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It’s okay to do these 3 things when you’ve lost a loved one

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Give yourself permission to let the experience of grief be personal and unique.

Many of us are personally aware that coping with the death of a loved one is not a series of tidy steps to be efficiently checked off a list. Grief is as unique as the individuals who bear its burden. It’s an experience choreographed by the nature of the relationship that has forever been changed by death. No matter how often grief visits, it’s different every time.

Grief comes in waves occasionally, or maybe like a flood. Some go numb, some become physically ill, seek out food, drink or drugs for comfort, or perhaps hide away finding refuge in solitude. Many will take trips down memory lane, rejoin broken relationships or let others slip away. Some thank God for what they had or maybe rage over what they’ve lost.  

Loss is an unavoidable human experience. It inspires our art, plays out in our dreams, and has been studied by endless experts from a multitude of disciplines. All of this makes evident that, while the experience of grief is a personal and experienced differently every time, we all have common ground we share. If you find yourself grieving, here are three tips that you or someone you know may find helpful.

It’s okay to laugh

You are allowed to smile. Everyone should know by now that it’s OK to cry when you are sad, and it is completely natural to feel sad when someone one you love dies. What we don’t talk about as much (which is a disservice to the grieving) is the other side of that coin.

Giving yourself permission to be happy — to feel enjoyment and even to laugh — is not a disloyal act to the dead. Whether the brevity and lightheartedness comes from cracking a joke about the hubcaps on the hearse, reminiscing about fun times past or just soaking in a beautiful day, you are not being disloyal to the deceased by enjoying life. Neither the value of your relationship nor the depth of your love is measured by the number of tears you have cried or how much happiness you have stifled.

It’s okay to ask for help

The gears of the world grind steadily onward. The birds continue to sing as if everything is unchanged. But the people around you, who care for you, know that your world is forever different. These people want to help.

Reaching out for assistance benefits you, yes, but it’s also a kindness to those who care. Many want to help because of how they were helped in the past. Some just love you and want to ease your suffering. Never underestimate the value of just telling people around you what is really going on.

Don’t feel obligated to ask for assistance just to make others feel better. However, when someone says, “Let me know how I can help,” let them know. Laundry, dog walking, babysitting, transportation, meals, advice, or even to just to hang out — all of these things will lighten your burden while making your support circle feel needed. It is a win-win.

Maybe it’s counseling or a support group you need. There are many avenues to search out help. Government agencies, churches, civic groups, and even schools offer lots of ways to be connected with a variety of assistance opportunities.  

It’s okay to take your time

We are not in complete control of the world around us and cannot predict the exact place and time something will happen. Existence, and all of its events, unfurls at a pace we cannot control. The experience of grief is no exception. Just as we can’t control how we experience grief, we can’t control the length of time it lasts, either.

Active grieving can be longer or shorter from person to person. Neither is inherently right or wrong. In dealing with death, just as life, we are each on our own timeline.

Taking time for your health — physical, psychological, and spiritual — is also important. These things can be easy to neglect when experiencing intense and varied emotions. You need to take the time to eat healthy foods to keep you fueled. Proper sleep and exercise will help keep your energy levels and stamina in shape. And take time to relax, even if it is just an extra few minutes sitting in the car.

Grieving a loved one is hard work. There are no easy simple set of steps, no quick cures for sudden jabs of hurt deep in the soul or the waves of sadness that might drop you to your knees. Loving someone is not something to be cured of, and grief is an inextricable component of your love.

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