Experiencing the death of a loved one is extremely personal.  Each one of us responds differently to loss.  There are so many variables when it comes to losing someone we love.  There are many different factors that will contribute to your feelings: what your loss is, how the loss happened (whether sudden or expected), the age of the person that was lost (young lives that had so much potential as compared to a life of someone who has lived a long, meaningful life), and the depth of the relationship. The bottom line is that no matter what kind of loss you are dealing with, you will be left to manage your own grief.

Grieving is a tremendously personal journey.  There are no right and wrong ways to deal with grief.  I have recently suffered a tremendous loss in my own life, so allow me to share with you parts of my journey in hopes of helping you in yours.

A peek into my journey

I lost my cousin, who was also my best friend and like a sister to me, to cancer last year.  I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t part of my life.  We grew up together, went to school together, got married around the same time, and had our children close together.  She was always a part of my everyday life–whether that meant birthdays and celebrations, funerals and sorrow, promotions and joy, she was there.

Losing her has been one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced.  Even though her death was expected, I didn’t know the emotions I would feel until the time came. I had been part of her journey with cancer. I even shaved my head when she lost her hair, just to relate to some of what she was going through.

I often think of the day she got the terminal diagnosis. I stayed overnight with her in the hospital. We had a pajama party.  We laughed, we cried, we hugged, ate snacks from the vending machine on her hospital bed, and we talked and talked.  We talked about times we shared and the future that we wouldn’t.  She encouraged me to make my life count. She has inspired me to move out of my comfort zone and to follow my dream. There were times during her hospital stay for chemo treatments that we would video chat, and I would be there with her through the distance while she fell asleep.

After her death, I was at a loss of what to feel. Sometimes I cried a lot; other times, I couldn’t cry. The main thing that I learned was to allow myself to feel whatever it was that I felt.  It does no good to push the feelings under. It is healthy to go through each step of your grieving process.  I remember watching a TV show one night, and I started sobbing because it reminded me of her.  My husband, who was so supportive during my loss, asked me what he could do to help me.  All I wanted was my favorite picture of her.  I sat and held the picture, touching her face, and cried. As time goes by, I find I am able to feel her through the things I do. Pieces of her memory are scattered throughout my life, and they bring me comfort.

Give yourself permission to grieve.

This may sound strange, however, it really is important that you allow yourself to feel the things you feel.  Everyone has their own reactions to loss.  Some people want to talk about the deceased member, while others are more reserved and are uncomfortable speaking of the loved one who has gone.

This is your journey; not anyone else.  Do what comes naturally for you.  If you want to display photos and have a special area of remembrance for your loved one, then do it. Depending on how you like to express yourself, Facebook sometimes can be a great way to say what’s on your mind.  There are times when I will go to my loved one’s page and just write her a message.  Although I realize she isn’t actually reading it, somehow, to me, it feels like a connection to her.

Grief comes in waves.  Sometimes, at unexpected moments, you will see, hear, or smell something that reminds you of the person and tears begin to flow involuntarily.  I remember one day, I was at my desk and a visitor came by and she was wearing a fragrance that reminded me of my cousin; without warning tears just slid down my cheeks. Of course, moments like this are overwhelming and a bit embarrassing, but if you just explain that you have recently lost a loved one, most people understand. It is important to allow these things to happen.  Don’t fight your feelings.  Don’t be afraid to let them out. It is a form of healing for you.

Find Support

There are grief counseling places that specialize in the grieving process. These may be helpful for you. They are able to discuss things with you to help during the most difficult times. There are also groups that meet and talk together, sharing stories and experiences.  Depending on what you feel your needs are, you can determine whether or not this type of interaction is something that you would find beneficial.  If you don’t desire to do something on a professional level, make sure you find support in a group of friends or family.  You need to have someone who understands what you are going through. You need to feel comfortable to share your feelings. I found it wasn’t necessary to always have someone say anything back to me, but just to be there to listen to me. Realize that you are not alone in your grief; there are resources to help you.

Honor your loved one’s life

There are many wonderful types of organizations that will allow you to host an event in honor of your loved one. If your loved one died due to a certain illness, find an event that would benefit research on that particular disease, while honoring your loved one’s memory. Find a local cause that your family member was fond of and sponsor an event. For instance, I was able to ask my cousin what she would like me to do to carry on her memory after she was gone. She was always helping others through food banks and shelters and such, so I am organizing a food drive in her memory.  You can start a scholarship fund in your loved one’s memory. Be creative and find the perfect outlet to honor your loved one. This is a positive way to celebrate your loved one’s life and help others in the process.

Take care of yourself

It is very important during a time of great loss to take care of yourself.  Grief impacts your body in huge ways by depleting its energy and emotional resources.  Listen to what your body is saying.  If you need extra rest and quiet time, take it.  Don’t judge yourself during this time.  After losing my cousin, I felt tremendous exhaustion. Oftentimes, it is difficult to cope with routines because suddenly they are different than they had been.  A small task may seem daunting.

Pace yourself during this time. Don’t expect a lot out of yourself. Your body and emotions have been through major difficulty. It is common to experience sleep difficulties, concentration problems, appetite lose, and even compulsive behavior. Realize all of these are typical and there isn’t anything wrong or crazy about you. Allow yourself the time you need to mend.

Unfortunately, the death of a loved one is inevitable in life. Everyone will lose someone at some point. Understanding that you are not alone, celebrating your loved one’s life, and taking care of yourself are all important aspects on your road to healing your grief. My wish for you today is that if you are hurting, you will find comfort. Remember that those who have gone on are cheering us on to live a life that counts. Make each day special and leave a legacy for others to remember.

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Featured photo credit: sad little girl sitting near the window in the car with toy in her hands via Shutterstock

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