It’s never easy when someone dies. Never. Even when it’s a relief — when they've been lingering and suffering for a while, when their pain is so extreme that they just want to die, when there are mixed complicated feelings, it’s still SO. INCREDIBLY. HARD.
Everyone deals with loss differently. Some people turn into blubbering messes, unable to leave the house without crying at every memory or interaction — an old man crossing the street with a cane can bring on hysterics, reminding you of your grandfather. Others hold it in; acting stoic, going to work, keeping busy. Some head down the path of self-destruction, using drugs, alcohol, and reckless behavior to numb the pain. And some handle it entirely in regular therapy sessions, and maybe even a little medication. We’re all different.
I know that when my grandmother died, I saw how most of my family seemed unbelievably together, taking care of the practical matters, like funeral arrangements and filing for bereavement days at work, while I sunk into a depression, crying at the drop of the hat. I thought there was something wrong with me; but then I realized that we all have our own ways of dealing with grief. Some of them are “healthier” than others, but as long as we are actually feeling and dealing with our emotions, it’s all OK.
No one wants to see someone they love go. And while everyone's different, here are 12 things that made the grieving process easier for me.
1. Take your time.
Like I said, when it comes to grief, everyone is different. It might take you longer than some people to "get over it," but spend time doing what you need to. If you think your grief is heading in a destructive direction, then ask for help. But spending two weeks crying with your cat and mom is totally valid, if that’s what you need.
2. Honor the person you lost.
Whether it's visiting their grave, hiking in a park they loved, spending time talking about them, framing photos, meditating on them, donating to a charity they loved, or doing a project in their honor, spending time honoring their memory will help more than running away from the pain.
3. Eat things they loved.
Somehow, it makes you feel closer to them. And it tastes good, right?
4. Feel free to isolate yourself — in the beginning.
Stay at home alone, cry, write about them, look through old photos, distract yourself by losing yourself in trashy novels. But don’t isolate yourself too long — try to spend time with others who knew them and loved them too. They get what you’re going through.
5. Take a trip.
Even something as simple as a camping trip or a road trip with a couple of friends will work wonders. Talk about the person you lost openly; your friends will get it and want to listen and help you through it. Check out last-minute plane tickets someplace cheap; if it’s a foreign country, the disorienting experience will take your mind off things.
6. Try to curb destructive behaviors.
Yes, a glass of wine might relax you after a stressful funeral, but drinking in excess or other forms of numbing the pain are not helpful in the long run. You’ll eventually discover that you've replaced grief with an even more serious problem, if you're not careful.
7. Stay active.
Yoga and other forms of exercise will be mentally tough (and might even make for a crappy workout), but you’ll feel better after. Also try to meditate, if you can.
8. Immerse yourself in something new.
Once it's been awhile, consider tackling something new. Take on a big volunteer project, start to learn a new language, repaint your home, or learn to bake macaroons.
9. Honor what you can you learn from the person you lost.
Try to master the apple pie they always made, live your life as freely as they did, or do the things they never got to. Think about that bucket list — what’s on there that you can focus on now? Jumping out of a plane? Maybe you’ll run a marathon in honor of the person you lost — or finally take a trip you two had always talked about.
10. Comfort yourself.
Take part in whatever ceremonies or spirituality gives you comfort — church, meditation, temple, writing bad poetry, making a little remembrance plaque, creating your own rituals. Nothing is too small or silly.
11. Share your love.
Give love to those who need it — a pet, family, friends, or someone or something you encounter through a volunteer program. You'll feel better, and realize you have more to give than you thought.
12. Take people up on their offers.
Everyone always says, “Let me know if I can do anything at all for you.” Why that might come to be a super annoying question, when all else fails, suggest they bake you a chocolate cake, or suggest something else that always made you feel better in the past. Trust me, it will probably help.
In memory of Ann Yanek.
Images: Marlies H./Flickr; Cheryl Yanek (2), Getty (7), Giphy (8)