By Allison Daily, with Art Daily
Many years ago, I lost a brother to suicide. Fourteen years ago my husband lost his wife, Kathy, and two young sons, when a boulder fell from a canyon wall and onto their car and killed them. Art, who was driving, wasn’t injured. He was left, instead, with an empty heart. While we know the heartbreak of loss, we also know there is a way to honor loved ones as you heal your own heart. Here are nine healing insights to get you through your loss and grief, and onto the path of healing.
Step Gently on the Road to Healing
When you lose someone you love, it will seem like grief has total control of you. The road to true healing is a tough one and there are no rules when it comes to healing your grief. Most days you’ll wonder if you will ever feel good again. Early morning and late evening are often the hardest. The good news is that you can get to a place of peace, healing, and even happiness after you have lost a loved one.
Be Easy on Yourself
Give yourself a lot of space. When you lose someone you love, parts of you go crazy. Your emotions go on a rollercoaster. Let them go crazy. Cry when you need to cry, laugh if you share a funny memory. Listen to your body and let your emotions take you where you are.
Communicate Your Needs
Let the people around you know what you need. If you want visitors, say visitors are okay; if not, post a note outside your door asking people to come back another time. It can be helpful to leave a paper outside so people can leave notes for you saying they’ve stopped by. In the first few hours or days of a loss, it is helpful to ask someone to man the phones and take messages. You may want to have someone leave a message on the answering machine explaining that there has been a death in the family and that you will return phone calls when you can. If you need to be touched, ask for it, if you’d like space, ask for it. During times of loss, people are often at a loss of what to do for the one grieving. Know that you are most likely going to want different things each day—sometimes each hour, and that is okay; it’s part of the process. Communicate.
Find Extra Help
A counselor you respect or feel comfortable with can be invaluable. He or she is your partner in grief. One of their jobs is to give you a safe place to just grieve, where no one expects or demands anything of you. They can help you decide the steps that will begin your healing and the timing of them. Medication may be helpful for sleep problems or to prevent grief from turning into severe depression. A therapist can help you sift through the choices, and decide what’s right for you. Maybe most importantly, a therapist can help you understand that your thoughts and feelings are not wrong, or crazy, and that you will survive them. Let them and others in as much as you can. There are also many support groups that meet the different needs of different kinds of loss.
If regular exercise has always been a part of your life, please go back to it as soon as you can. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your body moving, and for those who don’t have an exercise routine, try something small even if it is a walk around the block. Grief, when trapped in the body, has the potential to create sickness. It can also heighten grief and push you into a deeper depression. Movement of the body helps “unstick” your grief.
Give Your Heart a Break
Losing someone you love is the hardest thing to experience in the world. Grief needs to be distracted because it is so all-consuming. Try to allow yourself times of relief by doing something you enjoy…even laughter. Watch a movie, go on a picnic, listen to music…when you are ready, go back to work. Check in with yourself, see what feels okay. There is also something healing about trying new experiences when you are vulnerable because it can bring a form of diversity that helps you focus on something besides your pain. It won’t take away the pain away, but it will give your heart a break and give you a taste of peace amidst the storm.
Honor the Memory
There are many ways to honor the memory of someone you loved and lost. It’s important to create a place in your life that allows you to fully express or share your love for the one you lost. A woman who lost her eighteen-month-old child lovingly created two large picture collages of her child. Another friend who lost her mother, created quilts for each of her siblings from some of her mom’s favorite clothes. My husband, Art, took his lost son’s stuffed animals to his son’s classmates; it was a way for him to reach out and give them something to hold on to. The parents of Christi, a high school friend of mine who was killed by a drunk driver, started a support center, “For the Love of Christi,” which has helped over 70,000 people around Austin, Texas.
Read About It
There is a lot of good literature written about loss from many different perspectives. Some offer accounts of how others have handled their own grief. It’s comforting to read about someone who understands what you are feeling. A friend of mine who lost her baby at birth has found it helpful to read books written by women who shared the same experience. Some books are written from a more psychological perspective and have practical tips for coping. Books written by members of your faith or, books that contain daily affirmations or meditations can often ease your morning or help you go off to sleep. You don’t always have to read the entire book to be able to gather a few helpful ideas.
Celebrate the Life of Your Lost Loved One
It’s an important part of the grieving process to look back at the things that meant the most to the one who is gone and define what they were to you and to others. This can be an annual or one-time event, like first-year anniversary remembrance. For example, one family lost their son when he was in his 20s. He loved the outdoors and hiking and was always conscience and protective of the environment. To honor their son’s memory, his parents send out reminder postcards right before the anniversary of his death to ask friends and relatives, near and far, to pick up trash on this day. My husband, Art, created and administers an annual Sportsmanship Award to junior hockey players. This event, in some ways, provides a kind of healing for the whole town. Whatever you choose, from the small and intimate, to the large and communal, the important thing is that it should represent a meaningful connection to the one you lost.