How to Cope after an Unexpected Loss of a Loved One

October 5, 2015



Grief is like an ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim. ~ Vicki Harrison

If you have ever lost someone unexpectedly who meant the world to you, you understand how the waves of grief can wash over you, almost drowning you in an ocean of pain. Letting go and moving on sound like great ideas, but just getting through the day can sometimes seem impossible. says that there are 5 stages of grief to deal with: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But there is so much more to it than that, struggling through the day-to-day existence of your life without that one person who was so much a part of your life you can seem paramount to climbing Mt. Everest with no safety rope. Here are seven steps to learning how to cope with such a loss.

1) Let go of guilt – What could I have done differently? What if I had done x or y? What if I had not done x or y? What if I changed this action or that action? Dr. Phil says that it is common to play the “What if?” game, but that guilt is all about intention, and accepting that there never was any ill intent on your part. If you continue to suffer from guilt long after your loved one is gone, try to figure out where that feeling is coming from. Understanding that holding onto the pain of blame is a way of punishing yourself, and figuring out why you feel the need to do so and where it is coming from, will help you to move through the guilt and into the healing process.

2) Allow the pain and sadness – We all know that holding onto our feelings and keeping them buried inside leads to physical and emotional distress, so this is important for many reasons. states, “Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.” So, let it all out and do not hold back. Let it come out any way that feels good to you, but without hurting others, of course. Scream and cry. Throw, punch, and kick your pillows. Throw a full-out tantrum on your bed if you need to, but allow the pain and sadness to wash over you. Feel every inch of it, and then let it out.

3) Be Angry – It really is okay. Be angry with them for leaving. Be angry that you did not get more time. Be angry that they left you behind. Be angry that you have to deal with losing them over and over again, day in and day out. You are going to feel like a traitor (How can I be angry at them when they’re dead?) but understand that this is all part of the process, and it is okay to be angry. You even deserve to be angry, so be angry…then move on.

4) Take the offers of support from your loved ones – You have lost your loved one and all you want to do is be alone with your pain. Friends and family are calling, visiting, dropping off food, and you have had enough. You just want to tell everyone to go away and never come back. That is okay for a moment, but tells us that having love and support from others is the single most important factor in the healing process. Of course, there will be days when you do not want to see or talk to another living soul, but do not try to go it alone through the whole process. If family and friends are not the answer for you, there are other options to gain support – join a support group, turn to your faith/church, or talk to a therapist or counselor, but do make sure to find a good support system that works for you.

5) Meditate – Most people think of meditation as a spiritual practice, and it is. However, it is also a time of reflection, of connecting, and of stillness. This is a good time to reach out to your loved one and reconnect with their spiritual presence. Most grief comes from the physical loss of death, but once you start to reconnect with them on a spiritual plane, communicating with them in a new way that you didn’t even know existed but that will soon become like normal, you will find that you are not quite as sad over their loss as you once were. In fact, you will likely find that you are having conversations with them throughout the day when you are not even meditating.

6) Let go of their physical presence – This one takes some time, but accepting that your loved one has passed on to a spiritual plane and is still there to love and support you is paramount to overcoming grief. This is where the practice of meditation comes in handy, as reconnecting with a loved one spiritually allows for an easier transition from the loss of their physical presence to finding and connecting with them again in their spiritual selves.

7) Accept the situation as it is – If you think you have grieved too long or too short, cried too much or too little, gave away personal stuff too soon or have not given any away at all, it’s okay. In the end, everyone handles grief, and the pain and sorrow that come with it, differently, so there is no right or wrong way to go about it. Through it all, have patience and try not to be too hard on yourself, because you have already been through enough with your loss. Accept your feelings, accept yourself, accept the situation, and get through it as best as you can, because it is never going to get any easier. However, with enough time, the waves will get smaller and smaller, they will come fewer and farther between, and you will have found a lifeline to hold onto in the form of support from your family and friends. In the end, you will have learned how to swim, and will no longer feel like you are drowning in an ocean of grief.

Healing from deep loss takes time and can be a very slow process. There are many online sources available in addition to the links provided here, like this Wikihow article, to help you through that process. However, if you still find yourself overwhelmed by grief and unable to move forward after an extended period, speak with your doctor about recommending a professional to talk with. Dealing with the unexpected loss of a loved one is never easy, but with lots of love and support, and a few simple things you can do to take care of yourself through the process, you can find your way, maybe not out the other side, but just able to make it through another day.


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