When a loved one has died, a traumatic and emotionally charged period of time follows for the survivors. Losing someone important to you is arguably the most painful experience we can go through as humans, and finding a way to move forward can feel like stumbling through a dark and unfamiliar terrain.
We often hear the phrase “moving on” when we consider grief and loss, but this misunderstood term can be unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. “Moving forward” after loss can look like very different to different people, but there are some universal guideposts we can use as we navigate this turbulent phase of life.
Nurture Trusted Relationships
No one should have to get through a difficult time alone, but not every relationship can provide the support or healing you need. Now is the time to be near your most trusted friends, family members, and perhaps a counselor or clergy member. The nonjudgmental support of those closest to you can help you tremendously and have a profound impact on your healing.
Try not to take it personally, however, if those you thought would be among this group, aren’t. Sometimes people can’t be there because they’re personally processing this loss in their own lives, and they may have to take some time for themselves. We all grieve differently. Be open to those who can make time and space for you, and you might be pleasantly surprised. For those that are seemingly absent, trust that they will be there again when the time is right.
Taking gentle and compassionate care of your mind and body is crucial during any of life’s crossroads, perhaps even moreso when grappling with the loss of a loved one. The following are a few examples of ways to take care of your own needs during bereavement:
- Nourish yourself – Make sure you are eating and sleeping as well as you possibly can. Hunger and exhaustion are both easy to ignore, but can compound an already fragile emotional state.
- Get exercise – A brisk walk or other form of exercise increases blood flow to all areas of the body and helps to improve mood and ward off depression. If you did not exercise previously, consult with your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen.
- Keep a journal – Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a powerful and validating way to move through grief.
- Listen to your body – Cry if you need to, sleep when you want to, find someone to talk to if that feels right, and reminisce if that provides healing for you.
Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings
As difficult as it can be, it’s important that you allow yourself to fully experience the anguish of loss. Attempting to bottle up or reject your emotions will eventually lead to physical and emotional problems, or attempts to fill the void with alcohol, food, a busy schedule, or other less-than-ideal activities. Embracing your sadness will provide genuine relief as it leads you down the path toward healing.
There is no guidebook for grief, and no set length of time that is acceptable. Your process through grief and bereavement is your own. Well-meaning friends and relatives may encourage you to “move on” or “stop dwelling,” but keep in mind that you are not responsible for how others feel about your personal grief process, nor do you need to adhere to an arbitrary timeline set by another person.
Moving Forward After Loss Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
Perhaps one of the scariest aspects of moving forward after the loss of a loved one is that we often feel as though we are expected to forget the relationship we had with our loved one and the value they brought to our lives. This is not the case. Cherish those wonderful memories like special gifts and one day, you will wake up to find that the pain has lessened, and be able to embrace life once again.