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Life after loss

How to grieve and carry on.

Article Author: Julie Dubin

Article Date:

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You may have lost the person closest to you – your partner, parent, sibling or best friend – and though you feel like you’re hurting beyond description, you keep going. You need to take care of your children, tackle the laundry, pay the bills and produce at work. The pain sometimes doesn’t hit in full effect at first.

“Initially, you may be so busy with the business of death like funeral planning and family visiting,” said Amy N. Johnston, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “When the death first happens, everyone floods in with support. Then a couple weeks later, they all go back to their normal lives and the person grieving gets left alone. That’s when it gets hard.”

Grieve your way

When someone close to you dies, you likely feel pain and heartache, but your grieving process may look nothing like the mourning of those around you. You’ve probably heard of the “stages of grief,” and many believe we pass from one to the next. The reality is, you may zigzag through or skip stages, and your timing in each may be brief or lengthy.

Stages of grief may show up as:

  • Denial (shock and fear)
  • Anger (frustration and anxiety)
  • Bargaining (dwelling on what caused the loss or why it happened)
  • Depression (hostility, regret, loneliness and sadness)
  • Acceptance (making new plans and moving on)

“Everyone grieves differently. Many people go through some shape or form of every stage but not in an exact pattern. You can jump back and forth by the minute, day, hour and month. You can move through stages at different times or can experience several at once,” Johnston said. “You may feel angry and depressed at the same time. The hard part about grief is it doesn’t look the same for any two people.”

Move forward

In addition to grieving, it’s crucial to try to figure out a new life without the person who passed, from coping with birthdays and holidays to picking yourself up and getting tasks done.

“It’s important to keep up with your routine. Recognize everything you’re going through and that your emotions are normal,” Johnston said.

She suggested creating a happy memory box with items such as photos, cards, trinkets or a journal.

“Keeping a journal is important because it allows you to take what you’re holding inside of you and get it out. When you write down your feelings, you process what's going on,” Johnston said. “You can also let this grief out with a family member or therapist.”

Take care of you

Practicing self-care while grieving is also important, said Johnston.

“Think about what you can do for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and spiritually. Even if you’ve got five minutes, you can do some deep breathing exercises to feel better. Find what works for you.”

Self-care means you may:

  • Walk outside
  • Get a manicure, pedicure or massage
  • Go for a coffee
  • Take a yoga class
  • Read a book
  • Meditate
  • Enjoy a bath
  • Volunteer
  • Join a support group
  • Try something new like skating, surfing or dancing

Reach out

In the first few days after the loss, you may lack the energy to shower, get out of bed or take care of your kids, which is normal.

“If you’re still doing that after several weeks, get help, because even if you’re sad, you still need to go on. You may be facing severe depression,” Johnston said. “It’s hard to say what grief looks like, but if you’re not able to get up, have suicidal thoughts or little interest in doing things for pleasure, feel hopeless or lethargic, can’t concentrate, or aren’t eating, it’s important to reach out. If your depression is lingering, a professional therapist or counselor can help.”

If you're struggling after the loss of a loved one, Baptist Behavioral Health is ready to help. Call 904.376.3800 for assistance scheduling with a mental health provider.

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