How to cope with grief and loss

At some point in life we are all going to lose someone we love. And the more precious they are to us, the more we will feel and grieve their death. 

The more we love someone, the more keenly we will feel their loss if they die or leave our life in some way. This can be hard to cope with when the loss is new, but it can also be difficult when a wound is re-opened or triggered by other losses, such as the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

If you are struggling with grief, here are seven things the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) recommend remembering when dealing with loss. 

1) Remember that it won’t feel like this forever

When it hits you, grief can feel all-consuming, and it can be difficult to imagine ever feeling ‘normal’ again. But you will. Grief often comes in waves, and MSK’s bereavement counsellor advises finding a way to ride the waves. Recognise the signs they are coming, find support, be kind to yourself and allow it to pass naturally. 

2) Expect to perhaps feel like you can’t handle it

We can all feel like we can’t handle a difficult situation or emotion when we first experience something new. But the simple truth is that we never know how we are going to feel or cope in a situation until we are in it. And it is in tough times that we discover our capacity to cope. 

We develop resilience and wisdom through difficult times. And while that is little consolation when you are in the depths of grief, you will grow through this time and can even develop a new strength as a result. 

One day you will look back at this time and realise how far you have come, and appreciate the inner peace you have found over time. In the meantime, just be kind to yourself and take each day – or even each moment – at a time.

And never feel like you need to struggle on alone. Reach out to supportive family and friends, or professional support (we have included some links at the end). 

3) Take care of yourself

Grief is mentally and physically exhausting, and it is more important than ever to be kind to yourself and give your body what it needs. You may find eating and sleeping difficult, but try to maintain a normal routine as much as you can.

If you need to, make time in your day for naps – you may find yourself more tired than usual, even if you are sleeping at night. And eat what you can at mealtimes. Make sure you drink plenty of water. 

4) Think in cycles, not lines

Grief isn’t linear for most people. You don’t start out feeling devastated and gradually feel better every day; instead it can hit you in waves. One day you may feel like you are making progress and feeling more like you, and the next you can feel like you are back to day one again. 

Sometimes the waves of grief will come from nowhere, and at others times they can be triggered from a memory out of the blue, or the loss of someone or something else. 

Think of grief as cyclical, and accept that you will have good and bad days. But over time, you may notice that the amount time between the waves of grief gets gradually longer, the waves become shorter or start to feel a bit less painful.

Over time, you will start moving forward, to a time when the cycles of grief lessen and you spend more and more time feeling normal again. 

5) Understand that your feelings are normal

Speaking of normal, it is absolutely expected that you will feel grief and pain when you encounter loss -as well as a range of other emotions, both good and bad. So allow yourself to experience it without judgement. 

Dr Wendy Lichtenthal, Director of MSK’s Bereavement Clinic says that “everyone comes to their loss experience with their own story, their own unique context and meaning.” So whatever you are feeling at a given moment “always makes complete sense”.

Censoring or feeling guilty because you feel a particular emotion won’t help you. So accept that whatever feelings come are normal, and experience them and let them pass naturally. And don’t allow others to place their expectations of how you should feel upon you, and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.

6) Accept that meaning can be hard to find

Sometimes we can struggle to find meaning in and ‘get over’ the loss of someone we love, especially if it has come as a shock or feels somehow unfair or untimely. But it can be there is no meaning, and you will never truly stop missing or grieving them. Instead, we all need to find ways to incorporate loss into our lives as we move forward. 

Grief is a natural response when we lose someone we love or care for. And it often triggers other emotions and questions. Sometimes grief can even lead to us reevaluating our lives.

Whatever comes up from a time of grief, as a general rule, try not to make any life-changing decisions, especially ones that cannot be undone (unless these decisions move from you a place of physical or emotional danger). Instead, allow yourself to re-assess your life and relationships, but wait until you feel stronger and calmer before making any life-changing decisions. 

7) Remember that you are not alone

We will all experience grief of some kind in our lives, so even if it feels that you are the only one going through your loss, you are not alone. Do reach out to people in your support network – family and friends will often want to help you, but may be unsure of the best approach. 

If you don’t have anyone to turn to, there are plenty of organisations who can offer support. Please don’t suffer in silence alone – reach out to someone and get whatever help you need. 

Resources for grief and loss support and advice

If you are struggling with grief and loss, here are some resources that may help:

Photo by Nick Fewings