If you have lost a loved one, you’ve probably already realized that there are so many emotions and feelings that come along with an unexpected or expected loss of a loved one.
No matter where you are in terms of your grieving process, it’s important to remember that your feelings are valid, and you’re not on anyone else’s timeline when it comes to healing.
To find out how people work through their grief while still honoring their loss, Verywell Mind interviewed Frank Anderson, MD, a psychotherapist and psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of trauma.
How to Cope in the Immediate Aftermath of Loss
Dr. Anderson explains that, in today’s culture, there’s often a lot of pressure to move on and heal quickly after a loss. So, he’s adamant that the goal shouldn’t be to just move on and get over someone.
Remember to Show Yourself Compassion
Healing takes time, and you should show yourself patience and grace as you work through your grief at your own pace.
My goal when working with someone who has suffered a loss is to help them hold on to what they need or want to hold on to and to let go of what no longer serves them or needs to be carried.
— Frank Anderson, MD
Allow Yourself to Experience a Range of Emotions
Instead of focusing on distinct phases of grief and trying to rush through them, research actually shows1 that it can be harmful to stick so staunchly to these preconceived ideas of what the stages will look like, especially for people that don’t feel like that has been their experience.
Dr. Anderson reiterates this advice by saying that the goal should be to settle into a peaceful mental place rather than worrying about where you think you’re supposed to be.
Anderson describes the fairly common experience of someone dealing with a loss: they receive an overflow of love and support in the immediate aftermath of the loss then experience feelings of isolationas everyone else tends to go back to normal.
Remember That Healing Takes Time
While it’s easy to fall into feeling like you need to move on, it’s OK to take time to grieve. Dr. Anderson reiterates that it takes time to process all of the feelings that accompany a loss, and people should feel comfortable taking as much time as they need.
He notes that he often finds himself reminding clients that it’s only been a short period of time when they express feelings of wanting to be past their feelings of grief. “The passage of time is important when dealing with grief and loss,” he says.
How to Cope After Time Has Passed
Dr. Anderson discusses some ways in which he helps clients heal after some time has passed following the loss.
In general, Anderson encourages people to embrace memories or dreams that continually pop up, even if time has passed.
“I find that people who constantly think about the person or repeatedly replay memories or scenarios related to their loved one often have parts of them that are trying to keep the memories alive,” says Anderson.
By this, he means that the mind is trying to keep the memory of that person alive and well. While this may feel like you can’t move past something, it could be that your mind is trying to hold on to the memories that brought you joy.
Anderson also specifies that if your mind is constantly replaying something, it may mean that it’s an important memory that could bring you peace as you heal.
Don’t Bury Your Feelings
Dr. Anderson explains that he encourages his clients to focus on what they are feeling in the present moment, which can often lead to healing. When people do this successfully, people will often feel more validated having truly considered what they are feeling.
Finding Meaning From the Loss
Research has shown2 that many people arrive at a place of healing after they feel that they have derived meaning and context from their loss. This is especially relevant when people can allow different feelings to exist at once, meaning that they can accept their sadness and yet still hold on to the meaning of the relationship. This can help people get to a place where it’s easier to regulate their emotions.
Remember That Negative Memories Are Normal
It can be especially hard to cope with the loss of a loved one if you feel like you never made peace with them over something personal. It’s also common for people to keep replaying everything that they could have done to provide them with better mental, emotional, or physical support.
While these things are normal, it’s understandable if they make healing more difficult.
“Negative memories or feelings of guilt are also a normal part of the grieving process,” says Dr. Anderson. “I help clients explore the origins of these feelings.”
Especially when clients are continually re-hashing things that they wish they had done, Dr. Anderson says he works to “validate these parts of my client, letting them know I understand why they would feel this way and gently help them come to terms with the vulnerability and true lack of control any of us have over the inevitability of loss in our lives.”
Can You Ever Really Move On From the Loss of a Loved One?
While finding meaning after a loss is often mentioned, it can be hard to know exactly what that means.
To help figure this out, researchers followed3 people after the loss of loved ones and checked in with them immediately after, one year, 13-months, and 18-months after their losses.
For their study,3they chose to define meaning as the ability to make sense of the event itself and find a benefit in the experience. Making sense of the loss was important during the first year, and even resulted in less stress. However, benefit-finding was more important in determining the person’s ability to adjust in the long term.
This definitely supports the idea2 that the ability to derive meaning while still feeling sadness and other emotions can be critical to getting to a place of healing.
What exactly moving on looks like will be different for every individual. It means that you are able to reach a place where you don’t think about them every minute of every day, or even that you reach a place wherein you’re comforted by running across reminders of the loved one.
The Type of Loss Matters
The ability to heal can also depend on if the loss was anticipated or sudden. Research has shown4 that sudden losses can lead to close family members experiencing PTSD, and it can be helpful to consider group therapy. Families who have had to face caring for a loved one that was dealing with a long-term illness tend to face more feelings of helplessness,5primarily tied to their desire to help care for their loved one when they were alive.
Article Shared From Very Well Mind
If you or someone you know needs help processing their grief, please call 830-372-5980 to speak to one of our therapists.