First of all, I am not an expert, though I have experienced a great amount of loss and tragedy in my life. Second, there is no check list of how to grieve. (Contrary to the social worker who gave me, at age 13, a GRIEF acronym and told me where I was in the grieving process— which led to anxiety about why I was angry again, since I thought I had “graduated” from that stage.)
The following are suggestions to try whenever you want, if you want, as much as you want.
1. Take care of yourself.
This is easier said than done, but it’s important. Shower, exercise, eat good food, drink water, get sleep.
2. Make something.
People express emotions in different ways at different times, besides the obvious crying, yelling, or laughing. Try something different like coloring, writing, or making a collage about the person you lost. I also really like Angel Catcher by Kathy Eldon, a journal designed to trigger memories about the person you lost. You’ll always have it and it will be nice to look back on in 10 or 20 years and remember some of the things you might forget.
This one is especially hard for me. I’m a private person, usually smiling in public, so it’s challenging for me to open up and express myself. But, the times I have been vulnerable, I’ve been met with such love and compassion, that I can tell you first-hand, it’s not so bad and definitely worth it.
4. Find support.
Search for local support groups and don’t stop at the first one. When I was 13, my mother made me go to this support group for kids who had lost a parent to cancer. It was lame, I felt infantilized with the animal cracker and apple juice boxes that they gave to me, along with a sympathetic but cautionary pat on the back. And I never went back.
Instead, I pushed myself into work full-time and then some for over a decade. I wish I had taken the time to find a group that was right for me. (Or at least made sure support groups weren’t right for me, after some trials.) One I’m exploring right now is called Gilda’s Club and it’s a free support center for people who have someone in their life with cancer.
5. Be patient and kind to yourself.
Hey, if you want to sleep in and not wash your hair for a week, fine. Give yourself the time to wallow, but don’t get swallowed by despair. Know that losing someone (in whatever capacity, even if they’re physically here, but not mentally) is heart-wrenching and some days will be better than others. There is no deadline as to when you’ll get over it, and no one should ever make you feel guilty for bringing it up again.
For some, a wake or funeral gives them a sense of closure. Some people who die do not want anything of the sort, and those left have to figure out a way to honor the person in their own way. Start a private blog where people can post memories and photos about them. Donate to a place they loved or supported (the local library, a research or environmental organization), plant a tree, cook the best foods from their old recipe cards, read their favorite book, listen to songs that they loved and make you think about them.
7. Do you.
Make a list of all of the things you love and that make you happy. When you’re feeling up for it, pick one and do it alone, or with a friend. Sometimes taking your mind off of things can help relieve some of the pressure and sadness that comes along with grief.