How to Cope with Child Loss: Part 2
You can read part one here.
You’re feeling tired, unmotivated, unable to cope with the small stresses of life.
You’re probably dealing with the side effects of grief. These aren’t the ones we normally associate with mourning, like tears or sorrow. But they are still part of the grieving process.
To deal with grief, here are some ways to cope and begin on the healing journey:
1.Balance your busyness
It’s easy to take on too much in grief and avoid pain. If you do this, the pain will just reemerge when you have free time to think about it.
Then an unhealthy cycle will begin.
It looks like this:
- You seek busyness, because when you’re busy and distracted, you’re less likely to think about grief.
- During less busy times, when your mind has time to process the grief, you are suddenly blown away by how heavy it feels.
- Grief causes pain, so you look for things to distract yourself.
- In essence, busyness becomes a drug that numbs the pain.
- You cycle through this over and over.
Although it’s okay to have some activities to look forward to (because isolation can be a problem too), be sure to have unscheduled time in your calendar to process the grief.
During the first year of grief, I made sure to build in plenty of time to process. I took walks, I wrote, I talked to friends. When I felt ready, I slowly started back into activities I wanted to do.
I was not working at the time, because my son needed 24 hour care and I was his primary caregiver. I realize now that not having the pressure to go back to work was a huge blessing for me. (Although I’ve heard from others that the distraction of work can be good too, as long as it is not too overwhelming.)
I went to grief groups. I talked to friends. I made sure not to overcommit or become too isolated. Although there is no perfect balance (grief is still hard, no matter how “balanced” life is), giving yourself time to grieve is essential.
2. Recognize that anniversaries and birthdays can be hard.
Significant dates, like the anniversary of the day your child passed away, will often trigger grief.
The discussion leader in my grief group told us that grieving people will often feel something is off the week before a significant anniversary or date. They will feel a heavier weight, more moody, irritable, or just “not right.”
Anticipating these feelings helps the whole family weather the grief bursts.
Another way to get through a significant date is to remember your child in a special way.
- If you have a gravestone, find ways to decorate it. I’ve seen children’s gravestones decorated with movie themes, stuffed animals, and kid-friendly seasonal decor. (Check with the cemetery for rules before leaving objects.)
- Light a candle or release a balloon or sky lantern.
- Eat your loved one’s favorite meal, watch their favorite movie, or do their favorite activity.
- Writing letters to your loved one can be a therapeutic way to process your grief.
- Some people will also donate to a charity, raise money through a race or fundraiser, or find another way to honor their loved one through a gift.
3. Be kind to yourself.
Grief is tough. You’ll go through a every kind of emotion, sometimes on the same day. You may not be able to function normally for months or even years. Sleepless nights, excessive tiredness, no appetite, lack of motivation–all these are part of your body’s reaction to grief.
The best thing to do is give yourself time and space to grieve.
Need some help? Here are ways to start:
Adequate exercise or a brisk walk. There is a lot of evidence for how exercise affects mental health, depression and more.
Nutrition and regular meals. It’s amazing how you forget to eat when you’re grieving. Or you eat a bag of Cheetos instead of a real meal. Over time, the poor nutrition will take a toll on your health, so at least try to get a well-rounded meal regularly.
Sleep. This one is hard. Poor sleep is normal when you are grieving, but if it persists over a long period of time, check with your doctor or a counselor. Exhaustion can keep you from feeling or acting like yourself.
Self care. This means different things for different people. For women it might be a day at the spa, a massage or a special outing. It means doing something to take care of you.
For more information on remembering a loved one, see this post.
For remembering a loved one at Christmas, check out this post.
I hope these steps will help you on your healing journey.