Coping after the funeral
Grief specialist Kristie West on coping after the guests have gone
When someone close to you dies, initially you are busy. Making phone calls and arrangements, dealing with banks and utility companies, supporting other family members, receiving visitors. Then weeks pass, everything has been done, and people slowly stop visiting and calling. But you’re still in the same painful boat. In fact, it can seem worse as there are far fewer distractions.
So how do you cope when life goes back to ‘normal’ - but not for you?
Here are seven tips to help you manage during this time
1. Come back to basics
The first and most important thing is making sure you are ok. A big part of this is going back to the absolute basics, ensuring you are supporting your body so it can support you.
- Eat well and often.
- Drink enough water, and try to avoid alcohol (a well-known depressant).
- Exercise regularly - this is the most unappreciated antidepressant available to you. You might try the gym, dancing, yoga, kick-boxing, or just a walk in the park – whatever works for you.
- Get enough sleep - if you aren’t sleeping well, at least be sure to rest.
- Meditate - if you don't meditate, now is a good time to start. Take some time - even five minutes a day - to close your eyes and take deep, full breaths, focusing on them as you do. It calms the mind and boosts the body more than we imagine.
2. Tell people what you need
One of the toughest parts of this situation is others moving on and you feeling they have forgotten. But this is not their trauma, it is that of those who were linked closely to the person who has died. Remember you still matter to your friends, colleagues and family. They want to help if they can, so let them know you still need their support.
The thing to remember is not everyone can be there for you – what you are going through is incredibly challenging and some people will have issues and fears around death they can’t even admit to themselves. This isn’t about how they feel about you; it’s about how they feel about death. You will have already figured out who can be there to talk about your feelings, who can distract you with gossip, and who will disappear for a little while. Staying angry with those who can't cope uses up vital energy and pushes away people you might need in the future. Just acknowledge who is good for what and draw on them when necessary.
If you tell people you are fine they will believe you, so be honest about how you feel and how they can help, especially when you go back to work. It makes it much easier for others to support you if you don’t expect them to mind-read! Have an honest conversation with your boss and some of your closer colleagues to let them know where you are at and what you might need from them. There is nothing wrong with reminding people this isn’t over for you and that it would be nice to see them for dinner, or have them check up on you weekly.
3. Don’t turn your back on the world
Most people grieving a loss tend to do one of the following: stay very busy/social or isolate themselves. This is about finding balance. Staying too busy can be about hiding from your own emotions - but they aren’t going anywhere and the build-up of them can be painful and draining. I don’t mean that you need to start focusing on your emotions 24-7 and experiencing them all - there is a reason why you don’t experience everything at once - but it’s a good idea to make sure you have some quiet time to yourself, if for no other reason than being around others can take a lot of energy.
Locking yourself away can be just as damaging. Not seeing anyone can make it easy to forget there is anyone or anything else. You can end up feeling like the world has turned its back on you, when really it is you who has turned your back on it.
If you are doing an excessive amount of either one of the above scenarios then challenge yourself to try the other occasionally. The worst thing that can happen is that you change your mind mid-evening and either come home or go out. But just try it.
4. Get the emotion out
Don’t hold emotion in. If you need to cry, do. If you don’t, don’t force it. If you need some encouragement, watch a film that will bring out the tears. I can recommend some great films for this so feel free to get in touch. There is nothing strong about ‘being strong’. Your body doesn’t want to store all that emotion and if you are keeping it in then you can be creating additional emotional and physical stress for yourself.
5. Keep a diary
If you don’t already write a diary or journal, now is a great time to start. I recommend two parts to your writing. The first is just a free-flow conversation with yourself about how you are feeling. It’s a place you can be honest and real and just acknowledge where you’re at. The other part is a gratitude journal. Every day write down five things you are grateful for. They might be as simple as a certain friend you have, the coffee someone brought you, or a memory you have that day. This is to ensure that while exploring your feelings you are still able to see the light in your life and the things you have rather than just what you have lost.
6. Seek professional help
You might want to consider getting a bit of assistance. Getting help doesn’t mean you can’t cope alone: it makes sense to find someone who may be able to help you heal more quickly than you can by yourself. Get in touch with someone who works in the grief field. If you aren’t quite ready for one-on-one sessions, perhaps try a support group. The group you choose is very important so make sure that a) it’s relevant to your situation i.e. a group for the same type of loss you’ve had, and b) that whoever runs the group believes that healing is possible.
7. Know that it’s ok to move forward
A huge challenge can be to take any steps forward in your life when you feel this might be disrespectful to the person you’ve lost. But they would want to see you living your life (if you find this concept hard then imagine what you would want for the people you love if something were to happen to you). Also, the more pain you are in, the harder it is to remember them properly. As you step forward and do some work around your grief it will become easier to think about them. You aren’t leaving them behind. You aren’t forgetting them. You are just starting on the healing road.
Follow Kristie on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kristiewest