Twelve Steps for Healthy Grieving
You never thought it would happen to you. Yet here you are, grieving and in pain. It is so tempting to ignore the emotions of grief, because they hurt so deeply. Yet unresolved grief is like buried toxic waste. Although it isn’t evident on the surface it keeps finding ways to come up, and often with unpleasant consequences. It may manifest as headaches or stomach aches, as outbursts of anger or impatience against people who don’t deserve it, as depression or suicidal thoughts, as paranoia or withdrawal from life. It may make you reluctant to get close to another person, or afraid to love.
The truth is: Nothing can simply make your grief go away. Grief must be acknowledged, faced, and resolved. This list of steps for healthy coping with grief may be helpful as you follow your own path to healing.
1. Expect to recover. Affirm that you will be able to make it, and the resources you need are there if you want them.
2. Set long-range goals for things you would eventually like to have or do. Allow yourself to dream, even if it seems crazy.
3. Do short-term things – go to a movie, soak in a bath, read a good book, whatever comforts you and brings some relief.
4. Never go to sleep without breathing deeply, smiling at least once, and being thankful for what you still have.
5. Keep in touch with your feelings as you ride the roller coaster of up and down, round and round, back and forth. All grief gets “re-worked”. You go through it over and over, yet you are always moving forward.
6. Find ways to express your emotions – write in a private journal, pound nails into wood, paint, sculpt, vigorously throw a tennis ball against a wall, write a letter to the one who died or who left you and do what seems right with it (i.e. bury it at the gravesite, tear it up, burn it, keep it in a memory box, etc).
7. Have at least one person you can really talk to honestly and from the heart. If possible, also find a good support group.
8. Read as much as you can. There is great wisdom in the experience of others.
9. Ask for and give forgiveness, whether with the person who died, God, or those still living. None of us are perfect people; we are just people. Accept your imperfections and limitations, and be willing to ask forgiveness for whatever you feel you did wrong, or whatever you feel you didn’t do. Work through the experiences of hurt and anger until you can offer forgiveness in return. Lack of forgiveness shackles your heart, mind, and body. Forgiveness sets you free.
10. Remember the past, fondly and often. But don’t live in the past. There is no future in that.
11. Decide you want to heal. Some people can’t let go of the pain, whether from a sense of misplaced loyalty, fear of living without it, or unwillingness to build a new future. Decide that whatever life you have left is still well worth living. Decide to look for joy. Decide to make each day as good as possible.
12. Make others smile. Give of yourself. Live in such a way that when you die, the world will be a better place because you lived.
Grief does not have to last forever. Toxic waste stinks and can be persistent, but you can begin the clean-up process today. Healing is possible, and joy can return to your life.
© 2011, Amy Florian. Used by permission.