What You Can and Cannot Control When Grief and Loss Occur

No one is immune from the suffering and pain that accompanies the death of a loved one. The grief that ensues is fraught with many ups and downs which sow confusion and stirs deep emotional feelings.

Frequently, over time, many mourners experience normal reactive depression. This is a common response when someone we love is gone or something that is cherished is taken away. It often features sleeplessness, a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that nothing can be done to change the condition, and thoughts that life is not worth living.

Yet, much can be done if you change your focus away from hopelessness and helplessness to the power inherent in what you can influence and control. You cannot control the past. You can’t control relentless change. You can control how you respond to the present and plan for the future. What can you control to stop the downward spiral when it begins to grow? Here are seven things to consider, any one of which can break the back of sadness and reactive depression, and begin to ease the deep pain of loss.

1. You control the empowerment of choice. Adjusting to the death of a loved one or any other major loss is dependent on the choices you make. And there are always many choices that have to be made on a daily basis. No one can take away your choices. Will you be determined to make it through your loss and reinvest in life or live in the past? That is a major choice at the start. Will you choose to interact with others, perhaps in a support group or at least with loving friends, or isolate yourself? You need the ears of others to talk about your depression. Never forget the power you possess to decide what direction to take.

2. You control your commitment to self-care. Remember your old self is gone. You are not going to be your old self again. That’s what major loss does to us. It’s a new you with new routines and new ways of looking at the world and your place in it. You must feed that growth. With the absence of the companionship and emotional support of a loved one, it is essential to take special notice of how you meet the need to be nurtured. That is part of your new routine. Treat yourself with great respect and care. Eat healthy. Walk. Take a daily stress break. Give yourself a respite from sadness.

3. You control how you structure and organize your time. Having a plan for each day, especially the special days you know will be difficult, like birthdays and anniversaries, is essential to the task of preventing additional and unnecessary suffering and depression. Lee Iacocca, the American Industrialist said, “The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” You can eliminate unnecessary suffering by thinking ahead and seeking wise counsel. You alone control what you do with each hour of the day.

4. You control the depth and meaning of your spiritual life. The scientific evidence is increasing that having a strong spiritual life is associated with good health and longevity. It can especially help you cope with the loss of a loved one. You can control the way you build on your faith in a power greater than the self and seek the support that power provides. As part of your daily plan, include spiritual practices of prayer and meditation. Practice daily gratitude. Ask for a sign that your loved one is okay in the afterlife. Look for others who share similar spiritual beliefs as part of your support network. It will help as you adjust to a different environment and a new you.

5. You control how you use your money and schedule pleasant events. Learning how to cope by yourself also means controlling how to spend your money to include pleasant events. Again, giving yourself a treat without feeling guilty, is part of recovery and adjustment. Make a list of the things you like to do and turn to them as a way to balance your day or to focus attention away from dwelling only on sad events. Keep your list handy and add to it as you remember or discover new activities that allow you to reinvest in life. Use it as one of your lifelines.

6. You control who you will choose to strengthen old friendships with or start new ones. These are also some of the people who will be part of your support team as you do your grief work and make the changes demanded of your new life without your loved one. Always look for positive people to add to your social network. Reduce contact with those who are negative and toxic until you are stronger. Good solid friendships are as important as any medication or vitamin you can take. Take special care to build strong interpersonal relationships.

7. You control the attitude you will foster. Life is your attitude (think on that). Thoughts and beliefs-both of which are choices you make-are the underpinnings of attitude. You can reshape your attitude, thoughts and beliefs, to deal with any situation which brings inevitable grief into your life. Embrace the lifelong need to be committed to doing the things you dislike doing in order to grow through and adapt to change. Or as many life coaches put it, you have to leave your comfort zone. Attitude is everything in adapting to ongoing change.

All of the above takes time and a plan. Start with little tasks first and build on your successes. Do something first that has a high rate of completion like, I will speak first to the first three people I meet today. Start developing those positive routines that will become habits and realize you alone have control over how you will adjust to your great loss.

How to Avoid Self-Imposed Isolation When Mourning

Are you shying away from your support system? Are you turning down invitations from friends or relatives to join them for dinner or a family barbeque? Are you choosing to walk alone instead of with your old walking buddies? If so, you are not merely isolating yourself from needed social contact when mourning, you are actually delaying the healing from your great loss.

The many studies on the subject of social interaction and its relationship to health and longevity have made it abundantly clear: your social circle plays a major role in mitigating stress and stimulating the healing process.

This does not mean that you shun all time to be alone. We need quiet time as much as interactive time. Solitude replenishes the inner life and allows us to balance the constant buzz and attention that often occurs when mourning a major loss.

However, it is important to understand that the love and support of friends and relatives can affect the way you feel about yourself at a time when sadness and depression often take a great toll on energy and your spirits. This is one of those times when mourning, that it is essential to do what you dislike doing, and get involved with others in a social setting. You may want to look at it as a diversion, a necessary diversion that is part of your grief work.

Diversions when mourning are essential in order to relieve the mind of constantly thinking about the loss. The grief process in itself is hard work and saps energy. It is perfectly normal to seek a time out away from the sadness and pain. In fact, it is important to schedule a time each day to give yourself special care and do something just for you–even if you don’t feel like it.

If you want to change your isolating behavior, start by changing your beliefs. Beliefs are the powerhouse for behaviors. Often our beliefs about grief and what we should do are picked up from poor grief models early in life. If, for example, you were taught to believe that the depth of your love for the deceased is expressed by how long you grieve, or that it is disrespectful to find a moment of enjoyment even while you are mourning, these beliefs will bring unnecessary suffering.

Carefully examine why you are isolating yourself and consider changing unhealthy beliefs. We all have them. In any event, make a commitment to yourself that you will speak to at least three people each day and accept invitations that will get you out of the house and interacting with others.

To summarize, uncover the hidden beliefs that are limiting your healthy grief work. Recognize the vast importance of the love being expressed to you by members of your support network. It will greatly assist you in gradually reinvesting your emotional energy in rewarding pursuits. Love will open your mind and heart to find meaning in your great loss and lead you to reinvesting in life.

Setting Up a Support Network for a Grieving Family

Setting Up a Support Network for a Grieving Family – 6 Suggestions

Providing assistance to a grieving family can be an invaluable gift of support. But how and when to help a family can be a difficult and tricky question because even the grief stricken family won’t always know what they need or want. One thing for certain though, a grief support network should be setup. Below are guidelines to assist you:

1. Put one trusted person in charge as the main support person. Perhaps that person can be in charge of assisting with household operations or staying with the family. The support person should be someone other than an immediate family member.

2. The main support person can delegate to other volunteers. Others can be in charge of various tasks ranging from babysitting to planning meals. Volunteers should report back to the main person in charge to avoid confusion or more upset to the family.

3. Consider having the support person stay with the family. The person should at least be there during the day to help with phone messages as well as the deliveries of remembrance gifts, condolences, food and sympathy flowers. Even if the family needs to be alone, the support person could stay in a separate part of the home.

4. Try to have someone relieve the support person periodically. Sometimes well-wishers, deliveries and the phone calls can be exhausting for the main support person. If there are issues that arrive when this main contact person is away, all helpers should still contact him or her so the family is not disturbed.

5. The support network should respect the choices of the grieving family. Although it may be hard to understand some of the family’s choices, it is important to accept the family’s decisions. Just know that setting up an effective communication network during the initial stages of grief can with preventing any extra stress on the family.

6. As a friend who wants to help, be sensitive to the complete picture of grief. Instead of assuming what the family needs to hear or do, take guidance from the bereaved and the situation. In the beginning, don’t place too much on the family’s plate either, such as giving suggestions for coping or asking when thank you notes will be written. Most things can wait until the family requests guidance or may not need to be addressed at all.