How to Deal With the Death of a Loved One
Dealing with the death of a loved one is challenging in different ways for different people. There is no right way to mourn, grieve, or "deal with" death, and it is likely that there will be many factors mixed in with your sense of loss. No two reactions will be alike; what is important is to realize that you are not alone. You should reach out when you're ready for the support of others, though it is equally fine to keep to yourself until you feel stronger again.
Coping Immediately After Death
Know that your feelings of grief are normal and expected.After the death of a loved one it is normal to feel sad, upset, or lost. Don't be angry at yourself for feeling sad, or tell yourself that you should "man up" or get over the loss. Grief is a normal, natural human emotion that helps you cope with death, not something to hide or feel ashamed of.Common emotions include:
- Denial of the death
- Shock or emotional numbness
- Bargaining or rationalizing how you could have "saved" the deceased.
- Regret for things you might have done.
Make time in your life to process grief.It is only natural to push your sadness to the side, distracting yourself with other things and ignoring your emotions. But sadness and anger will creep into your life whether you want it to or not, and the longer you ignore it the longer it will take to fade away. Immediately after a loss, take some time off to process your feelings and deal with the myriad stresses that come with the death of a loved one.
- Take time off from work.
- Request time away from school.
- Clear your schedule to spend time with friends and family.
Think of positive ways to remember your loved one.Select a special item of sentimental value to keep close that provides a sense of connection to the one who has passed. Life moves on, but that doesn't mean you must forget the person you've lost. Keep them alive in your memories and remember the good times together. Try to reframe your thoughts so that you remember the good times, not the bad.
- There is a reason why their death was painful, and it is usually because they were such a wonderful, positive presence in your life. Try not to forget this as you grieve.
Accept the help and support of others.You may not believe someone when they say, "your sadness will pass with time," but always remember that they are just trying to help. Listen to their sentiments, but don't feel anger or despair if you disagree. People find it hard to deal with death and even harder to deal with the person who is left behind. Everyone is wondering what the “right thing to do” is. There is, however, no right thing to do, and you are entitled to feel your pain.
- Many people will come to help with chores, cooking, and funeral planning. Accept their help, however small, as a show of respect for the dead and their love for you.
- Feel free to ask for time alone if you cannot deal with crowds. You need to unpack this event on your own time however it feels right to you.
Spend time with friends and family.Grieving is often a group process, where fellow loved ones band together to help get over the pain of a lost loved one. Turning to these relationships reminds you that you are not alone in your pain and can help you express your feelings to people who understand and feel them too.
Take care of your body while grieving.There is a strong correlation between physical and mental health,which means a dip in one will affect the other. You need to continue to eat healthy meals, work out, and get enough sleep, even if your feel sluggish or uncomfortable.
- Exercise may seem unappealing when you are dealing with grief, but it is a good way to take your mind off of the loss for an hour and recharge your brain.
Celebrate a loved one's life in the funeral instead of bemoaning their death.Your memories of a loved one are likely overpowering, but many of them will be beautiful, poignant, happy moments. Remember and cherish these moments in the funeral service and in daily life. What stories would they want to be told of them? What sorts of colors and music would they play at their own party? While planning a funeral is never easy, using this time to remember the good they brought into the world is one of the best ways to remember them and acknowledge your grief.
- Studies show that your mindset coping with grief in the present affects how you feel 1-2 years later, so keep your thoughts as positive as possible by remembering good times.
Know that there is no right way to grieve.Some people want to cry uncontrollably, others may fall silent. Some distract themselves with funeral preparations while others want nothing to do with them. You'll likely hear a lot of advice on "how to feel," but you should know that your grieving process will be your own. Don't let someone tell you how you should feel -- acknowledge your feelings and you will find your own ways to deal with them.
Moving on with Life
Gradually move on with life, on your own timeline.When you're ready, you'll need to accept that your loved one will only live on in your heart and memories. There is no "right" amount of time to grieve; it changes with every person. So move on when you are ready. You are surrounded by a family and group of friends that care for you and love you very much, and you are stronger than you think.
- The "stages of grief" are guidelines for emotions felt commonly after a death. They arenot,however a series of boxes that you must check off, and new research shows that they may not exist at all.
Get back to your daily routine at your own pace.Talk to your boss, teacher, and family about how you are feeling as you readjust to life after the death. Everyone moves at different paces, but everyone needs to get back into the swing of normal life at some point. Some days will be more difficult than others, but being honest with the people around you as you restart the daily grind will help you navigate the "real" world again.
Know that "anniversary reactions," or triggered memories of loved ones, may last for years.This is not a bad or unnatural response. Rather, it is a reminder of how special someone was in your life. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, and special days may be hard to cope with for the rest of your life, but don't feel like you are "stunted" because you can't get over them. Even sights and smells can trigger memories of a lost loved one. There are, however, ways to cope:
- Start a new tradition on that day, potentially tied to their memory (like visiting the grave site).
- Be prepared with a distraction. Make plans, go out of town, or have friends over.
- Take time to reminisce. Why does this make you remember them? Chances are that the memory is a good one, and it will be helpful to remember great memories when feeling down.
Find a support group to talk about your feelings with others.There are other people who understand you pain and will help you cope with death. A simple internet search for "Death Support Groups" in your area can help you find a group near you. There are often specific groups that deal with cancer deaths, loss of spouses or parents, and moving on after a major loss.
- The US Health Department has a detailed list of support groups and ways to contact them on an
Talk to a psychiatrist if you feel intense grief or sadness that won't go away.Some deaths are too much to handle alone. There are, however, professionals who can help you cope with the death of a loved one, especially if you cannot function or have lost the will to live. These people will help you come to terms with your grief and understand intense feelings of sadness.
- Guidance counselors, school therapists, and mental health professionals can all offer guidance and support while you cope with the death of a loved one.
Helping Children Understand Death
Know that different aged children deal with death differently.The older a child gets the better prepared they are to cope with death. Very young children, like preschoolers, may have a hard time understanding death, instead viewing it as a temporary separation. High schoolers, on the other hand, can understand the finality of death and its causes.
- Some younger children may generalize death to understand it. For example, after witnessing Sept. 11, some younger children might associate death with walking into tall buildings.
- Be truthful -- minimizing or ignoring negative emotions will only confuse your child later on.
Tell your child the news in simple, plain language.Don't make up stories, or wait to tell them "at the right time" for fear of hurting them. If a child overhears about the death of a loved one from someone else it is confusing and unbelievable, and they child won't know where to turn for advice if not you.
- A trusted, familiar loved one should tell your child about the death whenever possible so that they feel safe.
- Answer questions with simple and direct questions, not with euphemisms like "lost" or "passed on."
Encourage your child to open up to you.Like many adults, children have a hard time expressing themselves or knowing when to speak about serious subjects like death. Be sure to encourage them to talk about how they feel, but respect their wishes if they are quiet or uncomfortable at first. Pressuring them to talk will only confuse them more and make it harder to comprehend their grief.
- Let your child direct the conversation -- they will ask the questions that are important to them. This helps you find the right tone and information for their maturity level.
Help solidify positive memories by remembering good times together.Talk to children about the good things that they remember. You can look at pictures from happy moments, write down stories you enjoy, and make an effort to stay positive. While this is difficult when you are going through grief too, keeping the positive in sight will help everyone cope healthily with the death.
Offer your child the chance to take part in memorial rituals.Letting a child recite a poem at the funeral, pick out flowers, or tell a story lets them feel like a part of the family's grieving process. They can have control over their feelings and contribute to the memory of the deceased in a way that is meaningful to them.
Let yourself grieve as well.Do not feel like you need to neglect your own emotional needs for the sake of your child. Your children will take cues from you and learn to grieve accordingly. If you resist showing emotion, crying, or talking about the death of a loved one your child will probably do the same thing.
Know if your child needs professional help with their grief.While most children learn to cope with death over time, some deaths hit children particularly hard. When this happens, the advice of a trained mental health professional may be necessary. Keep an eye open for the following symptoms:
- Trouble performing basic tasks and chores.
- Persistent irritability, mood swings, or sadness.
- Low self-esteem and/or confidence.
- Suddenly provocative or sexual behavior.
QuestionA family friend just died. I'm so sad. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThink of all the things you did together or something funny that happened to the family member. Talk to someone about your family friend and send the family a card explaining how much your friend meant to you.Thanks!
QuestionMy grandmother has passed away and I'm very sad. What can I do so I feel better?Alisa ZenchenkoCommunity AnswerTry surrounding yourself with your family or friends. Your family might be feeling this sadness also, so together you can talk and work through it.Thanks!
QuestionShould I have to stay strong for everyone else in the family if I am taking my grandmother's death hard?Andimaxx1955Community AnswerNo, you don't. You have a right to grieve like everyone else. Don't take on more than you can handle.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do to feel better after my grandfather has passed away?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can take your mind off your loss and think about other things like your life. Try to keep his spirit with you and always keep pictures and reminders because he needs to be remembered.Thanks!
QuestionMy teacher passed away recently. I've gone between feeling like I could move on and then feeling angry about it. Is this normal?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMourning can take all kinds of different forms. So yes, it is normal to feel angry, upset, and many other things intermittently. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Acknowledge your anger, and consider talking to someone you trust about your feelings. It often helps to talk about things with other people who are also grieving, whether this means joining a grief support group, or just talking to classmates who are struggling with the loss as you are.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I deal with my uncle's death? I'm just a young girl and I need help with dealing with it. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTalk to someone you respect and tell them how you feel. It always helps to talk about it. You can also ask to talk to a grief counselor.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I help my daughters deal with the death of their father?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhat you should do is comfort them. Don't tell them there is no reason to be sad - instead, give them a safe space to express whatever it is they're feeling (anger, sadness, grief, etc.). Remind them that he loves them very much and won't be gone in their thoughts or hearts, even if he's gone from their daily lives. Show them love and attention or try to distract them with things they enjoy. Hopefully this will comfort them and allow them to begin their healing process.Thanks!
QuestionNo has died in my family yet, but I cried while reading this. Why?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBecause you know that they will die one day, as everyone does, and that makes you sad.Thanks!
QuestionIf someone I know and love dies, I don't cry. Not before the funeral, not during, and not after. I am not numb, just emotionless I suppose. Is there something wrong with me?Top AnswererCrying is not the only expression of an emotion. You can feel a lack of energy, be sad for a while, get frustrated, angry, etc. However, just because you don't express an emotion (through crying or otherwise) doesn't mean you don't have it. No, there's nothing wrong with you. Many of my loved ones have died; I certainly felt sad at the time, but I did not cry. Even if you don't feel sad, or don't feel any emotion, even then there's still nothing wrong with you.Thanks!
QuestionMy 17-year-old cousin passed away unexpectedly. He was never sick, but he was found dead by his twin brother. We are all so sad and still not believing the fact that he is gone. What should we do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRemember the amazing, fun, happy, and funny memories you had with him. Keep lots of tissues nearby. Go through photo albums and look back on memories. Cherish him in your mind.Thanks!
My aunt has cancer and she's an elderly person. I'm afraid that one day she might die, how can I cope with this worry?
- Know that this too shall pass. You won't hurt this bad forever. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel even if you can't always see it right away.
- Be ready for other family members to get upset about this. You can help out by trying to get it off of your mind, and theirs.
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