Losing a loved one feels like being dropped in the wilderness without a map.
How do I get out of here? we wonder. Will I be stuck here forever?
While there’s no map that can lead us through loss, there are some things that can help.
Stay connected to your loved one who died. One of the most puzzling, maddening, wrenching things about grief is the sheer absence of the person we lost. How can someone be here, and then gone? It’s too much for our minds, let alone our hearts, to fathom.
When my brother died, I couldn’t feel him nearby in the soothing way I’d felt our grandma hover after her death. He was just utterly gone. So I wrote letters to him. Typing out words to him forged a connective cord between us. Grief therapists call this a continuing bond—the theory that death doesn’t sever our relationships with those we love, it just changes it.
Some find connection to people who’ve died by wearing a piece of their clothing, visiting one of their favorite spots, spending time with others who were important to the person who died, or talking or praying to their loved one.
Take care of your body. Self-care, when we’re grieving, can feel impossible. We might lose our appetite completely, or we might overindulge in foods that don’t nourish us as an attempt to comfort ourselves. The idea of stepping outside for a short walk might seem overwhelming.
While grief isn’t the ideal time to start a new exercise regime or go vegan, we do still need to care for our physical bodies. Try to treat yourself like a beloved child—feed yourself simple meals, keep water or herbal tea nearby, and take short walks.
It’s okay to laugh. When my brother died, humor helped our family survive. We’d enjoyed a dark sense of humor before he died—and his death darkened it even more. When the newspaper left my name out of my brother’s obituary, at first I was furious. Until I realized something that made me laugh. The error meant my brother’s obituary would run a second time—and my extroverted brother would’ve loved the attention of getting two obituaries.
Even though we’re grieving, we can still laugh. We can find the ridiculous even in—especially in—the worst situations.
Find others who are grieving. Grief can be such a lonely place. The first morning after my brother died, I remember being stunned by the rest of the world’s immunity to my family’s hell—the sun climbed the sky like it did every other day, blackbirds still dipped and rose, strangers drove to their jobs in offices and restaurants and shops. Our friends and family buffered and bolstered us, but it wasn’t long before they returned to their own lives.
Finding other people who were going through similar losses provided more comfort than anything else in those raw months. People whose minds darted with the same crazy thoughts mine did, who wondered how they were going to survive the upcoming holidays or anniversaries, who encountered acquaintances at the grocery who slunk away as if grief was contagious. Going to an in-person grief group, connecting with others online, or reaching out to friends who’ve been through a similar loss can be an emotional lifesaver. We might still be lost in the wilderness, but at least we’re not alone.
I don’t believe we get over losing people we love—we get through it. The process is messy and wretched and human, and the more we talk about our experiences with it, the better off we all are.
Grief is a living, breathing testament to our capacity to be marked and stretched and changed by one another, to our own unbearable impermanence, to the thick, unbreakable love that connects us.