Here’s the good news: there’s a healthy, constructive way to grieve. All of us—adults, children, and teenagers alike—can learn to work our way through experiences of painful loss and come out stronger on the other side. It just takes patience and perseverance.
It’s generally agreed that while grief is never fully done, there are some essential aspects of growing and becoming well again after difficult losses. Here are the basic steps involved in that process:
Accept the reality of the loss. Take steps to overcome the natural denial response. In the case of a death, it can help to view the body and attend the funeral and burial services. Whatever form the loss takes, it’s always a good idea to spend time openly talking about it. Don’t confuse acceptance with emotional stability. Returning to emotional normalcy is something that comes only with the passage of time.
Experience the pain of grief. Many people try to bypass the pain of loss by bottling up their emotions or rejecting their feelings. The only way to overcome grief is to move with and through it daily as the feelings ebb and flow. Fully experiencing the pain—most often through tears or some form of expression—provides genuine relief.
Adjust to the new environment. This may require the grieving person to assume some of the responsibilities and social roles formerly fulfilled by a deceased loved one. In other situations, it can mean getting used to a new school or a new neighborhood.
Invest the emotional energy you have in healthy and life-giving relationships. Stay engaged with life. The goal here is not to deny the significance of your loss. On the contrary, it’s to reach the point where you can remember without getting stuck. New friendships can help you move forward in spite of sorrow and pain.
The important thing is to allow time and space for grieving and growing. There’s no timetable for this process. The more you’re willing to grieve, the sooner you’ll get through it. If your kids have suffered some kind of loss, encourage them to participate in a recovery program, seek out a mentor, or perhaps set aside a few hours weekly to pray, journal, or reflect on their grief.
Keeping Short Accounts
The best way to prevent grief from morphing into suicidal thoughts and actions is to keep short accounts. Acknowledge the pain and deal with it right away. If you or your kids are hit by a devastating loss, don’t try to convince yourselves that it’s no big deal, or that you need to stay strong and not disappoint the rest of the family, or other such thoughts. Instead, make up your minds to plunge straight into the sadness, and then keep on swimming until you reach the other side. It may hurt for a while, but it’s far better than any of the alternatives.
- Lean into your faith and relationship with God.
- Find a safe place to express your emotions (for example, in a journal).
- Seek help and support outside the family. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
- Engage the services of a licensed professional counselor. (Face-to-face sessions are most helpful).
- Stay connected with friends and family.
- Create a ritual, a tradition, or an event of some kind to memorialize your loss (for example, an annual 5K run to raise money for cancer research in memory of a deceased family member or friend).
- Preserve memories in scrapbooks or photo albums.
- Join a grief support group. Share your story with others who have experienced a similar loss.
- Take good care of yourself physically (diet, exercise, sleep).