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Ways of Handling Grief

a teddy to cuddle in memoryThe following ways of handling grief are activities that help working through the pain and refocussing life. Especially the first ones are typical female strategies and grieving fathers often choose to deal with their grief differently. Men often find it easier to work on their pain through physical activities than language.

Nonetheless the following ideas for handling grief can help everyone. They range from more language focussed ones, over physical activities to creative expression and taking good care of your body too. Just pick the ones that suit you and do with it what feels right to you.

sad together

Activities That Help Handling Grief
and working through the pain

Telling Your Story Again and Again

This helps to regain orientation in a time when it feels as if everything has changed. The Psychologist Dr. Glen Davidson explained it beautifully as follows:


"Telling your story will be the most important thing for you to do as a mourner, because in the very act of telling it you are putting your life back together. By telling your story you will discover that your facts change, not because the facts themselves are changed but because your choice of what is important changes. You may discover that your initial impressions of what happened were incomplete or even inaccurate. The more unexpected the death, the more likely it is that initial impressions were wrong."  (Understanding mourning (1984), p.13)

Telling your story it might not be possible to find an end. That is not necessary and trying to do so by others might cause even more disorientation. What is important though is to be able to retell/ rethink/ rewrite the story again and again and again.

For that it is good and helpful to find a group where people can support each other in handling their grief. This unburdens grieving partners who prefer different coping strategies as well.

Asking Questions Again and Again

By asking why and how women often try to shine light on the event from every possible angle. This too helps to gain orientation and helps to notice and cope with feelings like anger and guilt.

Talking about these questions and possible answers again and again helped me to change my feelings about the event from unbelief over sadness and anger to finally acceptance, integration, learning and being proud to be mother of this wonderful child.

On the other hand my partner sometimes felt quite at a loss with me asking those questions again and again. He thought he needed to answer them and didn't understand why I asked them again and again. In a way I was looking for understanding while he wanted to fix things. 

Understanding that this was quite a normal occurrence and what the intentions and needs of each of us were, helped us to relax in a way and and enabled us support each other better in handling our grief.

Reading

Other parents stories, poems, memories made me cry and cry but also showed me that I/we were not alone. Finding out about possible causes for his death, things that helped other parents, researching and understanding grief were all things that helped me work through my very own emotional roller-coaster ride.

Writing

diary, poems, good-bye-letters as a means of handling grief. I wrote letters and letters to my loved boy in my diary, asking and answering the same questions again and again. In a way my diary served as a really patient listener.

For the funeral each of us wrote a good bye letter to our son. Reading each others letter to our son helped us both to understand each other in our grief better. My partners letter gave me a rare glimpse into the world of his emotions and helped me to understand that he was at a totally different place in his grieving process than I was.  

His words and wishes also gave me a lot of comfort.


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Creativity, Art and Music

little princeUsing colours to express feelings can be very therapeutic. In the end, drawings of your dreams and memories or just emotions can be great mementos later on as well.

Scrap booking, pressing and arranging flowers, making bookmarks and other things to share - these are all great things to use creativity and serve the grief.

We redecorated the room our son was supposed to be born in, dedicated it to him and life, making it more friendly and welcoming.

And music: songs kept popping into my mind, that seemed meaningful to me. And I would keep humming or singing them to myself, pondering over their meaning in the context of my story. Others keep listening to the same song again and again or express their emotions through music.

Walking or Running

While some people choose or create a comfortable place to sit and read or write, others need to move. Movement can release a great deal of the tension that is connected to strong emotions and thus help handling grief.

When I lived near a park I used to go for a run whenever I felt helpless or angry. Then after a while of running the very strong emotion eased up a bit and creative thoughts would come through to help me solve my problems. At that time I would usually slow down and just walk or I felt like sitting next to a tree and connect with the universe. Those walks usually were quite powerful and after them I felt revived, stronger and more positive.


Taking Good Care of Your Health

Prolonged stress like the one caused by grief weakens the immune system. Moreover, after loosing a loved one, food is often the last thing you think of - let alone prepare it. But in fact it's good nutrition that can help to cope with all the strong emotions and prevent even more misery in form of stress related diseases.

Preparing nutritious meals is a great way for friends to help. Also a doctors check up about 6 months after the loss would be good, as some diseases are easier (or only) to heal if detected early. 

Meditation, Breath-Therapy, Aroma-Therapy or Bach-Blueten-Therapy can be helpful to find inner balance again too.


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Some Things to Bear in Mind
More Tips for Handling Grief

For couples it can be very important to reframe differences as strengths. This enables mutual understanding and support.

Often it helps to make grieving collective experience. Finding a project through that each and everyone can remember together and in each ones way the lost one. Some organize a memorial service when they're ready, others write a book together about their grieving experience, or help others in memory of the lost one. 

It is also very important to look for and rely on help from outside. According to Stephanie Matthews-Simonton mourning people can help themselves from their own resources only to 25%, 20% of help comes from their partner, the other 55% comes from other sources.

Find something or someone that/who structures your day and keeps you moving. After a loss it is easy to get lost in emotions. And while it is important to feel them to work through them, it is also important to find pauses, do different things, realize the world hasn't stopped turning even though it seems to look and behave totally different now.
I was lucky enough to have my older daughter to keep me busy and make me take care for her. Others decide to adopt a puppy - not as replacement for the lost child (how could that be possible anyhow), but as company, someone who buzzes with life, needs to be cared for, seems to understand everything and needs to get out into the world.

Things that don't help:
(and even can prevent / delay handling grief positively)

  • drugs or alcohol to numb the pain - pain will only be stronger when effect diminishes - it's better to "take the courage to face the pain"

  • the expectation to "get over it" soon or to "be strong". It is all right and healing to feel the pain and often needed to find ways to live with the loss.

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Here's some more interesting stuff on parenting:
coping with frustration
101 ways to reduce stress
child development milestones


Return to overview of Parental Grief

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