Grief can be incredibly isolating. It is almost surreal, how life moves on around you, in spite of how you are feeling. It can seem insensitive and unfeeling of everyone else to just keep going when all that you are is in questions, when everything you knew is suddenly unfamiliar.

You cope. You cope with the well-meaning comments. People never really know what to say. It can be so awkward, and you may end up comforting them. How do you deal with grief in a social situation? Discussing life and death and illness can be taboo. Nobody really wants to go there, but we need to. Unfortunately, grief is incredibly democratic. None of us are exempt.

What does it mean, when people talk about “moving on” from grief. Are they referring to the week or two that are given for compassionate leave? Are they talking about when you start packing up or giving away items that belonged to your loved one? The course of grief can be difficult to describe. Grief has it’s own schedule. We all process our pain at different rates and in different ways. There is no “right” way to grieve, however, it is true that some ways of coping are healthier than others.

Nothing that causes you to bury or mask your emotions is healthy. Pretending that all is well may just postpone the expression of your true feelings, and your grief may become complicated as a result of that. Substance abuse will interrupt your natural grieving process, and may morph into dependence or addiction. Extremes can be problematic. They may include overeating, and not eating enough, staying home to avoid interacting with others, or going out every night, so you don’t have to face your reality.

Taking care of yourself is really important. It can be difficult to know what that even means at this time. Eat regularly. You may need to plan your meals, or write out a menu plan so that you remember to eat. Ensure that you get an adequate amount of sleep, but don’t make a habit of sleeping all day. If the weather and your health permit, go outside and take a walk. Talk to your doctor before starting more strenuous exercise, even if you are relatively healthy. Having a check up is a good idea when you are grieving. You are experiencing stress, so you may not be in tune with your body. Also, the stress of loss, (especially if there is a sudden, unexpected loss or a long illness) can affect you physically.

You need time to work through the range of thoughts and feelings that are washing over you. Sometimes you need time just to get to a place where you can feel again. Once the activity and the planning and the arrangements and the condolences have stopped, what do you do? How do you feel “normal”, again? Is that even possible?

The “new normal”. When you fully experience your loss in the everyday. A song that sparks a memory. Maybe it was one of your loved one’s favourites. A mannerism in a relative that is vaguely familiar. Someone who looks like them passing by, and your heart beats faster in recognition, until you remember. So many reminders: Hearing someone laugh, a movie, or just something random. 

Some days you may experience your grief intensely. Maybe you feel anger, or deep sadness. Other days you may feel a peaceful, quiet sadness. At times, a pleasant or funny memory will surface when you least expect it. It is all okay. There are no rules. People often talk about stages of grief, but those stages are actually referring to how people deal with terminal illness. Not everyone experiences those exact emotions or stages, but it gives us a common language that people are comfortable with, so many people continue to refer to those stages in conversation.

Connecting with a support group for grief through your local hospital, place of worship, or community can be really beneficial. Talking to others can help you feel a connection with the world around you and may help you begin to heal. Some people prefer to talk to a counselor or psychologist on an individual basis, and others combine group and individual therapy.

Getting your bearings can be difficult. Do what you need to do to make your life work for you. If you can afford to work less for a time so that you can manage your affairs, then do so. Having family or friends come to visit or to help out with care giving may be a welcome respite from your day-to-day. A brief vacation, even if it is just a few days, could bring new perspective and some rest.

Making big changes right away is probably not a good idea. You may regret selling your family home and all of its contents, or moving away from everyone you know. A new job may take more mental energy than you are prepared for. If you can, postpone some of the major decisions for a brief time, to allow yourself to make good choices.

Your grief journey is unique. It is a way to honour a life, your loss, and love. Take your time, take care, and leave the door open for hope to enter.