“Put yourself in a state of mind where you say to yourself, “here is an opportunity for you to celebrate like never before, my own power, my own ability to get myself to do whatever is necessary”. ~ Anthony Robbins ~
Dealing with aftermath of a traumatic loss is a complex process, not a one-time event. One in every six Americans are impacted by loss due to suicide, either directly or indirectly. Inevitably, every human being deals with a traumatic loss in one way or another. Grief from suicide loss is life-changing and earth-shattering, and requires an examination of your past, present, and lost future relationship with your loved one. Society today stigmatizes not only the loss but the very fact that we grieve. Rather than just learning to cope with the loss, it is important that we look at ways to grow from the loss, i.e., post-traumatic growth. Clinically, there are multiple healing modalities, therapies, concepts, and practices that can help us integrate our grief at various stages throughout our journey. So, what to we do to care of ourselves? The following suggestions were compiled from various sources to help you take care of yourself following a traumatic loss, we hope that some of them will be relevant to you.
- Listen to your heart and your body: If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to sleep, then sleep. If you need to talk to someone, find someone to talk to. Go with the flow because it is an important part of the process.
- Cut yourself some slack: Life is different now. Give yourself permission to do less. You can’t possible perform at your peak. Communicate with others that you are not ready to resume your normal daily. Let people know you need time and in almost every case they will understand.
- Communicate your needs: People don’t know what to say or what to do, but they do want to help. Let them know how they can support you. Communicate within the family unit as well. Men, women, children, siblings all grieve different. Listen to their needs and give them space to grieve in their unique way. And, if you don’t want to talk, express that. People will understand and it is your right to choose who and what you talk about.
- Get counseling: If you are traumatized by your loss, get counseling and seek outside help, even if it is just to get your over the hump. There are many support groups as well as counselors or spiritual advisors who specialize in working with people experiencing traumatic loss and complicated grief. counseling.
- Take time to be in nature: Mother natures give us one of the best forms of healing. Take a walk or a hike, ride a bike, go kayaking or canoeing, or fishing . . . whatever you like. Feel the sun shine on your face, feel the breeze against your skin, remember that you are soaking in the healing properties that nature gives to us.
- Don’t give up on the gym: If you regularly exercise, try to keep it up. If you don’t exercise, but want to start — this is a good time to do it. It will improve the way you feel. Just make sure you are healthy enough so you don’t put yourself at risk. Grief will take its toll on your body.
- Get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet: Grief will keep you up at night. If you need help sleeping, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. Don’t forget to eat. Maintaining a healthy diet is essential throughout the journey and will help you feel better sooner.
Journaling the Journey
Writing when facing a deeply painful and emotional loss journaling is one of the best ways to sort through the complex mix of confusing emotions. There are no rules to keeping a journal, but here are some options to consider when making the decision if keeping journal would be helpful to you.
- Only 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week will help release some of the endlessly confusing and conflicting emotions. Pick a writing medium that works for you — both pen and paper — or a computer or tablet. You should feel comfortable and compelled to write at least 4 times per week. There are also on-line journals where, if you wish to share, you are able to share through applications such as www.livejournal.com, www.onlinejournal.com, and www.jrnl.com.
- Try writing a few words that describe your emotions at the beginning and end of every writing session. This can serve to track your feelings over time, especially if you feel like you are sinking or spinning out of control. Often times, getting those words on paper help you to understand your feelings so that you can process them.
- Even if it is painful, try to write both the good memories of your loved one and if you need to, don’t be afraid to write your regrets or feelings of anger or sadness.
- Writing poems can be helpful because the dual process of getting your thoughts on paper and constructing the poem can be very healing and inspirational. Let your feelings flow and you will be surprised at how beautiful the words will become to you.
- Even though it is hard to conceive that we could be grateful in the wake of our grief, practicing gratitude is a good way to help take away that sinking feeling. Take time to list the qualities of your loved one for which you are grateful. When panic sets in and you feel hopless, go back and read your journal entries so that you can reinforce the circle of gratitude.
- Going public with your journal can also lead to healing and can help to memorialize your loved one as well as inspire others. Some favorites such as www.wordpress.org and www.blogger.com provide the ability for sharing online. You can also consider joining one or more of the many Facebook groups where you will find people at various stages of their grief journey.
I had the opportunity to attend an excellent workshop on grief techniques led by Dr. Robert Neimeyer, author of multiple books on grief and bereavement. One an on-line grief support website www.aftertalk.com, Dr. Neimeyer hosts a page “Ask Dr. Neimeyer” which provides multiple resources for support include the ability to ask your questions about your own personal journey.
We hear a lot these days about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a form of meditation. Mindfulness is a process of bringing your attention to your internal experiences in the present moment, being fully present and aware of what you are doing — not about what is happening around you. The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the term “sati” — meaning awareness or mindfulness — which is a significant element of some Buddhist traditions. It is widely accepted that regular practice of mindfulness contributes to greater well-being.
After a traumatic loss, we want to stay close to our grief. We want to be in the thick of it, consumed by it. It is necessary to allow ourselves to accept exactly where we are in the process. Mindfulness allows us to be really present with our grief, to really acknowledge it. Grief ebbs and flows, mindfulness allows us to move with it — in the truth of it. We can eventually begin to accept and integrate it by making small changes in our daily life experiences, noticing and accepting our grief for what it really is.
One of my favorite resources comes from Dr. Ronald Alexendar, author of the widely-acclaimed book Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. www.ronaldalexandar.com. In his book, he lays out the following mindful strategies to recover from traumatic loss.
- Reach out for Support: Don’t try to bear your trauma alone. Ask for assistance from your friends, spiritual leaders, support groups and professionals.
- Sit Quietly and Reflect: No matter the severity of your trauma, sit quietly and ask yourself, “Historically have I experienced other challenges in my life and how did I navigate through them?” Now use these past experiences to tap into your internal courage and strength and explore if you can implement the same strategies again.
- Trust Your Inner Resources: Once you realize that you survived other traumas before now, trust in yourself to know that you can get through your present challenge.
- Learn to Keep Yourself Centered through the Unbearable Feelings of Grief: When the waves of sadness and helplessness wash over you initially, feel the emotion and its depth but then start to breathe through the grief with slow deep breaths. This will help you to stay grounded and bring you back to the present.
- Start Imagining a New Life: Even though you are experiencing immense grief, start to imagine and invent in your mind’s eye a new future for yourself.
- Practice Mindfulness: While doing grounding practices such as meditation, yoga, or even walks in nature remember that your loss is cyclical like the seasons. Even when we are in the depths of winter, we know that eventually it will become more manageable with the advent of summer. Learn to tolerate and pace yourself through the most severe times.
Some of my favorite resources on mindfulness and grief are:
- grief-healing-support.com by Kate Kaszonyi. Kate is a psychotherapist trained Gestalt therapy. She has a simple, holistic approach to incorporating a mindfulness practice into you the grieving process.
- Another favorite is Susan A. Berger and her book “The Five Ways We Grieve. She offers a unique perspective on how we grieve by developing five types of grievers. These include:
- Nomads have not yet resolved their grief and don’t often understand how their loss has affected their lives
- Memorialists, who are committed to preserving the memory of their loved ones by creating concrete memorials and rituals to honor them
- Normalizers, who are committed to re-creating a sense of family and community
- Activists, who focus on helping other people who are dealing with the same disease or issues that caused their loved one’s death
- Seekers, who adopt religious, philosophical, or spiritual beliefs to create meaning in their lives
- Here is some of the mindfulness advice offered in her book.
- Cry when you need to.
- Participate in sacred ceremonies, rituals and blessing related to your loss.
- Return to positive emotional memories and let go of any residual guilt, shame, or fear.
- Mindfully pray, contemplate, and meditate on both content and process of your grief.
- Be as creative as you can be in pursuing joy and healing.
- Do deep, slow, calm breathing often – and on each breath, connect with the healing of your loving heart.
- Recognize and accept the sacredness of this whole process.
- Remember that all your suffering is dedicated to the merit and value of the person you lost.
- Remain focused on being involved in life, more and more over time.
- Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach offer online courses through their website soundstrue.com
Additional resources include Heather Stang’s Mindfulness and Grief Book. Heather has a Master’s in Thanatology and is an expert in mindfulness and grief. You can visit her website at www.mindfulnessandgrief.com.
People have practiced meditation for thousands of years as a path to ultimate consciousness, to develop the ability to concentrate, to understand the mind, and regulate thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There are a multitude of practices and techniques to reach a heightened level of consciousness. True meditation is a means of putting yourself into a state of profound deep peace to achieve inner transformation and a higher state of awareness.
When meditating while grieving the loss of your loved one, it is important to allow yourself to feel the pain rather than try to avoid them or pretend that you don’t feel them. There are many free grief meditations in the public domain. One very good article on meditation after a loss comes from writer Tris Thorp, “Healing After Loss: Meditation for Grieving” as found Deepak Chopra’s website, www.chopra.com:
“Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with grief for the loss of a loved one, take a few minutes to sit in stillness by following these meditation steps.
- Find a comfortable place to sit upright where you won’t be disturbed for 15 to 20 minutes. Make yourself comfortable with pillows or a blanket.
- Begin to breathe slowly and deeply, and place your attention on how you are feeling—both emotionally and physically. Try not to analyze what you are feeling and rather, just be in the experience. Acknowledge your emotions in a gentle and loving way.
- Imagine the face of the person you are grieving. You may think of it as a manifestation of their spirit or just see it as a memory in your mind.
- Now, consider anything that needs to be said or forgiven and begin to have a conversation with them. Visualize this happening in your mind, now. Spend a few minutes saying whatever it is that you need to say from your heart. Then hear them saying whatever they need to say to you from their heart. Tell them you forgive them and hear them tell you that they forgive you, too. Focus on the conversation taking place in a loving and compassionate way—a giving and receiving of open, loving communication with this person.
- Next, focus in on any one of the most positive memories you can recall with this person and immerse yourself in this memory. Relive the happy, fun times and the deep connections that you shared, knowing that what allows grief to release is positive, happy moments.
- When you are finished, take a few slow, deep breaths. Sit quietly for a few minutes and bring your meditation to an end. Do this meditation as often as you need to and know that you can always return to this space whenever you want to feel at peace.”
There are also many YouTube videos on meditation that you can access for free. In addition, many grief coaches or counselors have meditation resources on their websites. One that I like is by F. Michael Montgomery at his website www.inner-healing.com. For those of you who may develop a true love for meditation, you should visit www.insighttimer.com. Here you will find a variety of guided grief meditations that are reviewed by users.
Affirmations and Mantras
One very effective way of taking care of yourself during your grief journey is to find ways of grieving that make you feel better. Sounds simple! In fact, positive words and thoughts can and will help you. Find words that empower you to feel your pain, that motivate you to feel better, and over time you pain can be eased at least a little bit. In short, words are powerful tools to help transform your grief into something positive.
There are many biblical references that can be used as affirmations. One that I used during the worst part of my journey was one that I received during a Catholic mass — “All you holy men and women pray for us”. For me, this meant that I called on others to help heal myself and my family. Another might be “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. You can find words that resonate with you and say them as often as your like.
Here are some others that may be useful.
- I take care of myself as I grieve.
- My loved one will always be held in my heart.
- I am grateful for the time I had with (name)
- It is OK to take time for me.
- It is OK for me to be sad, I will be patient with myself.
- I am finding new strengths within myself.
- I accept what I cannot change and I have courage to change the things I can.
- I feel peace when I am connected to the Divine.
- I am safe, I am well, I am happy. All is well.
- Recovering from grief takes time, I allow myself to heal at my own pace.
- Wisdom comes from healed pain.
- I will grow from my loss.
- I will be reunited with my loved one again.
- Love is eternal and it exists even after death.
You can also create your own affirmation — something meaningful to you — to restore joy and happiness after a loss. Things to remember when creating your own affirmation is that it must have a truth or a “knowing” that resonates within you. When you recite it, it should make you feel connected to your truth, and it should help you relieve some of your grief — from within. Be sure not to let any of the negative voices that we all have in our heads take control! Your affirmations should help you release the pain and replace it with love and peace.
It is not uncommon for those who have experienced traumatic loss to seek engagement with other people who have experienced similar losses. Support groups are a good place to start, but they are not for everyone. I went to a suicide support group hosted by Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S., www.survivorsofsuicide.com) and it was extremely helpful. It allowed me to share, vent, cry, and lament in a very safe setting. Others look for support from their social outlets such as family, friends, and church groups. Since we all respond to loss differently, surrounding yourself with the right people is important because not everyone is comfortable with talking about your loss. Let’s face it, we also must deal with the stigma associated with the loss of someone by suicide or overdose. I have developed a new group of friends who understand my pain. Here are some things that are helpful to me:
- Talking about the death of your loved one with friends and colleagues to understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. This prevents you from isolating and is helpful in finding your narrative about your loved one and the unique set of circumstances surrounding the loss.
- Accept your feelings. People experience all kinds of emotions after the death of someone close. Sadness, anger, frustration and even exhaustion are all normal.
- Take care of yourself and your family. Eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest helps us get through each day and move forward.
- Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well. Sharing stories of the deceased can help everyone cope.
- Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Possibilities include donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.
- If you feel stuck or overwhelmed by your emotions, it may be helpful to talk with a licensed counsellor or other mental health professional.
When you lose someone you love, often we have the desire to create a permanent memory by getting a tattoo. It symbolizes the unbreakable bond that is inked into your skin as a permanent memorial. One good resource is Susan Salluce (www.susansalluce.com), a grief specialist and author of “GriefInk”. Susan says that tattoos become the foundation for one’s loss narrative. In addition, the tattoo gives us the invitation to continue talking about our loved one, the meaning that he or she had in our life, and how this individual continues to impact us. In addition, if you are looking for ideas on tattoos that capture the essence of your loved one, Pinterest (www.pinterest.com) has plenty of ideas for you to consider when selecting a tattoo design.
Music and Playlists
People who have experienced a significant loss often find it hard to express their emotions. Research shows that music can significantly reduce grief symptoms, and it can aid in helping to remember your loved one. Music can sometimes convey the complexity of our feelings better than words. Creating a playlist that can help you through your grief is very useful. You can also create a playlist that captures the essence of your loved one by including songs by your loved one’s favorite artists or that remind you of your loved one.
There are many resources out there that have playlists available for almost any type of loss. 8tracks.com is a good source with a diverse mix of music. Spotify also has some lists put together – you can visit Spotify.com.
Another source I have reviewed contains 21 favorite songs that can help you wherever you are in your journey.
What’s Your Grief (WYG) has two volumes of playlists along with multiple comments where people have included their favorite lists.