There are many factors involved in how a person adapts to the death of a loved one. They range from the meaning of the loss and previous loss experiences of the bereaved to the way the loved one died and the social support system available, to name a few.
Nevertheless, much is known about what exacerbates the grief process and prolongs, in some instances intensifies, pain and suffering. Learning what doesn’t help when mourning can add immeasurably to the progress of your grief work. And work it is when attempting to manage the many aspects of change brought on by major loss.
Here are six key understandings about what not to do when grieving and therefore save the large amount of emotional energy they suck up.
1. Refuse to isolate yourself. There are clearly times when you need to be alone and you have to tell your caregivers thank you and excuse yourself. On the other hand, continually staying away from social interaction is extremely unwise. Even though you don’t feel like being around others, remember it is highly therapeutic to tell the story of your loved one and how the death is affecting you.
2. Refuse to stop eating. Often you may not feel like eating, which is a common reaction. Yet it is essential to drink water and eat a green salad each day as well as small amounts of protein. It is essential for one key reason: grieving takes an enormous amount of energy. Be aware that many mourners become ill partly because of poor eating and the increase in caffeine consumption. Combined with the distress of grief they compromise the immune system.
3. Refuse to stay around toxic people. Often well-meaning friends and neighbors say the wrong things at the worst possible time causing additional stress and pain. It is your right to excuse yourself from their presence and make every attempt to minimize your contact with them during the most sensitive time of your mourning.
4. Refuse to let pity get the best of you. It is quite normal to think why did this have to happen to me at this particular time, and to say to yourself it is very unfair. But to assume the role of victim, and continue the focus on pity, results in an immobilizing state that injects emotional poison into the process of adjustment. Switch from focusing on the ngative to where must I go from here.
5. Refuse to use alcohol to assuage the pain of loss. Many who have suffered the loss of a loved one have reacted by either starting the use of alcohol or increasing the amount they drink. Keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant and if you are already down or depressed it will augment your depression. Choose the best alternative: interaction with a trusted friend at the time you would normally do your drinking.
6. Refuse to believe you are being punished. Some mourners believe that the death of their loved one is in part punishment for real or imagined transgressions. They think, I’m bad and I deserve this pain and suffering. This attitude has no basis in truth but is often spawned by the neurotic guilt (guilt in which the effect is all out of proportion to the cause) that is a common part of grieving. God or the Universe does not operate in this fashion should you believe in this myth.
In summary, coping with the death of a loved one is a stressful and demanding ordeal. And, there are a number of negative behaviors that creep into the coping process that you can avoid. Be willing to seek information about grief. There are many organizations out there that sponsor support groups, and facilitators well versed in understanding the grief process, which will help without charge.
Remember, we need each other. It is not a sign of weakness to seek assistance in time of need. Rather, it is a sign of intelligent choice.
Dr. LaGrand is a grief counselor and the author of eight books, the most recent, Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved. He is known world-wide for his research on the Extraordinary Experiences of the bereaved (after-death communication phenomena) and is one of the founders of Hospice of the St. Lawrence Valley, Inc. His website is http://www.extraordinarygriefexperiences.com