of grief & loss. I hope by reading this you too can find ways to cope with it as well.
They say time heals all wounds. I say, that’s a load of b.s. I don’t believe time heals your wounds around loss. For me, time has helped me process and be able to talk or think about my loved ones without it making me as emotional as it did when it was new. At least most of the times. There are still some days where it hurts like it just happened.
In October of 2015, I woke up to find our little cat dead on the floor. To say this was a traumatic event was an understatement. My cat, Dexter, at the time, was my little soulmate. He was my first true animal that I shared a really deep and special bond with. To lose him at four years old and so suddenly, it put a wound on my heart that I had never experienced before. With the anniversary of his passing approaching, it hurts knowing he will have been gone longer than I got to have him.
The following March, I lost my grandmother, Nanna, to a long, difficult battle with ovarian cancer. It was a loss I knew was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier. Being with her with she passed was something I am so grateful for, but was also one of the hardest things I’ve done. She was such a huge part of my life and I still miss her everyday. (I am so eternally grateful she was there on my wedding day.)
To top off the grief freight train, we lost our cat Chester to cancer after having him for 10 years. SHEESH. It’s been a lot.
I’m sharing these personal stories to give some context to how I’ve l learned to cope with grief & loss. Because despite me missing both of them so much, I really have come a long way on processing it all. Here are some helpful ways to Cope with Grief & Loss.
Acknowledge the Loss of Your Loved One
When Dexter passed away, I needed to do something to help my mind not just focus on the trauma. I put together a slideshow of photos of him, and held a little service with my family where we all shared stories about him and read a poem. I get if you’re not an animal person, that may seem odd, but for me, it really helped me say goodbye since I felt I never got that chance with him.
Even for people who have a proper service, maybe consider doing something for yourself as well. Funerals can be so…uncomfortable. It’s difficult having to mourn in front of people you may or may not know. While I did read something out loud for my grandmother at her funeral, I privately did something for her on my trip to Burning Man. Writing down a goodbye to her at the temple there was really cathartic and felt like it was just for me and her.
Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, just to you. Which brings me to my next point.
Don’t Expect Others to Understand
How to Cope with Grief & Loss looks different for everyone. Also, how it effects you will be different than maybe your friend or another family member. Don’t judge yourself because of how long you are grieving or what you need to do to help you process it all.
A long time ago, many cultures, including in America, used to wear black arm bands or a piece of black fabric to let others know they are mourning. I kinda wish we still did that. Grief shows up on not just people crying, but also on smiling faces. It’s an invisible pain and sadness that people don’t know you’re going through.
No one will understand your grief but you. No one truly understands the relationship you shared with whoever it is you lost but you. And that’s okay! I think something that really helps with it all is accepting people’s love and support, but not expecting them to fully understand what you’re going through. That may feel isolating, but just be honest with people about where you’re at.
Sharing that you’re struggling, even if not all of the time, helps those close to you understand some of where you’re at and that you could use their support. This won’t always be in the beginning. It could be weeks, months, and even years later. I personally find anniversaries or birthday’s tough, and they tend to bring up some harder emotions around those times. People don’t know you need support unless you let them know.
Keep Them With You
Something that immensely helped me cope with grief & loss is to feel connected to my loved one through a physical object. For Dexter, it was getting an engraved necklace that held some of his ashes. (I wore it everyday for a year.) For my Nan, she gifted me her favorite denim jacket that she wore for years. It’s this amazing vintage Calvin Klein denim jacket that is a staple in my wardrobe.
A side story about that jacket is a little surprise I found Nan left in one of the pockets for me. I actually pricked my finger on something and dug it out of the pocket. It was an angel pin. At the time Nan was still alive, I called her and said Nan you left one of your angels in the pocket and she said she did it on purpose. I keep it in that pocket to this day and it makes me feel like I always have Nan with me.
It doesn’t have to be anything big, but something that you actually like helps. I use my paternal grandparent’s silverware everyday. I wore my Nannie’s wedding ring on my wedding day. (And I wear it on other special occasions as well.)
For me, this has been one of the best things I have done to help me with my grief. Feeling close and attached to my loved one’s through physical items helps me remember them in a way that is comforting and not painful.
Talk About Them
Grief tends to shut us down. In the early stages of grief, talking about the person (or animal) you lost is almost impossible. But, I highly encourage you to try. And if you can’t do it with a family member or friend, talk about them to yourself. Yes, I know how that may sound. Talking to yourself is typically ‘frowned upon.’ (But like I do it a lot in the car sometimes? Lol) But for me, being able to talk out loud to my Nan even though she is gone, felt really good.
The thing time did help me with is being able to talk about them or tell stories without always crying or getting upset. I think sometimes people purposely don’t bring up stories because it can be “sad” but part of learning how to cope with grief & loss is feeling all the feelings. Happy, sad, angry, lonely, nostalgic. Whatever feelings come up, suppressing them is only going to draw it all out to be a longer and more painful road of healing.
This could be its own blogpost, and maybe eventually it will be. But the simplest way to put this is go to therapy. Therapy has been one of the most game changing things in my life and is a blessing that my grief brought me. I started going after the trauma I experienced from losing Dexter. But I’ve stayed ever since. Therapy is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. For times of crisis and struggle, it is imperative. Having a safe place to talk, cry and freak out about grief was paramount. But times of calm and peace are typically when I experience the most personal growth.
Another reason I believe therapy is a must for dealing with grief & loss is it is common that there is some trauma wrapped up around the loss. After Dexter died, I could play out that entire terrible morning on a loop. And once my mind started that, it would take a long time for it to stop. I did several sessions of EMDR Light Therapy with my therapist. EMDR truly helped me get out of that loop in my mind. (You can read more about EMDR and the benefits it has for trauma/ PTSD here.) It didn’t ‘erase’ those memories, but it cleared them out enough to where I can think about it, feel it, and then go on about my day. Where as before, it was a pretty mentally crippling experience.
Take Your Time
My last advice for How to Cope with Grief & Loss is to take your time. We all know there are 7 Stages of Grief, but when those 7 stages happen are different for everyone. I also believe it’s possible for the stages to go out of order, or even repeat themselves. My point being, don’t compare yourself or give yourself a hard time for where you’re at. Loss is hard enough as it is, the last thing you need to be doing is applying internal pressure on yourself to “get over it” or “move on.” Modern society definitely follows more with those beliefs, but it doesn’t mean it’s right. Practice self care. Be kind and gentle with yourself. It may sound overly simple, but I think it’s easy to overlook.
If you made it this far, thanks for hanging in with me on trying out a new kind of post. The end of October is tough for me. Oct 26 is my Nan’s birthday, and the 27th is the anniversary of losing Dexter, so it brings up a lot of feelings I had during that season of loss. Writing this felt pretty therapeutic though, and I hope it helpful for any one of you who are going through a season of loss, or who has a friend who is.