How to Process Grief After Losing a Loved One
"...something new is created when the person you love dies. Because they are not the only ones who die: you die, too. The person you were when you were with them is gone just as surely as they are. This is what you should know about losing somebody you love. They do not travel alone. You go with them." --Augusten Burroughs
After losing Dad to cancer in January 2017, I would often think about him. At night, I would get into bed, I would turn off the light and think about my day right before drifting off to sleep. There is something about the quiet of the night hours. Memories of Dad would come up. I wouldn’t just cry, I would sob. I would cry so hard and not wanting to wake K up, I would go to the bedroom downstairs to let it out. I didn’t need to be comforted by someone else in that moment. It was something for me to feel and go through on my own.
Sure, there are moments when he is there with me and just the feel of his hand on my back as I cried was the comfort I needed. No words, just his hand resting on my back. But most of the time when I needed to cry, it had to be solo. I talked about it with people close to me and journaled about it. Those things definitely helped but the main part of the process was physically grieving.
And sometimes it would hit me, out of the blue. During a regularly scheduled MRI test, I was chatting it up and laughing with the technician I see each time. He prepped me and buzzed me into the MRI machine. The scan lasted 5-10 minutes and by the time he buzzed me out, I was in tears. I went from feeling fine to grieving in a matter of minutes.
Each time there has been a big loss in my life or some sort of trauma—a death of a loved one, a big car accident or a loss (of a very personal nature that I may share another time), I cried my eyes out until I didn't need to cry anymore.
“Handling a crisis from the emotional rather than the intellectual level will shorten its duration dramatically." --David R. Hawkins
When the emotions hit and you feel like crying, do it. If you have the time and the space to cry, let yourself release it. You will feel sad and it will be overwhelming. Your chest will ache and feel heavy. It will feel terrible, and you will feel despair because you won’t know when it will end. It will be hard.
Then, it will go away; each of these mourning spells will last for about 15 minutes. After you cry, it will disappear because instead of walling it off and pushing it away, you have allowed the grief to go through you. It can and will return later. It could be the next day, or the next week. But each time you surrender and fully experience your emotions, it will fade. It may not ever be completely gone, but it will not hurt likes it does in the beginning.
I forgave him for not doing things differently and I did the same for myself. In doing this, I went through heavy grieving for a much shorter period than I thought it would take—a few months. Now, when I think about Dad, there is some sadness but nowhere near where it was. I just miss him and feel a void where this person used to be. It’s strange not to have him around.
The experience of losing Dad reminds me be in the moment, to listen more and to look at what is truly important.