- Written by Victor M. Parachin Victor M. Parachin
After her husband, Jay, died, Sherry Cormier, Ph.D., a psychologist and professor of counseling, took time to grieve, reflect, and then publish an excellent book that is a combination of memoir and grief self-help.
In Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness after Loss and Grief, Cormier offers these dozen guidelines for better coping with loss.
1. Reduce responsibilities. In the days and weeks after a loved one has died, do less, not more. Don’t hesitate to accept help when offered. Move more slowly and be more mindful.
2. Resist unwanted advice. People — many of whom have had no personal experience of grief — will offer a wide variety of advice. Again, the time shortly after the death of a loved one is the time to turn inward and follow your instincts.
3. Defer major decisions. The general rule following a death is for a survivor not to make any significant changes for at least 12 months. Grief challenges decision-making skills. As much as possible, hold off on making any major life change.
4. Plan for grief triggers. The first year of bereavement presents many “firsts” — birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, graduations — all of which you will celebrate without your loved one.
These days can trigger deep sadness and sorrow. Expect this. Remind yourself this is a “normal” pattern of grief.
5. Identify vulnerabilities. Cormier says that having medical procedures done without the support and presence of her husband increased her anxiety.
“When I had to undergo my first colonoscopy after he died, I cried when I arrived at the hospital … Now I recognize that I need to rely on someone else as a supportive presence and not be stunned if a fresh round of grief surrounds this sort of experience for me.”
6. Avoid comparisons with other survivors. Just as each personality is unique, each experience of grief is unique. Avoid making yourself feel badly if someone else seems to have recovered more quickly from loss than you are doing. Every journey through grief is different.
7. Do something novel. As grief eases, consider taking up a new hobby, enrolling in a class, or joining a group engaged in activities that interest you.
8. Share your story. As you heal, find ways to use your pain to help others. You could reach out directly to someone else who has lost a loved one very recently, or you could reach out and help another via email or correspondence.
This will take the focus off yourself and increase your sense of satisfaction that something useful is emerging from your grief.
9. Identify what motivates you. “On your worst days, think long and hard about what motivates you to heal from loss,” Cormier advises.
This could be spending more time in spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, or it could mean taking a group fitness class to keep the body healthy.
10. Develop and use resources. Create a “team” of people who can help you ease the pain of grief. This could include a massage therapist, a yoga instructor, a personal trainer, an acupuncturist, a family physician, or a meditation group.
11. Recognize the potentially transformative energies of loss. Grief is a painful but powerful teacher.
Through the loss of a loved one, we learn the importance of living one day at a time. We learn that nothing can be taken for granted. We learn that life can change in an instant. Embrace those lessons.
12. Cultivate a relationship with yourself. “The biggest takeaway message from my grief journey is this: What are you left with after you lose something or someone so precious? Yourself!”
For Cormier, this meant “remembering who I am and staying true to myself despite other persons or situations that expect me to do or be otherwise.”
Victor M. Parachin, M.Div., is a grief counselor, bereavement educator, and author of several books, including Healing Grief.