What can you do to grieve well? The following suggestions have been used by many, and will help anyone who has experienced a major loss. Even though grief feels overwhelming, you do not have to sit by and suffer helplessly.

  • Accept the turmoil. Normal, healthy grief is chaotic and complicated. Emotionally, you are riding a roller coaster and it is scary at times. If you know you are on a roller coaster and that you will be riding it for a time, you can relax a little and not fight it. You do not have to like the turmoil, but it is helpful to give yourself permission to experience it.
  • There's no rush. There is a tendency to feel that grief needs to be rushed. This is particularly the case for people who are usually in control of their feelings and dislike being in turmoil. Friends will unrealistically expect a mourner to get over the loss quickly. This expectation is based on a lack of knowledge of what grief involves, and represents a wish to avoid the discomfort. It takes at least a year to feel normal again, as there is a need to face the seasons and anniversaries for the first time without the loved one.
  • Write down your experiences. Take some time, especially late in the day, to write about your grief. Keep this journal for a time and look back. This is a good way to realize that, over time, there is indeed a slow healing process taking place. Writing is valued by some because it is private, and no one has to see what is being expressed.
  • Consider writing a letter or two. At some point in the healing process it might be helpful to write to the person who has left or died. This is a chance to say what was left unsaid. One person wrote to a parent and shared their anger, sadness, and love after the parent took her own life. Such a letter can be read at a gravesite and eventually burned, or dealt with in some other meaningful fashion.
  • Coach those close to you on how to help you. We live in a culture that continues to deny or ignore death. This means that many people do not know what to say or how to interact with a grieving family member or friend. These people may avoid you or say dumb things, yet they often do not know any better. It can be very helpful to take a few of these people aside and give them some idea of what you need: "I want to talk with you from time to time, and all I want you to do is listen and not to give me feedback or advice. Just let me sound off a little."
  • Speak openly and frequently with others. Healing your pain may be helped by repetitively sharing it with a friend or two. The hurt feelings will surface and be released, and eventually will shrink. If you do not want to wear out your listener, substitute writing. Talking about your loss is not what upsets you. The pain is already within you and only surfaces through the conversation.
  • Go for long walks. Hans Selye, a famous pioneer in the field of stress, wrote about the neuromuscular tension that can be created by stress in the body. Walking is a simple, effective exercise that allows the body to release tension. Such outings are also good for the mind in that you can think or simply tune out and enjoy the surroundings or even talk with a friend.
  • Distract yourself regularly. Any type of activity will help, such as work, reading, hobbies, music, or sports. Spending a lot of time focusing on your loss will not speed up the healing process. In fact, grief can become overwhelming without a break from it. Thoughts and feelings about the loved one can permeate all aspects of the day. Therefore, it is good to let yourself focus on something completely different for a block of time each day. Returning to work may be hard at first, but it usually provides a good change from the reality of the loss. You have to be careful, however, not to become too distracted, as this will drive the grief underground.
  • Go where you fear to go. There will be any number of places that will remind you of the one who is gone, such as a favourite park or restaurant, or an activity you frequently shared. Even thinking about these shared times and places will cause pain, and the natural tendency will be to avoid them. If you do this, you will only perpetuate the hurt you feel when you contemplate these places. Going to the park, for instance, may sting at first, but each subsequent visit will be easier to handle.
  • Expect "anniversary upset." The anniversary day your loved one died will cause the turmoil to return. Also, Christmas is often the toughest season for a bereaved person, as it is a festival of family, with many colourful memories. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special days will reawaken the grief, making you think that you have slid backwards. However, you are experiencing a normal "anniversary reaction" to your loss.
  • Nurture yourself. Women in particular are accustomed to taking care of others in their lives and sometimes forget to do the same for themselves. When you are mourning a big loss, it is very important to do things for yourself that will allow you to feel pampered from time to time. Special foods or activities may be part of your self-nurturing. Other special, worthwhile things may be as simple as taking time to listen to meaningful music or going on extra long walks.

Denis Boyd, MA, 
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team