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Setting Goals for Grief and Loss By Reid Peterson, Creator of Grief Refuge

Most of the time in life, as well as in the act of doing and growing, it’s helpful to have goals. Goals that help you track where you want to go and how to grow. Goals that are even called SMART goals; which is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic,  and Time-bound. 

Some people who coach others through grief may try to set goals, whether they are simple goals to make it through the day or Smart goals to help people recognize their obstacles,  benchmarks, and track progress to see how far they’ve come along. There’s nothing wrong with  trying something like that but many people impacted by grief say that Smart goals don’t work so  well. They feel so much pressure to move on too quickly. They also feel like their emotions are time stamped, and after 6 months or so, they’re in the wrong if they continue to feel sadness,  depression, or despair.

Have you set goals throughout your grief process? If your answer is no, please don’t worry about any thought that you need to or that you would be better off having goals to get through  grief. 

If your answer is yes, what comes up for you in the efforts to attain success in meeting your goal? Does it feel comforting or supportive? Does it feel authentic or helpful? 

Grief is an all-encompassing experience and if you set goals but don’t achieve them, how will  you treat yourself? Will you get down on yourself and add more hardship to your already difficult  loss related thoughts and feelings?  

Or will you let yourself off the hook, reevaluate, and set a new or simpler goal? 

Your answers to questions like these will help you determine if setting goals in your grief is a  good idea or not. Most people that are grieving really want to keep things simple. The thought of  setting goals might feel daunting or overwhelming. 

Trust yourself in determining if grief related goals are a good thing for you or not. Trust your  heart and trust your soul in making such a decision. Your grief process is unique and the last  thing you want to do is put more pressure on yourself, feel overwhelmed, and then feel stuck in  your grief. 

Hopefully by now you have some clarity about where you stand with setting goals in grief. If you are looking to set some grief related goals, this section will provide three tips. If goals for grief  aren’t meant for you, scroll down to the next section to read about an alternative to setting goals  that could be of great help in your grief process. 

Goals in general imply that there’s an end in sight. In grief, the end is commonly thought of as  “getting through it” or “moving on.” Another common goal in grief is to simply “feel better.”  

If grief and feeling better had linear progression throughout the process, it would be much easier  to achieve goals such as these. Unfortunately, grief doesn’t work that way. Nobody can  progress through grief in a linear way. 

But if you feel lost and you need some goals to get you on track, there are a few things that you  can focus on to help manage grief and live more harmoniously between the pain of grief and  everyday experiences in moving forward. 

Grief Goal #1 Create a Sanctuary 

When you’re grieving, a special place within your surroundings can be used to help process  grief. This place can be an area within a room of your home, the whole room itself, a place  outside, inside your car, or somewhere within your community, or even at a landmark that’s far  away.

You don’t want it too far away from you though. It needs to be close enough so that you make  time to go there. Ideally, you’ll benefit from spending time there frequently when your grief is  really raw. As you process your grief and it begins to soften a bit, you’ll likely not need to spend  as much time there. 

At the sanctuary, how you decorate it is up to you. Depending on where you are, you can set  out objects that remind you of your special loved one and help you feel through the emotions  that come up.  

The point of creating a sanctuary is to spend time there, mourn your loss, and also have some  boundaries in place so that your mind can start adapting to life moving forward outside of the  sanctuary. Essentially, you’re dosing your grief. It’s a focused time to grieve and mourn. It’s also  limited. You can set a time limit for how long you spend in your sanctuary each day. 

There’s a book titled Honoring Grief: Creating a Space to Let Yourself Heal that lists in detailed  fashion how to create a sanctuary for your grief and healing.  

Within the sanctuary, there is sacred time to process grief. Outside of the sanctuary, life does  continue. You don’t have to suppress or ignore any waves of grief that hit you outside of the  sanctuary but you can take a mental note to return to it at another time or you can take a brief  moment to let yourself feel what comes up. 

Grief Goal #2 Make a List of What You Want in the Year Ahead 

If you’re able to, spend some time at a cafe in your community and make a list of 5 things you  want in the year ahead. Try to make your list exclusive from your grief. I know you want to feel  better and you want the pain and hurt of grief to go away but if your goals are all focused on  your grief itself, you may be setting your mind to paying more attention to the pain of your loss. 

You may not know what you want at first and you may also want something to honor the legacy  of your loved one. Any goal, whether small or big, simple or complicated, is okay to list. This is  about your life and what you want.  

It’s important to keep your list to 5 goals or less. In grief, less is more. Keeping things simple is  more effective. Grief can overwhelm so easily so keeping a list of goals to 5 or less helps you  stay focused and more relaxed about it too. 

Listing out 5 life focused goals will help sustain some balance in your grieving process. You may feel a sense of normalcy at times, whether that’s in your sanctuary grieving or standing in front  of your refrigerator and looking over your list of life goals.  

Grief Goal #3 Schedule Time to Rest

Grief has the ability to make you feel more fatigued. Rest and self-care are critically important throughout the grieving process. Similar to setting aside time to spend in your sanctuary, you  will also benefit from scheduling time to rest.  

It’s easy to think that the more you keep yourself busy, the less grief will hurt. That has some  truth at times, but more often it’s a coping mechanism that can lead to greater emotional  discomfort in the future.  

If you think that resting won’t do you any good because your mind will think about only your loss, look for a companion to help you make time for restful activities. Movie night is a great  example of such an activity. Finding a friend to watch a silly comedy can be restful and  restorative to your health and to feeling a sense of joy. 

There are also nature walks, baths, naps, getting massages, stretching, mindful breathing, and  listening to music. There are plenty more things to do to help you feel rested. Hopefully, this  short list of ideas can get you started doing something to rest and care for yourself. 

There are many more goals you can set to help process grief. It doesn’t guarantee you will  move through grief quicker. But it does guarantee that there is more awareness and attention to  your grief, which does aid in the healing process.  

As with other goals in life, grief related goals don’t have to be concrete and judged as either a  success or failure. They can be adjusted, adapted, and even replaced when they no longer feel  important, necessary, or relevant. Grief is an exhausting yet powerful force that can change the  outlook of goals over a short period of time. Remain flexible and open minded if you choose to  set goals for your grief. 

If goals for grief and loss don’t work for you right now, there’s an alternative that may help. It’s setting daily intentions.  

Intentions are different from goals in that being intentional allows you to focus on how you want  to be in the moment, independent of some kind of completion of a goal. Intentions can be set  based upon your values and what matters most to you. 

In grief, the moment is valuable. Being in the moment can help you handle all the emotions that  come up. Intentions are focused on the present moment, where goals are focused more on the  future. 

Also, intentions are lived each day. There’s less pressure to achieve something grand, as often  is the case when setting a goal. In grief, if the goal were to feel better and 3 months from now  you feel worse, it can be easy to criticize yourself, feel guilty, and also judge yourself for feeling  like you’re stuck and/or not grieving right.

Grief isn’t a linear experience. It may be more helpful to set intentions. It can help to eliminate  self judgment and criticism that may come from the belief that you’re not grieving right. 

Setting intentions may better serve you when you’re grieving because intentions are more  internal. They’re based on your relationship to yourself and to others. Goals are based on  external achievements. Intentions are naturally more self compassionate, forgiving, nurturing,  and supportive. 

When grieving, it may be a challenge to come up with intentions that are supportive and helpful.  Your brain may be foggy and it may be hard to remember, plan, and make clear decisions.  Some examples of intentions for your grief include setting boundaries, reaching out for help  (when needed), treating yourself and others with kindness, staying honest, and forgiving  yourself and forgiving others. 

As you think about your grief and what you want in your life, please keep in mind that intentions  work better when they remain loose and flexible. The last thing you want to do is to place an  expectation on yourself. There’s so much change as a result of loss. There’s also  transformation. If any of your intentions turn into expectations, you may feel disappointed in  yourself when they aren’t met. Do your best to adjust the sails when grief forces more change.  One way to ensure that is by keeping an intention an intention. 

Hopefully, you now have some clarity about whether focusing on some goals or setting  intentions for your grief would be of most help to you. Regardless of what you choose, kindness  and compassion for yourself are critical elements to your growth, your healing, and even your  perception of feeling better and getting through grief.  

If you set goals for your grief, try to keep things simple. If you set intentions, stay loose and  flexible. Navigating grief is a process of surrendering to the moment and honoring your own  thoughts and feelings. Avoid any pressure that’s either self-induced or from outside sources.  Trust the process and honor its timing. 

Reid Peterson is the Creator of Grief Refuge. The Mission of Grief Refuge is to help the grieving  find peace and purpose after loss. More info is available by visiting griefrefuge.com.