At times, it’s confusing. I see something I know my grandpa would like and I reach out to buy it. Then I remember, and it hurts. But grief also comes with moments to remember, these tiny glimmers of happiness in what is otherwise an overwhelming, difficult time, and in those times when I’m unexpectedly stricken with sadness, I try to turn the moment around and think of how pleased my grandpa would be that I thought of him. It isn’t easy.
I don’t have all of the answers when it comes to dealing with the loss of someone you really, really, really loved. I cannot heal you. I cannot end your pain. I cannot bring that person back. Though, if I could, I would do all of those things for you, and for myself. But I have learned some things about trying to cope, and I hope this makes getting through whatever difficult time you’re experiencing a bit easier.
Remind yourself that we all deal differently.
This I have witnessed firsthand. For some of us, sharing memories is how we get through. Some of us prefer quiet solitude. Some of us will lash out. Some of us will need space, while others will flourish in the company of others. Some of us will want to organize, some will emerge as leaders, some will be caretakers, some will need to deny (or pretend) that this reality is not their reality. There is no right or wrong way to cope, so long as we are not hurting ourselves or others in the process.
Take it one day at a time.
Or one afternoon at a time, or one hour at a time, or one moment at a time. In an effort to comfort you, people will tell you to “be strong.” But being strong is different for all of us, depending on the day. Some days, our best is staying in bed all day. Some days, our best is the ability to get out of bed. Some days, our best is going above and beyond what our normal life entails. These things are all fine, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we need some time to recoup. I treasure a piece of advice a dear friend shared with me, given to her by her father:
Our best is different on any given day.
Take care of yourself.
Regardless of the type of person you are or who you morph into in times of hardship, you must care for yourself. Whatever that means for you, whether it’s leaning on others or giving yourself space or knitting or meditating, try to make time for that and do it.
Know that things don’t magically get better.
People will tell you that you will eventually “move on.” But I don’t necessarily think that’s true. Do you ever really move on from the loss of someone you loved? Does that hole in your heart ever truly fill itself? Yes, coping becomes easier, and things get as back to “normal” as they can, but things can still unexpectedly feel sad. Here is some excellent advice Lyndsey gave to me:
You don’t need to “move on.” True, you live your life and you’ll find happiness in things but it’s a lie when people say to move on or things like, “It will get better.” Some days it WILL feel better and then you’ll see something, like a coffee or something [your loved one] liked, and you will cry and feel like you can’t cope. You’ll be angry sometimes and you won’t understand ANYTHING. The healing is raw, the coping will be tragic. Very, very slowly you will cope.
Don’t be afraid to for help.
Sometimes it’s not enough to just deal on our own. Sometimes it’s not enough to lean on family or friends. So don’t be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to go to therapy or enroll in a support group.
Or to cry.
This is a sad time. We get to be sad. We get to be sad for a long time. We get to be some kind of sad forever. So cry. Crying does not mean you are somehow not strong or that you aren’t dealing or that you are weak. This bears repeating: crying does not make you weak. Please try to remember that. If you need to hear it from someone else, a quote from Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”:
Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.
Or to be angry.
Moments of anger will come and go. We will think irrational thoughts. “Why did my loved one have to die? Why wasn’t it someone else?” We’ll be bitter and upset and sometimes we’ll see someone and think something awful. “It should’ve been you.” Try not to be too hard on others or on yourself. Death doesn’t make sense, so it’s natural that we’ll have associated thoughts that also don’t make sense, or that we’ll think things we normally wouldn’t. These will go away.
Everyone will have advice to offer to you. They’ll tell you that if you “just” to do this or that then you’ll magically feel better. They’ll tell you to move on and be strong. They’ll say things like “So-and-so is in a better place” or they’ll ask obvious questions (“How are you?”). They’ll be insensitive (“So tell me all about the wake!”) and they’ll sometimes use this tragedy as an opportunity to make it all about them. Forgive them. Most of them mean well and, if they don’t, then they are not worth your time. And don’t forget to forgive yourself, too. As they say, guilt is a useless emotion.
Don’t be afraid to think of all the great times. Smile, laugh, and be happy. Your loved one will live on in your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, and your stories.