Those of us who’ve experienced grief know how all-encompassing it can be. In the event of losing a loved one, you discover that it’s not just one loss you’re reeling from — it’s many.
Loss of identity, loss of confidence, loss of a lifestyle and loss of security can stack atop each other, compounding the original loss and making your path to peace feel less and less likely. And if it’s a different kind of loss you’re experiencing — the loss of a job, for instance — this can be true of your grieving process, as well.
We all grieve differently, as our relationship to who or what we’ve lost is so specific to ourselves. Two truths about grief are universally true: there is no guidebook to speed your process along, and one day, things will feel better. Despite the lack of a guidebook, though, there are a few things it may be helpful for you to hear during grief’s different stages. Similarly, if you care for someone who’s currently experiencing grief, it can be helpful to keep these sentiments in mind, as well, as a way of potentially helping them work through some of their feelings of loss.
Below, mental health professionals shared with us what some of those statements can look like.
“Grief is a journey. It is an evolving process and is a unique experience for each person,” Jennifer Tomko, a psychotherapist and owner of Clarity Health Solutions, said. “Do not judge your feelings, just notice them.”
An important part of compassion is showing yourself patience, too. Grief is not linear. As an example of an affirmation that holds space for grief’s extended nature, Jennifer Williamson of Healing Brave wrote:
“The road to healing is bumpy, but I am learning to be nimble. The path is winding, but I am willing to be present with every curve. It’s not the easiest path to walk, but I'm learning how to walk a new way. I keep my heart open to love. I tread gently on the earth. I explore this new life of mine with curiosity and hope. I heal and grow as I go.”
"To heal and cope with grief, I suggest using gratitudes,” Anna Caldwell wrote. “Gratitudes are statements that can change your perspective and bring awareness to the good things in life. It clears away the cobwebs of past and present grief, and gives a whole new perspective of the present day. It also sets a tone of balance. If we stay in all negative things, there's nothing good to take away from anything and the grief and/or anxiety will never become bearable.”
When dealing with something as all-consuming and complex as loss, it’s both vital and often healing to show ourselves care in small, tangible ways each day.
“Over many years of walking with people in grief, I have discovered that most of us are hard on ourselves when we are in mourning. We judge ourselves and we shame ourselves and we take care of ourselves last. But good self-care is essential to your survival,” Dr. Alan Wolfelt, Director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, wrote. “To practice good self-care doesn’t mean you are feeling sorry for yourself, or being self-indulgent; rather, it means you are creating conditions that allow you to integrate the death of someone loved into your heart and soul. Remember — self-care fortifies your long and challenging grief journey, a journey which leaves you profoundly affected and deeply changed. To be self-nurturing is to have the courage to pay attention to your needs.”
“There will also be times when you may need to refocus on moving forward instead of clinging to the past and future dreams that are no longer possible,” Stephanie Eissinger, founder of Sagebrush Coaching, wrote. “It is a good time to remind yourself that your loved one would not want you to be unhappy or stuck in your grief.”
“If someone is in any one of the stages of grief, it is not appropriate to say, ‘At least they lived a long life’ or ‘had a valuable life,” Lynell Ross, founder and managing editor of Zivadream and a Certified Life Coach, said. “That not only is unhelpful, it makes the person feel like you don't understand their pain, and minimizes the life of their loved one.”
Instead, it is better to simply acknowledge the other person’s pain and suffering, without trying to pluck out a silver lining for them.
“Validate their anger,” Erin Wiley, a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist, said. “Tell them that it makes sense they are angry. The world is very unfair. Bad things do happen to good people. I would give them space to be all sorts of angry. People need to be allowed to experience and express what they are feeling.”
Sabrina Fletcher, a Pregnancy Loss Doula, echoed that anger is a very natural part of grieving.
“I would say your anger is sacred,” Fletcher said. “And just because you are angry now, does not mean that you are an angry person now. You are a grieving person. I wish I would have known how angry grief would make me, and that it was a normal part of grief.”
“There can be a rush to have solutions and find meaning in times of death and profound loss. To those who are navigating this chaotic time, it isn’t always comforting to hear that their pain is ‘for a reason,’” Krystal Penrose wrote for funeralOne. “Right now, they need to know that they have time to slow down and go through their own unique grief process on their own terms. There doesn’t need to be answers or reasons. There just needs to be the reassurance that whatever they’re feeling is valid, and they have the time and space needed to move through it however is best for them.”
“Acceptance isn't something that happens all of a sudden. It happens gradually,” Ned Presnall, owner and director of Plan Your Recovery, an outpatient counseling center, said. “You might sometimes have a few hours where you start to feel normal, or one day when you aren’t consumed with grief. Eventually, you have more grouped days of not feeling grief, and they become the norm again. The moments of grief become more episodic. Even when a person reaches what appears to be acceptance, don’t expect them to be “cured” of their grief. As described before, people jump back and forth between stages. Years after a loss, someone may have an entire day of anger towards a loss, so it’s important to be patient and supportive, even when you don’t exactly understand why they’re feeling so sad again when the loss occurred long ago.
“Don't ask them what you can do, just do something kind to show them you care,” Ross said. “Make a meal or bring over something they might need without pushing them to do anything. If you notice a task that needs to be done, you could offer to do the specific task. When they see that you are there, and feel they can trust you, they might rely on you.”
Dr. Pria Alpern, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and loss, agreed that to a grieving person, actions often speak louder than words.
“Grief can involve the experience of not being seen or understood by others, breeding a sense of aloneness that can show up during any stage of grief,” she said. “Telling someone ‘I’m here with you’ and bearing witness to their grief by simply spending time with them unfurls the sense of aloneness that aches at the hearts of many grieving individuals. Sometimes not saying anything at all can feel even more powerful than words.”
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