Overcoming the death of a loved one
Mar 06, 2019
Losses are an essential and inevitable part of our lives. We all experience sooner or later the loss of a friend or relative. When it happens, the whole world starts to fall apart, we cannot accept this loss and feel an unbearable pain. Others can support us during the funeral and our mourning, but then they return to their usual activities and daily routine, while we are left alone with our pain. We fail to understand how can anyone can overcome this and live on. This pain seems never ending.
Can this even be called “pain”? It is a crippling void inside our heart, a feeling of absolute emptiness and paralyzing fear. What was I afraid of? The worst has already happened. Yet I felt the whole world has crumbled.
– Evgenia, 36, lost her brother 3 years ago
Grief always hurts. It becomes so easy to fall into this abyss, destroying your life and losing yourself in the process. You cannot just snap your fingers and make it go away.
However, you can help yourself handle the loss of a loved one, and you definitely should. Right now, you may feel that everything is pointless, but it is very important to take care of yourself during this period in order to keep the good memories deep in your heart.
You cannot forget what happened, you can neither justify it nor come to terms with it. But you can learn to accept this pain, live with it and move on. Let that be your tribute to the person you have lost. Take care of yourself and try to ease your pain.
We will show you how people handle the pain, what are the stages of this process, and what you may experience yourself. You will also read a psychologist’s advice and methods for overcoming the loss of your loved one and live on.
- Experiencing grief
- Easing the pain from the loss of a loved one: psychologist’s advice
Experiencing grief 
Psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross worked extensively with dying people and their relatives and noticed that many people experienced similar emotions when faced with the loss of their loved one and the inevitability of death. She described 5 stages of experiencing grief.
Stages of grief
Stage 1. Denial. The loss of a loved one is always a shock. Many people cannot accept the reality. They consider it all to be a dream and behave like nothing has happened. They talk to the deceased, fulfill their requests etc. Others may think that the person is not grieving at all, but in reality this behavior simply indicates that a person hasn’t accepted the fact of death. This stage may be followed by these thoughts:
“This cannot be, it’s just a bad dream. He couldn’t die, he’ll be back soon. I must be ready for his return. It’s just someone’s nasty prank.”
Stage 2. Anger and grudge. Once a person accepts the reality, they may start holding a grudge. They will get angry with everyone, from themselves to the whole world. Anger can even be directed towards the deceased. People may get the following thoughts:
“Why couldn’t I save him? I should have fought for his life better. How can I live with this loss? It’s unfair! The whole world is against me! How could he do this to me? His friends should have saved him!”
Stage 3. Guilt and bargain. People start to think what actions could they have taken to prevent this whole thing from happening. This stage often provokes support from dear ones to help them understand that they couldn’t have changed the situation and they are not at fault.
“What if I called him back then and spoke my mind? If only I insisted on postponing the trip! If only I knew this would happen…”
Stage 4. Depression. After a person releases their anger and realizes that bargaining is futile, they may drown in suffering. Deep grieving is almost always accompanied by the signs of depression: dejection, sleep disorders, frustration, apathy, etc.
“Everything is gone, I can’t live without him. How can I ever overcome the loss of such a dear person? I feel so empty, I will never enjoy life again, I will always feel pain.”
Stage 5. Acceptance. Being at this stage does not mean that the person has forgotten about their loss. It simply stops being at the center of their life. The unbearable grief is replaced by sweet sorrow.
“I loved my Grandma so much, it’s so good I had her in my life, and I got to know her. She would probably want me to be happy. I miss her, but I can live on, for her sake as well.”
Knowing about these stages can help you understand what you are going through at any given moment. However, you must understand that the expression of these stages of grief is unique to each person.
You may experience them in your own way, you may skip certain stages or even go through them in a reversed order. Some people understand the inevitability of death and move directly to acceptance. Do not worry if you have skipped a certain stage. You may have your own stages that will come in their own time.
I am going through a very difficult period in my life. I lost my husband a month ago. I read several articles, prepared for it, and they all mention these stages. I even started to think that I’m weird and that I didn’t love him, because I experienced everything in a different way.
– Vera, 48, lost her husband a month ago
Easing the pain from the loss of a loved one: a psychologist’s advice
- First of all, accept your right to emotional defeat. Grief is important and you shouldn’t try to suppress it or ignore it. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of your emotions for you have all the reasons to miss the person who is here no more. Your loved one has died, your world has changed, and it can be extremely hard to get used to it.
- Do not listen and talk to people who invalidate your grief or forbid you to experience it. They might tell you that you needed this, that it will make you stronger and that you need to get a hold of yourself and move on. Such advice is useless, because grieving is the only thing we can do in this situation. 
- Give yourself time, do not rush. Mourning people often say something like this: “It’s already been a month and I still cannot accept their death.” However, you don’t hear people say this after surgery: “Hey, it’s been 20 minutes, the stitches must have already healed.” Both physical and mental trauma needs time to heal, and pain does not disappear until time has passed.
- Allow yourself some time to grieve and learn to cleanse it from other emotions, like anger, guilt or grudge. Sorrow helps you realize and accept what happened and overcome your loss. The ritual of a minute’s silence exists for this very purpose: it lets us focus on the loss and accept it.
- Write a letter. Sometimes we suffer from the fact that we didn’t tell them something, didn’t say our goodbyes. In such cases a letter can be a good way to express your emotions, purify your grief and learn to live with it.
- Talk to somebody. Voice your emotions, tell someone about the things you miss. Share your grief.
- Recognize those situations when you feel the loss of your loved one the most. For example, they used to help you with your home renovation. Try to learn to do it alone or find someone else to help you.
- Seek professional help if you experience guilt or shame from losing a loved one and you cannot overcome these emotions yourself.
There are certain situations and thoughts that can interfere with your sorrow or even make it stronger. Instead of experiencing grief you will be blaming yourself or looking for someone to shift the blame to.
You may be followed by these devastating thoughts and emotions:
Emotions that can get in the way
Why am I left behind? It would’ve been better for me to die, not him. I am worthless and useless.
Guilt of relief
He suffered so much before his death, and now it’s finally over. It was so hard to take care of a sick person for 10 years. I love him, but now I feel relief.
Guilt of happiness
He died only 2 months ago, I have no right to feel happy, I must grieve for him more. How can I overcome this loss so easily? I can’t be happy while he is buried deep below.
Fear of forgetting
If I don’t remember him constantly, I will forget about him soon. I must go to the cemetery every day, keep his things and his room as it is. This is the only way to keep him in my memory.
Guilt of weak grief
I don’t grieve enough, I must suffer more. I have accepted my loss too soon, I must be incapable of strong love, I am in the wrong.
Receiving psychological help during your loss and grief is not a whim, it is an effective way to care about your mental state.
Overcoming the loss of a child
Handling the loss of anyone is always hard. However, the loss of a child is a special case, because such loss is unnatural. This goes against the laws of nature: our children are meant to outlive us. The grief of losing a child is often accompanied by suppression, self-condemnation, finger pointing and the search for meaning.
We don’t usually talk about the death of our children with others, especially if we have lost an infant or had a miscarriage. Many people, and even doctors often say: “You are still young, you can get pregnant and give birth once again. Live for your other children.” Such words will only make our pain worse. Even our relatives cannot help us, because they grieve just as much as we do. However, their grief may be different from ours, so we cannot even find a common ground.
Society itself can point a finger at the parents after the child’s death, saying that they didn’t look after them properly, didn’t protect them, didn’t prepare, only adding insult to injury. Of course, such blaming stems from the sense of fear. Other people are afraid of losing their children, they are afraid of experiencing such loss, so they try to come up with reasons to ease their own minds:
“They didn’t look after their child properly, it’s their fault, they are bad parents. I’ll do things right for me, I’ll do my best and my children will be safe.”
Such reasoning has nothing to do with reality. Psychological help becomes increasingly important after the loss of a child due to the intensity of your emotions and an inability to share your grief with others. But it is possible to change your way of thinking, so that nothing stands between you and your sorrow.
My friends and therapy helped me accept the reality. Now, after almost 10 years, I can say I have truly accepted it. I didn’t understand it, didn’t come to terms with it, didn’t consider it as a normal situation, didn’t forget it (I never will), but I have accepted it.
– Evdokia, age unknown, lost her son 10 years ago
Please, take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Do not distance yourself from your friends and family and shut yourself away with your grief.
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