For most people, the most profound form of loss is the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, many unhelpful myths and misconceptions about grief have held people back from grieving in a healthier, authentic, and compassionate way. Some of the myths are “Time heals all things”, “Talking about my loss only makes it worst”, “I should grieve in five stages”, and “Moving on means forgetting about my loss.”
The truth is grief is messy, active, and continuous. In other words, there is no one formula or specific stages to grieving, and time alone does not heal the broken heart of loss but allowing ourselves to grieve over time heals the broken heart.
If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, the following suggestions from the ACCEPTANCE acronym may help you cope with the loss of a loved one:
A – Accept the reality of the loss
When you lose a loved one, whether the death is expected (e.g., chronic terminal illness) or unexpected (e.g., suicides), it is natural to struggle to accept the reality of the loss. But for most people, eventually, they find ways to accept the reality of the loss.
According to Dr William Worden, helping people accept the reality of the loss is crucial in moving forward with grief. Once we have accepted the loss, we can give ourselves the permission and compassion to be human and grieve.
Some activities that facilitate the reality of the loss include viewing the body after the death, participating in rituals, such as funerals, burials, memorial services, and the spreading of ashes can help come to terms with the reality of the death.
C – Connect with others
You do not need to grieve alone. Take the courage to share your loss with people who love, care, and understand you. You are not a burden to them. You can talk about your memories and experiences of the life and death of your loved one.
Yes, you will feel the pain when you share your loss with others. But you will also find comfort, care, and support that will lift you up.
Besides connecting with others, you can connect and draw close to God and engage in spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, going to church or temple, and serving others.
In addition, based on the research by Professor Robert Neimeyer, as part of healthy grieving, you are encouraged to establish an enduring connection or continuing bond with your loved ones.
C – Practice compassionate talks and actions
Compassion is simply acknowledging your pain and responding with kindness.
Dr Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, explains that “with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”
When we are grieving, especially when guilt is involved, we often fall into the traps of harsh self-judgment and self-criticism. Think for a moment; what are some of the kind talks and actions you would say and do for a good friend who is grieving? Got some ideas? Now extend the same kindness to yourself.
E – Embrace the pain
Grief is a normal and natural response to losses, and part of grieving is to experience the painful thoughts, emotions, and memories associated with our loved ones.
You can fight or run away from the pain, but eventually, the pain will show up and paralysed you. Or you can embrace the pain with kindness and endurance while you remember, celebrate, cherish and honour your loved one.
P – Plan ahead for grief “triggers”
Grief does not magically disappear after a specific timeline. When your loved one dies, you might experience grief over your loss again and again — sometimes even years later.
Specific reminders or grief “triggers” can often bring back strong and intense emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, anger, guilt, or loneliness.
The common grief “triggers” include festive holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. But reminders can also be anywhere and unpredictable. For example, you might suddenly be flooded by sights, sounds, and smells that remind you of your loved one.
Therefore, plan and be prepared as you take steps to cope with reminders of your loss. For example, understand that intense feelings are expected during your anniversary, schedule a gathering or a visit with friends when you are likely to feel alone, and start a new tradition that honoured your loved one.
T – Seek out therapy or counselling
If you are overwhelmed by your grief and adversely affecting your day-to-day lifestyle for a prolonged period, find a grief counsellor to work through your pain and develop strategies to improve and sustain your health and wellbeing.
A – Ask for help
Many people find it challenging to ask for help when grieving. We have been taught to “be strong”, “bury the pain”, “carry your burden”, and “fix yourself.”
These debilitating thoughts create barriers for us to receive help from others and isolate us from building meaningful connections and belonging from our networks.
Be bold in asking for help and let others know how they can best support you. After all, we are all in the same boat — our common humanity in pain and suffering unites us.
N – Maintain a normal lifestyle
Grief can shatter your sense of security and stability. It can also create chaos and confusion in your lives. Thus, it is essential that you maintain a normal lifestyle that helps you keep your roots and some sense of security.
In other words, try not to make significant life changes (for example, moving interstate or overseas, changing jobs or important relationships) that will further disrupt your stability.
Instead, you can create routines and rituals that get you back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others.
C – Care for yourself and others
Do you know that when you grieve, your body releases cortisol (the stress hormones) to cope with the acute emotions, stress and fatigue associated with grief?
High levels of cortisol over a long time can increase the risk of heart disease, digestive issues, body aches and pains, sleep problems and lower immunity.
Hence, self-care is so vital in keeping your body and mind healthy. Self-care is a deliberate activity to maintain or improve your physical, emotional or mental health.
Ask yourself, what activities revitalise you and give you a sense of pleasure and wellbeing? These exclude activities that may avoid stress or pain, such as drug and alcohol use.
Remember, self-care is not selfish. It is looking after yourselves so that you can look after others as needs arise.
E – Express your love and kindness to others
Grief can be consuming. It consumes your energy, attention, and capacity. Hence, it is crucial that you engage in rest and activities that restore your health and wellbeing.
Grief can also be a powerful catalyst to transform your pain into something valuable, meaningful, purposeful, and beneficial to others.
In other words, many people turn their grief into opportunities to express love and kindness to those who are hurting. For example, The Compassionate Friends (a non-profit organisation supporting the family after a child dies) and Wings of Hope (a non-profit organisation supporting the bereaved impacted by suicide) are founded by volunteers who have lived experience of the death of a child and suicide.
You do not need to create an organisation at a national or international level to express your love and kindness to others.
If you are willing, and when the time is right, you can start sharing your journey of hope and courage, vulnerability, and resilience to those in need. You can “use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.”Anonymous