Death is never easy to handle. What feelings are normal during this time? What helps, and what doesn’t help? You may have unhelpful ideas about loss that keep you stuck. When we know what is normal and what to expect when loss hits, we move through the grief process with less difficulty. For example, there is no time limit on grief, and loss needs to be shared, not kept inside. It also helps to keep communication open and get support. These tips and more can help you deal with loss effectively.

1. There is no time limit on grief.

Eventually, you will accept the loss and gradually adjust. There will always be a void; a physical loss is permanent. Time helps, but the pain never totally goes away. In my experience with patients, it usually takes about two years to move through the grieving process. The actual length of time, though, depends on a number of factors, including how the death occurred, your history of previous losses and the timing of loss in the life cycle.

2. Grief needs to be shared.

Norman Paul, a well-known family therapist who wrote about loss, speaks to the importance of sharing grief. He reflects that the healing, in part, is in telling the story. It not only helps to tell the story out loud, but it heightens the awareness of all family members to the pain and suffering of the others. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone.

3. Keep communication open.

Families must periodically talk about what happened. If you don’t, you risk developing symptoms later. Don’t keep your emotions pent up in an effort to be “strong.”

4. Get support—plenty of it.

Families do better when they can support one another. Don’t isolate yourself from family members. Your physical presence is especially reassuring to children. Some people find it helpful to join a grief support group, especially those organized around similar types of death. The idea is to let other people help you. If someone offers to bring a meal, let him or her. If someone wants to clean your house, thank him or her. If someone wants to answer the telephone and screen calls, say yes. This is a time to accept the support of others.

5. Previous family stress plays a role.

The level of family stress prior to the death may affect grief. If family stress was high before the death occurred, adjusting may be more difficult. If after the death, new family stress occurs, coping can be problematic.

6. The level of your prior emotional connection is important.

The more significant a person was to the overall functioning of the family, the more you will notice the loss in everyday life.

7. Rituals help in remembering.

Rituals help bring closure to death. Children should be part of the mourning process and given the opportunity to attend the funeral, view the body (if that is part of your tradition) and say goodbye. But you know your children best, and you need to decide what will help them most. Make the decision based on their best interest and not on your own discomfort with death.

8. Talk about the person who died.

It helps to tell stories and to reminisce. Acting as though the person didn’t die is not helpful. On the other hand, don’t constantly talk about the deceased. Try to keep a balance.

9. Keep busy and active in your church.

After the initial period of grieving, begin to resume as many of your normal activities as possible. This helps you manage your thoughts and emotions. Do what you can. Avoid extremes. Don’t be rushed into doing things too soon and don’t be preoccupied with activity that may prevent your feelings from surfacing. Your church can give you spiritual support and remind you of God’s presence and concern.

10. Come to terms with forgiveness.

If you are angry about the loss, you must come to accept it and forgive anyone involved, including God. Holding on to bitterness can cause major physical, spiritual and emotional problems. For the Christian, death is not final but we miss the physical presence of those we love. Share all your emotions with God. He can handle them and wants to move you from anger to forgiveness.

Reprinted with written permission from the book “Kids Killing Kids,” by Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., and published by Creation House, 1999.

Dr. Linda Mintle – author, professor, Approved Supervisor and Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – is a speaker and media personality, as well as a licensed clinical social worker with 20 years in psychotherapy practice. 

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