Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One

Woman mourning the loss of a loved one

Truly, losing someone you love can be an amazingly difficult experience. Speaking of the loss of her husband Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA said the following:

“There is nothing more devastating than a sudden and traumatic loss. My own husband died this way. It was sudden, it was traumatic. He went to work and never came back. I never got to say goodbye. There was no preparation, none. Suddenly I was flung into an overwhelming grief that seemed to encircle my heart, squeeze it black, for many years. I reached out for help from friends, books, priests, therapists, and alternative healers. I journaled. I got through each day somehow. And I did get through it, yes. It was difficult, it was grueling, at times I didn’t think I would, and sometimes those times descend on me even now, but I got through it.”

If you are reading this blog post you may be experiencing the same feelings described above. You may be here seeking advice and guidance on how to help yourself through this difficult time. We reached out to hundreds of grief counselors all over the United States and asked them to share with us their best advice on how to cope with the loss of a loved one. This article is a compilation of their expert opinions.

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Take Time and Remember The Deceased

Mourning is a natural part of dealing with the loss of a loved one. An important part of the process is remembering cherished memories with the deceased.

“Continue to include your loved one in everyday life. This can mean a lot of different things including talking about favorite memories with others, talking to a picture of your loved one about everyday things or writing a letter to them thanking them for the place they hold in your heart.”

Lorii Hubbard
Lorii Hubbard Counseling

“The next few days [after the loss of her closest friend] I focused on self-care activities, including talking to other friends who had known and loved her. We talked about positive memories we had with her and also focused on all of her accomplishments and the ways that she had contributed to our processes of personal growth. Attending her funeral about a week later gave me a sense of closure and to truly move past the denial stage, and after the funeral, I continued to get together with mutual friends to celebrate the life my friend had lived. Every year since (she passed away 12 ½ years ago), I have thought of her on her birthday and on the date of her passing.”

Cari Morphet
Caring Journey Counseling

Understand the Stages of Grief

It’s important for us to understand that grief follows a natural process. The last of which is acceptance. Working through this process and getting to that final step is one that will often take time.

“Researchers study grief and loss as a way to provide some structure and comfort during a time when much of what we know has been taken, leaving us searching for answers. What they have found is that the familiar Kubler-Ross “Stages of Grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) still stands as the best understanding through this difficult time. While these stages help us understand the natural process of grief, they should not be expected to simplify it. Our reactions to loss are complex because we are complex. Often well-meaning loved ones encourage those that are grieving to jump directly to acceptance, wanting to spare them the other seemingly negative and painful stages.

But what we know is that each of these stages are vital to healing the seemingly unhealable heart. So it is just as important to feel anger and denial as it is to feel acceptance. Additionally, anyone who has experienced grief and loss understands that these stages are not necessarily in order and acceptance is not always a complete end to pain. Grieving may involve jumping from one stage to the other for example finding partial acceptance but then re-experiences depression or anger. ”

Lorii Hubbard
Lorii Hubbard Counseling

Reach Out to Others

The great things about most circumstances is that there are others who have experienced similar things. There are also who may be dealing with a similar experience at the same time.

“Support groups can also be very helpful… I found a support group about six months after the death of my husband which I attended monthly for three years. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one in my position helped immeasurably.”

Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA
Liz Hunter Counseling

“My husband was killed in an auto accident we were in, 3 days after we were married. I struggled to find things that worked for me. In no particular order: I saw a therapist and learned about the 5 stages of grief, I read books about death and grief, yelled, cried, did some journaling, threw rocks, punched pillows, wished I could die, talked to others, listened to songs that brought back memories (bitter sweet), made a blanket out of my spouse’s clothes (which I still cherish to this day!), continued to talk to my spouse, and was able to eventually find a Young Widow Support Group.”

Aimee Francom, CMHC, NCC
Life’s Solutions Counseling

“Finding those who will just listen – and listen without judgement or advice – is very important.”

Lothair W. Pendleton, LCSW
Corner Canyon Counseling

“First, get support. Turn to friends and family and accept the support they offer. It’s okay to take time for yourself, you’ll likely need it. Just don’t isolate yourself or push people away.”

Dr. Stephen Thayer
Dr. Stephen Thayer Clinical Psychologist

Know that it will Take Time

The old phrase, “Time heals all wounds” is true but there is no real timeline for grieving. Understand that with time you will feel better and adjust to your new life. However, no one else can really determine how long that will take.

“… the best advice I can give you is to know that it will take time, to be gentle on yourself, and to allow yourself to grieve.

It will take time. Grieving a loss doesn’t follow a timetable, although others might expect you to be over it in three months, in a year, in whatever time frame fits their idea. But you are the one going through it. No one can dictate what your timeline should be. No one can tell you that it will take x amount of time. People can tell you what their time line was for their grief – that is perhaps the most helpful thing. For me, it took 4 1/2 years to finally feel like myself again. But everyone is different, and it might take longer for you, or shorter.”

Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA
Liz Hunter Counseling

Understand that Everyone Grieves Differently

Many well-intentioned people may give you advice on how to deal with the loss. They may not be able to truly comprehend the way you feel. So when unhelpful advice comes just understand that the way people react to different situations is unique.

“It might sound cliche, but it’s true–everyone grieves differently. There is no ‘right way’ to react to the loss of a loved one. Some people will seem unaffected, while others will appear devastated. For many people, the grieving process includes intense sadness or numbness, insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, anger, loss of sex drive, poor concentration, and feelings of guilt or regret associated with the deceased. This unpleasantness can last anywhere from hours to months.”

Dr. Stephen Thayer
Dr. Stephen Thayer Clinical Psychologist

“…though grief can feel overwhelming at times, it is important to note that what one goes through is a normal process. It is also a process that is unique to each individual. How each person grieves is as individual as his/her fingerprint.”

Lothair W. Pendleton, LCSW
Corner Canyon Counseling

Know There’s No Such Thing as Getting “Over It”

In different ways you may feel pain and sadness at the separation with your loved one. That’s completely natural to miss them and their company. You may occasionally feel that again and again at diverse times throughout your entire life and that’s okay.

“My personal experience with this was the loss of my daughter, Molly. My wife and I had to decide early on that ‘getting over’ our grief wasn’t an option, as it would come with an unbearably high cost: to stop loving that child. The pain of grief is only ever present because of our love, connection, and desire to be with the one we’ve lost. Once we can accept that the pain of loss is a natural hurt based on our love, it’s not just a meaningless pain. Grief is a deeply meaningful experience, that shows us how we feel about those we love.”

Ammon Fawson, LMFT
Endeavor Clinic

“There is no set time for you to be ‘over it.’ And don’t expect to get over it. The loss will stay with you; but over time and as part of your grief journey, you will learn to live with it, incorporate it into your changed life.”

Lothair W. Pendleton, LCSW
Corner Canyon Counseling

Consider Seeking Professional Guidance

There are people with training and experience that can help you work through your loss.

“While there is no perfect way to heal, there are some signs that professional help is needed. A good gauge would be when prolonged grief is disrupting employment or school or if you find that you are isolating or having thoughts that are beginning to scare you or your friends and family. If this is the case, look for a therapist who can help you with grief. It is important to find a mental health professional that is a good fit for you. This may take a couple of tries but don’t give up.

…Perhaps you don’t know how to sit in grief, it is so encompassing and devastating. Please find a therapist to help you with this. I know that my own thinking became skewed and circular during my grief process. I was blaming myself. I was blaming others. I went around and around with different scenarios. I couldn’t get out of that loop without the help of my therapist.”

Lorii Hubbard
Lorii Hubbard Counseling

Know that this Experience will Make You Stronger

Your personal loss will help you empathize more deeply with others. Your ability to understand others going through similar experiences will be increased. These experiences can make you a stronger more capable person.

“If someone had told me when this happened that I would emerge stronger, I would have been irritated beyond measure, as well as disbelieving. Yet it is true – I am very much stronger in who I am as a person now. My life views have changed. My spirituality has changed. I am more myself. I would never wish this on anyone, yet it happened and human beings are nothing if not resilient – my work as a therapist has shown me the absolute truth of this resiliency. But I could not have done it on my own. Reach out for help. Reach out, tell others what you need. Find a therapist. Find solace when and where you can. Know it will take time, be gentle on yourself, and allow yourself to grieve. I wish you peace if you grieve, as you grieve.”

Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA
Liz Hunter Counseling

You Can Do This

Losing someone you love isn’t an easy. Being separated from someone you love seldom is. Countless numbers of others have felt your pain and sorrow. They made it and so can you!

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