Moving through the grieving process

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 16, 2017

By Nina Oliver

Rowan County Public Health Director

There are things you can do to help you move through the grieving process. Listed below are some ways to care for yourself when you experience a death or traumatic experience. Some of the below items I have done to help me work through this process when I lost my sister, and some I learned about from other people:

  • Allow yourself to feel. If you bottle the emotions in and try to stifle them, it can become more difficult. I allowed myself to cry, feel sad and angry at the situation.
  • Seek help. There is still stigma around attending therapy or counseling. However, counselors and therapists are there to assist you with the process. I decided, through my Employee Assistance Program (EAP), to see someone who specialized in grief and death. An Employee Assistance Program is a program provided through your employer. If they have one, most will provide a certain number of visits to a therapist at no cost. I look at therapy as being similar to going to a mechanic. If your car breaks down, most of us wouldn’t know how to fix it. You need to bring it to a mechanic. This is the same with mental health. If you are feeling sad, angry or depressed, most of us don’t know how to work through those emotions. A counselor is equipped to provide guidance, help you cope with your feelings and find ways to get you back on track.
  • Talk with others who are going through a similar situation. I am an introvert. I tend to keep my feelings and emotions to myself. One evening after work, I walked out with two employees. One of them showed me a picture of her infant granddaughter who passed in December. The other mentioned that it was a year since she lost her dad. I didn’t mention anything about my sister at that time but just having that short conversation made me feel I wasn’t alone. Both helped me and probably are not aware that they did.
  • Stay active. Go on a walk, take an exercise class or go dancing. I have recently started yoga. The breathing and meditation taught in yoga helps to release stress, increase focus and mindfulness.
  • Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This is most overlooked suggestion, but sleeping is important to stable mental health.
  • Explore a new skill or hobby such as taking a cooking class or personal enrichment courses at your local community college or joining a book club, for example.
  • Call or seek friends or loved ones who can offer support or seek out a support group for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one
  • Remember and Celebrate. Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved one. Ways to celebrate can include donating to a favorite charity, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you. Some times, when your relationship with your loved one that has passed is complicated or difficult because of a variety of different reasons, the good times and good memories can be limited. To celebrate my sister, my mother made a beautiful collage of all the baby pictures she had of her, my brother and I when we were little. It brought back happy memories.
  • You may find it helpful to write your feelings or to write a letter to your lost loved one. This can be a safe place for you to express some of the things you were not able to say before the death.
  • Do what feels right to you: Don’t feel pressured to talk right away. If you choose to discuss your loss, speaking can give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.

The loss of a loved one is life-changing and can leave a profound hole in your life. The grieving process can be tricky, long, complex, complicated and exhausting.

Depending on the situation, you may also experience a feeling of relief or release after a loved one’s death. Feeling relief after a death warrants its own discussion but I would be remiss for not mentioning it.

Relief may be one of the emotions felt when loved ones pass who are chronically ill, are in debilitating pain, struggling with drugs and alcohol or a difficult mental health issue. It’s only human to feel relief when their pain and suffering comes to an end.  It’s also human to feel a tinge of relief when the distress you felt (financially, mentally and/or emotionally etc) as a result of having to watch your loved one’s struggle has come to an end.

As logical and as common as the emotion of relief is in grief, it seems like grievers often carry it with them as though it’s a secret.  For many, relief feels like something they should be ashamed of, it feels wrong, or something they shouldn’t admit to.  Regardless of the emotions you feel after a death, moving or working through the grieving process takes time. Be kind to yourself, be OK with the emotions you feel, talk with friends and family, get support if you need it, and don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Additional information

Call your doctor if this loss causes you to experience the following symptoms:

  • difficulty performing everyday activities;
  • feeling guilty or blaming yourself for your loved one’s death;
  • feeling as if you have no purpose in life;
  • losing desire to engage in social activities;
  • difficulty trusting others;
  • difficulty remembering positive memories of your loved one;
  • grieving that gets worse instead of better.

Seek immediate assistance, call 911, or have someone take you to the emergency room if you experience any of the following:

  • feeling as if your life no longer has meaning;
  • wishing you had died as well;
  • feeling as if your life isn’t worth living if you don’t have your loved one;
  • thoughts of suicide, harming yourself or harming someone else.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an available resource. You can reach them at 1-800-273-8255 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It is a free, confidential phone line that connects individuals in crisis with trained counselors across the United States. People do not have to be suicidal to call. Reasons to call include: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, overwhelming sadness, depression, mental and physical illness and loneliness.

Spanish Line Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454 Lifeline ofrece 24/7, gratuito servicios en español, no es necesario hablar ingles si usted necesita ayuda.

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255; Veterans in crisis and their families and friends can be connected with qualified Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and pressing 1.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:


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