What to Focus on First
How to find your balance after a loss.
Everyone reacts differently to death. Even when someone’s passing is anticipated, it doesn’t make the shock of losing them any easier.
When it does happen, your mind and emotions may be in such a whirlwind, you’re not sure what to do. If that’s where you are right now, don’t push yourself into legal battles and administrative hoops: start by focusing on yourself and your loved ones.
Accept whatever feelings you have without denial, embarrassment, or guilt.
You may feel any number of things, from numbing shock to despair. You may even feel a sense of relief, as though a long tension has finally broken. That feeling can and will change at a moment’s notice too. There’s no sense in beating yourself up because you expected to feel one way or another, or how you felt one day is completely different from the next. There is no roadmap for an individual’s emotions, but there can be acceptance. Don’t judge yourself for whatever you might or might not feel, and instead acknowledge your emotions as they are.
Don’t compare your grief to anyone else’s.
You might feel guilty because another family member is a sobbing mess while you’re numb with shock. You’re not insensitive or uncaring; you’re feeling grief in different ways, and that’s okay.
Make yourself aware of your physical and emotional responses to grief.
Once you’ve accepted your own emotions, make note of what they are and how they affect your body. Sadness and anxiety can make your shoulders feel heavy and your chest tight, while shock can make you feel light and dizzy. Making yourself aware of these sensations will further help you acknowledge and process your grief.
Make yourself a priority.
It’s easy to forget about your own basic needs in the midst of making arrangements, filling out paperwork, communicating with lawyers and institutions, and making sense of your loved one’s estate. Even when there’s a mountain of responsibilities looming over you, your body and spirit need care as well. The paperwork and creditors can wait while you take care of yourself. Because it’s so common to let your needs fall by the wayside, you can use this app to set tasks for things like eating, drinking water, taking medications, exercise, and sleep so that you don’t forget about your own needs.
Ask for help (or, alternatively, give yourself a break).
If you find yourself unable to take on all the responsibilities you normally would — from folding laundry to taking the kids to school — ask friends and family if they’re able to help. If they’re unable to, give yourself permission to set things aside. The laundry will be just as clean in the hamper as it is in your dresser, the dishes can wait an extra day, and there’s no harm in ordering pizza for dinner if you don’t feel up to cooking. Let yourself take breaks where you can. It might feel like you’re slacking if you like to keep an orderly household, so bear in mind that it’s only temporary.
Give yourself time.
We all live busy lives and feel as though we can’t put anything on hold — but we can, and sometimes we should. Don’t rush back into your normal activities or try to rush your emotions. Grief can be terribly inconvenient, it’s true, and there is no expediting its passage.
Do one thing at a time.
Sometimes too much stimulus can be nerve-wracking and inhibit your ability to process emotions. If you find yourself trying to cook dinner while on the phone with your loved one’s mortgage lender as you fill out a form to close their credit card account, it might be time to put everything down and breathe. It’s normal for our shock to push us into keeping busy: for many, productivity staves off the heavy presence of grief. The problem with this approach is that we often make the emotional whirlwind of losing someone even more tumultuous with constant action. Allow your body some calm by performing just one task at a time.
Spend time with your loved ones — and acknowledge when you need space.
When the world is carrying on and it feels like you’ve been left behind, it can help to spend time with those who are affected in the same way as you by someone’s passing. Making that connection can be healing and help you feel less alone, especially if you tend to rejuvenate your spirits in the company of others. Know, also, when you need time to yourself. Listen to your body and shrug off any guilt you might feel about declining to visit or talk. Do pay attention to how much time you’ve spent with others and how much you’ve spent alone, and compare it to your normal inclinations. If you notice you’ve become overly dependent on others, or you’ve shut them out, think about inching out of your comfort zone to recalibrate.
Reach out and lend support (if you have the bandwidth).
If you know that a friend or family member is struggling to cope with someone’s passing, don’t hesitate to reach out and offer what support you can. Sometimes it helps just to tidy up their home, bring over a meal, or simply sit in each other’s company. Maintain awareness of your own state of mind and spirit, too, and give only what you’re able to.
If you need extra support, you can turn to family and friends to talk, cry, or whatever else you feel you need to do. Additionally, you might consider:
Seeing a therapist.
If you’re having trouble making sense of your own emotions and mindset, find a local therapy center or clinic and see if a therapist has any openings to assist you with processing your grief.
Joining a support group.
Check local listings for groups centered around grief and loss. Sometimes it can help you gain a new perspective when you hear a stranger’s story and insights. This also gives you the opportunity to make new friends and have that much more support.
Writing a letter to the person you’ve lost.
Oftentimes a loved one passes with many things left unsaid — and unheard. Your mind might be racing with regret over things you wish you had told them. Writing these things down can halt the words in their tracks and get them out of your head. If these words are meant to be private, you can always destroy the letter afterward.