To live is to experience loss, but even though grief is a universal human experience, that doesn’t make it any less challenging. Most people struggle to know what to do after a serious loss or death. There can be a sense of panic that sounds like, “How will I ever move on from this?” There can also be a sense of deep depression that sounds like, “There’s no point in moving on from this. My life feels over.”
The meaning making process of coping with loss can be powerful. Meaning making refers to how people positively contextualize losses to help them move forward. This type of healing is as old as humanity itself.
If you’re struggling with feeling stuck- or can’t see anything in a positive light right now- here are some gentle reminders that may help.
Ways to Make Meaning After a Loss
First things first- there’s no perfect way to honor a loss. There are also many types of losses. For example, loss includes death, but it also includes losing anything that feels significant, such as a job, home, identity, relationship, or phase in life. Loss can sometimes be subjective, and it’s ultimately up to each person to decide.
With that, grief impacts everyone differently, and one of the most important parts of grieving is accepting that your emotions and needs will evolve. That said, here are some strategies people use to create meaning from adversity.
Create a memory book or scrapbook: Spend some time organizing photos or items that remind you of who (or what) you lost. Even if it’s painful to look at the memories now, there’s a good chance you’ll be grateful you spent time making this keepsake later.
Continue sharing the loss story: Storytelling keeps the spirit of humanity alive in a way that transcends generations. Talk about this loss, whether it was a person or something else you cherished, candidly and regularly. Ask other people to share stories on their behalf. It may be helpful to record these stories for future reference.
Donate to a charity that was meaningful to your loss: In a sense, donating to a good cause maintains the legacy of someone (or something) special. Consider either choosing an organization you know they supported or a charity that you believe would have been purposeful to them.
Plant a garden or tree: A living memorial creates a tangible memory for your loss. This place can then be used as a reflective, lasting symbol of what that person or situation meant to you.
Embrace new rituals around the holidays: Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays can be especially difficult when coping with grief. Many people find they need to make new meaning out of these days. You might decide to keep some rituals intact, but you may also choose to change a part of the typical routine to adapt to your changing life.
Make their recipes: Food is often a way people share love. If you lost someone who enjoyed cooking, make it a point to either make their recipes or recreate them in a way that still honors them. You can also continue visiting restaurants they enjoyed.
Write a gratitude letter: When you feel ready, consider writing a gratitude letter thanking the person or situation for all that they brought to your life. Aim to include as much detail as possible (what feels fresh in your mind now may not be as easily accessed later). Keep the letter in a safe place to read later.
Create a grief altar or other memorial: This can be as simple as a place where you light a candle, or it can be more of a traditional shrine with photos and other symbolic memento. Having this physical location acknowledges your grief while also allowing you to heal from it.
Connect with people experiencing similar types of grief: Ambiguous or disenfranchised grief, in particular, can feel isolating. Furthermore, certain types of grief like miscarriages, divorces, job losses, difficult medical conditions, and estrangement from family members may not feel comfortable to publicly mourn. Fortunately, there are numerous online communities where you relate and share your story to other people undergoing similar grief.
How to Take Care of Yourself While Grieving
Loss is one of the most painful life transitions a person can endure, and this is true whether the loss was anticipated or not.
Making meaning of loss is one part of the grief experience, but it doesn’t capture the full essence of healing. There will be hard times, and it may be difficult to take care of yourself or believe you will ever stop feeling sad. Here are some tips that can help.
Acknowledge your emotions: It’s important to note that meaning-making doesn’t undermine the very real grief you will experience from loss. There needs to be space to validate the full range of emotions, including sadness, anger, guilt, and fear. These emotions are a universal part of being human, and accepting them for what they are allows you to move through them appropriately.
Try to maintain a basic routine: Loss can make everything in life feel like a blur. Following a routine offers a way to ground yourself back into daily life. Of course, practicing flexibility is key. You shouldn’t have so many tasks that you feel overwhelmed each day. But knowing what to expect next can help you maintain some semblance of normalcy.
Lean on positive social support: Grief may feel lonely, but you are not alone during this time. Try to stay connected with people who care about your emotions and can provide you with support. If you don’t feel like your current friends or family understand your particular situation, consider joining a support group.
Choose coping strategies that improve your well-being: Try to be gentle with yourself during this time. Choose activities that feel good for you physically and emotionally. Prioritize self-care as much as possible- treating yourself with kindness is such an important gift when grieving.
Be mindful of the desire to withdraw, numb, or self-destruct: People with depression, anxiety, or histories of compulsive behavior may struggle with the raw emotions of grief. The urge to disengage and numb may be heightened. There’s nothing wrong with having these thoughts, but acting on them may make you feel worse, and they may actually intensify the feelings you’re trying to avoid.
Avoid pressuring yourself to move on: There truly is no timeline when it comes to managing grief. This loss altered your life, and it’s typical for strong emotions to ebb and flow for several months. Try to practice self-compassion throughout this process. Trust that both your mind and body are working together to help you heal.
How Therapy Can Help With Loss and Other Stressful Life Events
The meaning-making process of loss can represent an essential, powerful part of healing. You are not alone in making sense of what happened to you.
Therapy can provide insight, compassion, and guidance during this vulnerable time in your life. We will come together to talk about your feelings and create new meanings in life. If the loss coincides with trauma, EMDR can help support your recovery.
In therapy, there is no pressure to think or act a certain way. No matter what’s going on, you are welcome to come as you are. Contact me today to get started with a consultation.