5 Ways to Heal from Grief
“What are you doing this summer?”
You know the familiar question that everyone asks in an off-hand, casual way. They don’t mean for it to be callous. And normally the answer is easy:
“Oh, vacations, weekends at the lake, you know, fun stuff like that.”
But when you are going through grief, the question feels awkward, perhaps, even intrusive.
How could I have fun this summer when I’m going through this horrible thing?
For some, the answer is just too difficult to explain:
Because of my loss, I don’t have money (or time off) to take a vacation.
I don’t really feel like going someplace now that I’m alone.
You don’t want to explain how expensive a funeral is, or how you’ve used up all your personal leave and now have no days off this summer.
For those who are alone, taking a vacation by yourself is the last thing you want to do.
So you give a vague answer that gets you out of the conversation about what you are actually doing this summer:
“Oh well, I’ll be doing the usual stuff this summer,” you say.
Not explaining that the “usual stuff” means nothing at all.
So what can you do that will help you heal from a gigantic loss?
Although there’s no one way to deal with loss, there are things you can do that will help you in your journey towards healing.
1. Spend time outdoors
You don’t have to be the “outdoorsy type” to experience benefits from time outside. If you struggle with negative feelings, one study indicates that natural sunlight may help with mood and reduce stress and pain. Another study suggests that time outside helps us sleep better as we age. In the study, seventy-year-olds who spent time outdoors daily had less trouble sleeping and fewer episodes of pain.
2. Do something you enjoy
When we grieve, we often experience something called anhedonia–a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. This is a common experience in grief, especially when it is still fresh. If you are in a place where hobbies that once were enjoyable no longer bring you joy, take a break. Try again later. At some point, your lack of joy will subside and you will be ready to try out your hobby again. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try something new or return to an activity you once enjoyed. Just give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel in the moment. Eventually you will enjoy it again.
3. Give yourself permission to experience joy
Often in grief, we feel guilty if we experience joy again. Author Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Option B talks about the first time she experiences joy after her husband dies.
About four months after Dave died, I went to a friend’s child’s bar mitzvah and I got on the dance floor with an old high school friend and danced to a song I love. And then a minute in, I just started crying. A lot. On the dance floor. He had to kind of take me outside. And I didn’t really know what was wrong, and then I realized I felt OK. For one minute. I danced and felt happy for a minute, and then immediately the guilt just flooded into my body. How can I feel OK when Dave is gone? And what I realized is that it’s not just overcoming the grief and it’s not just overcoming the isolation; it’s giving ourselves permission to feel happy.
To hear more about the book Option B, check out my brief (and very informal) book review on Facebook.
4. Go Somewhere You’ve Never Been
Although travel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (especially if you are alone), for some, it can be a way to disconnect yourself from painful memories and make new ones. A new scene is sometimes a very refreshing break from loss.
One of the best things I did for myself after my son died was to travel to new places where no families memories existed. In the first two years after Silas’ death, I traveled to the Rocky Mountains, Thailand, and Acadia National Park in Maine. Although I often thought of my son on those trips, I had no memories of him there.
On the flip side, I chose not to travel to a vacation spot in Michigan where we spent several trips with Silas. Maybe for some, familiar places are comforting. But if you aren’t sure, try some place new. You don’t have to go far. Just far enough to feel like you are getting away.
5. Remember Your Loved One
If you are dealing with the death of a loved one, find a special way to remember them this summer. Many people use flowers to decorate a gravesite, but there are other meaningful ways to honor them. Sky lanterns are beautiful to release on a summer night. Candles are another way to remember their spirit.
At our grief center, we wrote notes to our loved ones, attached them to balloons, and released them in the sky. As cheesy as it sounds to write a note that you know your loved one will never receive, I found it strangely cathartic to write out what I could not tell my son:
“I love you Silas. See you in heaven someday.”
Why do these kinds of grief rituals work? According to Psychology Today, “Considering the devastating impact that grief can have on physical and mental health, relying on rituals can play an important role in alleviating the deep grief of loss as well as the more mundane losses we all experience.”
In other words, these rituals help us heal from loss.
Here are other ideas for grief and memory rituals:
15 ideas for facing a loved one’s death
20 ideas for remembering a loved one at Christmas
No matter what you are going through this summer, I hope you will not give up on God.
Stay in His Word.
Keep telling him your pain.
He will not give up on you.
Did you hear that?
He knows your pain. He sees your tears.
And he loves you forever and always. ❤️
That’s how you’ll experience the greatest healing of all.