Death & mourning · Grief · Uncategorized

When someone you love passes away

Dear Doc Column


Dear Doc, I’m convinced that without grief there is no healing, but I’m still not sure how to deal with the death of this person I care about. I have so many unanswered questions.  Do you have any helpful ideas for coming to terms with grief?

I was saddened to hear you lost someone close to you. There aren’t any easy words of solace I can offer, nothing as healing and instantaneous as I would wish, but here are a few humble reflections that might make a difference.

(1) Everyone heals in a unique way.  As you grieve the changes in your life, it’s possible you’ll experience different emotions at different times, a mixture of anger, pain, misery, numbness, disinterest, hate, and even joy.  Or maybe you feel little to nothing? That’s okay.  Give yourself space and freedom to grieve in your own way. Don’t judge your emotions.  The depth or nature of your grief response don’t bear witness to how you much you loved that person.  Nor does your healing mean you’ve forgotten them.

(2) Give their life meaning.  For some people, grieving needs symbolism and significance.  Consider doing something meaningful in memory of the person you miss.  This can be a one-time event or a ritual you repeat every week, month, or year.  Consider the following ideas:

  • Write a letter.  Check in with your loved one by writing a letter.  Burn it into ashes over a fire.  Watch the smoke rise and the sparks of red flash about in the air.
  • Devote a moment of creativity.  Write a poem or short story, paint a picture, sing a song, cook a meal, crochet a blanket, do something creative — and devote it to the person you lost.
  • Enhance nature.  Plant a memorial tree, plant, or flower.
  • Make a memory box.  Buy a pretty box, something big enough to fit memorabilia, and fill it with photos, CD’s, and other things that remind you of your passed friend or family member.  Put the box in a special place.  Pull it out from time to time when you need to remember them.
  • Collect photos.  Make a photo album, collage, or picture journal about the person’s life.  Include pictures from magazines, poems, cartoons, drawings… anything!
  • Create an atmosphere.  Once a month for an hour, light candles, burn incense, and listen to music that reminds you of the person you miss.
  • Celebrate their life.  Use anniversaries of their passing to do something fun or important.  Arrange an event in their honor, something they would have liked you to do, no matter how small.  Would they want you to hang out with friends, read a book of jokes, watch their favorite movie, or drive to a cool mountain peak and sing camp songs?  Give it a try!  Would they want you to have a night on the town?  Do it!
  • Take care o f yourself.  Is there something you need?  It’s likely the person you miss would want you to take care of yourself.  Take a long bath, visit a bookstore, watch some stand-up comedy, buy a new outfit, do what it takes to keep yourself going.

(3) Recovery doesn’t mean forgetting.  Healing involves embracing the memories of the person you lost while allowing yourself to enjoy life again. You can’t replace them, nor fill the hole they left behind, but you can expand your world to include new people.  When you’re ready, give yourself permission to broaden your landscape.  Take steps to create a new life: reach out to people you trust, enroll in school, invite work colleagues out for coffee, or attend community events.  Consider getting extra support through your church.  Do something that makes you feel good, like donating to a cause or volunteering.  If you’re alone and can’t break out of that shell, join a bereavement support group or touch bases with a therapist.


(4) Get help if you need it.  If your grief has become overwhelming and destructive, reach out for professional help.  Contact your family doctor for recommendations, or do an online search for “grief counselor.” But if you’re unsafe, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or go to the nearest ER.

Each person grieves differently, and the ideas above won’t ring true for everyone. I hope you find your answers. 

Kim Rosenthal, MD – psychiatrist

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