Personal Growth

How to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One Lessons Learned and Healing Strategies

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coping with the loss of a loved one
Photo by Tim Marshall

Coping with the loss of a loved one is not easy. However, these experiences can act as valuable tools for wisdom and growth.

A time to reconnect with family

I don’t usually travel for the holidays, but this Thanksgiving was an exception. My grandmother recently passed away. My parents wanted to pick a date for the memorial service when the whole family could be together in south Texas.

Although it was a sad occasion, the trip provided an opportunity to reconnect with relatives I hadn’t seen in years and to bond with my family.

As usual, I had a long to-do list planned for the trip. But I put all of them aside to spend time with my family and make the most of my time off. I even took a break from posting. Instead of using the plane ride to write a new blog post, I relaxed and caught up on reading.

I learned many valuable lessons that weekend.

You don’t have to be world famous to make an impact

I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that my grandmother received. My parent’s table was overflowing with cards filled with long, thoughtful messages.

sympathy cards

As my mom said, it takes effort not only to buy the card in the first place but to take the time to write something and mail it. How many times have you bought a card but not actually sent it? I know I have.

Maybe you couldn’t think of the “right” thing to say. Or maybe you couldn’t make it to the post office.

These cards came not just from relatives and close friends but also from people who had not spoken to my family in years.

Of course, they live in a small town where people know their neighbors and look out for one another. My grandmother was also very active in the community, taking leadership roles in the church, Garden Club, and library, to name a few.

But as my boyfriend pointed out, none of this would have meant anything if she hadn’t been a kind person.

Now, my grandmother was not your typical “sweet old lady.”

She had strong opinions and spoke her mind.

But she had warmth and integrity, and always put others before herself.

The cards and the memorial service were a powerful testament to just how many lives she touched in our extended family and in our community.

Death is just a passage

Now, I cannot speak for people who have lost loved ones to disease or tragedy. I imagine the grieving process is much different.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is always sad, but at least my grandmother lived a long life (95 years) and died peacefully. We even got a chance to say goodbye. Many people do not.

During the service, though, the priest said something beautiful. He said that when you die, you leave a piece of yourself behind. All those qualities of my grandmother that I mentioned — her warmth, her conviction, her independent mind — are still with us.

signs from deceased
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood

This is a sentiment I will hang onto for the rest of my life, as sustenance for any lonely or difficult times I may have to endure on the road ahead.

After the funeral, we had a boat ceremony. As we spread my grandmother’s ashes into the sea, I thought about the concept of death.

Although my grandmother’s physical presence is no longer with us, I feel her spirit with me every day. Yes, I know it sounds cliche, but it’s remarkable when you actually experience it for yourself.

According to this article, the most common signs from deceased loved ones include a change in energy, a familiar scent, and hearing their voice.

Coping with loss

No matter your beliefs, it can be difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one. In the case of my grandmother, I know it is particularly challenging for my parents, who saw her nearly every day. They would play dominoes together and watch Big Bang Theory and Downton Abbey. They even had a chairlift installed in their house since she could no longer walk up the stairs.

It always comes as a shock when somebody is an integral part of your life and then suddenly they’re gone. We all have our unique ways of dealing with grief, but here are some ways you can maintain a connection with those who have passed.

How do you cope with the loss of a loved one? Discover both practical and spiritual tips for healing. I'll also reveal how these experiences can act as valuable tools for wisdom and growth. | coping with death | what happens after death | death of a loved one | healing after death | signs from loved ones in heaven | writing your legacy | having an impact |

Goodbye doesn’t have to be forever

  • Practical: Having conversations with deceased loved ones, imagining advice they would give you, and keeping their clothes, jewelry, and photos are all ways that you can continue bonds with people you’ve lost. Now when I wear my grandmother’s beautiful necklace (which my boyfriend tells me is attuned with the throat chakra), I think of her.
throat chakra stone
my grandmother’s necklace
  • Spiritual: No matter your views concerning life after death, learning more about this transition can alleviate grief and anxiety. Although I can’t verify that these ideas are true, I found this article — What Happens After Death? — very interesting.

I like the line, “You become the whizzing, vibrating ball of energy that you always were – except now your energy is no longer contained by a physical body.” It’s a very liberating way of viewing death.

Reach out to your network

In addition to keeping our ties with the deceased, we can also lean on our relationships with friends and family to ease the pain.

Talk it out

This doesn’t necessarily mean a deep heart-to-heart with a box full of kleenexes. Even talking to casual acquaintances about your loved one can be therapeutic.

Recently the principal at the school where I teach asked me how my Thanksgiving was. I was tempted to say it was nice and leave it at that.

I’ve long avoided uncomfortable topics like death, though I have gotten better about this since reading Living Like You Mean It.

Unexpectedly, I found myself talking about my grandmother’s funeral and what her life was like.

Conversations like this provide a chance for you to bond on a deeper level. Not only do they help you to process your emotions, but undoubtably the other person has also experienced loss. So both of you benefit.

Spend time with loved ones

They provide an invaluable support system.

Also, each time we confront death, it’s a valuable reminder that we must make the most of our time here on Earth.

I enjoyed many spontaneous moments with my family, like an evening walk to the beach with my cousins and their children that turned into a game of tag. Or a midnight trip to Whataburger with my boyfriend.

What’s your legacy?

My grandmother’s obituary describes her contributions both to her community and her family. How she provided a safe environment for her children while also encouraging them to follow their dreams. How she traveled to Morocco and Peru with my grandfather, Buzz.

Erika Sauter suggests that writing your own obituary gives you the chance to “leave a time stamp with words.” I’d add that it also allows you to think of how you’d like to be remembered.

If it sounds lame, now’s your chance to rewrite your life story.

loss of a loved one
My grandparents in Peru.

Tell me: How have you coped with the loss of a loved one? What have you learned from their life story?

 

 

26 thoughts on “How to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One Lessons Learned and Healing Strategies

  1. Wow Kate! I love this. In 2016, on Christmas day, i lost my grandmother. Like yours, she wasn’t quite the “sweet old lady,” more of a spit fire who always kept you on your toes! I was her main caregiver for the year before her death, and she was mine for my whole life before then. It was absolutely soul crushing to lose her, and is still hard, but I’ve used so many of the tips and methods you mentioned to help cope.
    I made a deal with my husband (then boyfriend) to never spend Christmas in Dallas again, at least for the next five years. Being out of town on the day she passed, somehow makes me feel even more connected with her. She loved seeing photos from my travels and I feel like that’s what she’d want me to be doing, instead of mourning her!
    Thank you for sharing some of the things that have been working for you!

    1. Thank you, Tiffani, and I’m glad my post resonated with you. Your experience sounds much like my mother’s. While she was not my grandmother’s primary caregiver, she did spend a lot of time with her and made sure that she was well taken care of. It made such a big difference to her having my mother play such a major role in her life, and I believe that’s why she lived as long as she did. I’m sure it was the same for your grandmother.

  2. Losing a loved one is really so difficult. These tips are so handy! I believe that time doesn’t heal anything and you have to heal yourself and the points listed out by you will surely allow the person to heal themselves!

    1. Such a great point, Nilakshi! Even if years have passed and you are no longer actively mourning that person, unconsciously your grief may still be lingering unless you’re proactive about healing yourself.

  3. So sorry for your loss.

    It can be very hard for people to face death, whether it’s the death of loved ones, or of themselves. Mortality is a heavy weight, thank you for sharing the load with us.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah. You make an excellent point which is that both losing someone and fearing death can weigh heavily on someone. The more we learn about the process, we more we can accept and even embrace it.

  4. This is a very important post and thank you for writing it. I do think we all need to read this as we will eventually, in our lifetime, lose a loved one. lots of love.

    1. Thank you, Audrey. Yes, death is an inevitable part of life and although it’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel when you lose a loved one until it actually happens to you, it’s good at least to prepare yourself for the process.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss but I admire how you turned your sorrow into an opportunity to help others. This post will be of great help and support to many. I have just pinned. Thanks for sharing your story and invaluable advice. A big hug xx

    1. Thank you, Claudia, and I’m so glad you found it helpful. Yes, it’s a difficult subject to write about for sure, but I knew that writing about it would no doubt help others.

  6. So sorry for your loss. We lost my Dad in July after a difficult few months of him being in hospital. A lot of what you say resonates with me. I’m convinced my Dad keeps sending me feathers, they’ve appeared in some strange places since July, so I like the feather photo! I still often feel sad but I talk to him and am working on recalling good memories instead of the hospital horrors. I also got his wedding ring made into a ring for me which feels very special. I have my mum too, I think it’s important to focus on those who are left as well as remembering those we’ve lost. Thanks for sharing your experience x

    1. Thank you, Alison, and I’m sorry to hear about your father. Yes, I’ve heard about feathers being a common sign from loved ones which is why I felt it was an appropriate photo. Interestingly, when going through my grandma’s jewelry, I also found a ring. It looked like it was originally a fraternity pin that had been turned into a ring, and it dates back to 1868!

  7. I’m sorry for your loss Kate. It’s a brave topic to write about, and thank you for sharing a great message with us. Honesty, I am not sure how I will coop with it. I think I will be at peace when I know that they will be at peace. And in the back of my mind, I also believe that death is part of a life, or at least I want to believe it. It’s something I still need to figure out myself 🙂 thanks for sharing Kate.

    1. Thank you, Ye. Yes, I’m still trying to figure it out as well. My impressions are that it is just an extension of existence, only in a different (and hopefully cooler) form.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this post. At the moment, I have a dear friend who is in the final stages of cancer, and I am at an absolute loss as to what to do. I just feel shattered and helpless. I really appreciated reading this post.

    1. Thank you, Alexandra. I am sorry to hear about your friend but am glad you found this post helpful. Cancer is a tough one — my friend lost her mother to cancer a little over a year ago and I know she is still very sad about it, and my dad also lost a good friend to cancer. I think it’s hard because it seems so unfair and robs a person of their life before their time is up, so it is much like losing someone to tragedy. I think the most we can do is make peace with the process and celebrate the person’s life.

  9. I’m sorry for your loss, Kate.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and helpful tools. Grief work is a vital part of processing loss. I’m glad you got to spend that time with your family. Sending love and prayers especially during this holiday season.

    1. Thank you, Danielle. I was definitely grateful that my family got to be together. Just within our family she touched so many lives and it was nice to be able to celebrate her life as a family.

  10. Thank you Kate for sharing such a personal thing as the death of a loved one. I lost my 19 year old handicapped daughter Clair at 19. The loss was difficult and I was unprepared (as many mother’s aren’t). I wish I had been able to reach out to family who lived inter-state – I did with one sister. I was unable to attend the memorial service sadly. A wish of my other daughter since she was going through trauma in other ways. I hold on to what I had of her. I signed “mum” into her hand a week before she died when I visited her. She didn’t not have the usual mobility or understanding of others and sometimes (like her birth) that makes things much more difficult. Life happens things change and you learn. It is Wisdom for the pain as someone once said. But there is a time of learning and knowing that you can cry tears with someone else in their loss too. I wish that you have special days where you feel close to your Grandmother. She was special. xx

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Deborah, and I am very sorry to hear about your daughter. That must have been devastating. I admire your strength and courage for being able to recuperate from such a difficult experience, and I am glad that you experienced that moment of connection with her before her passing.

  11. Kate, congrats for facing a very delicate topic. As a spiritist, I have a very specific take on life after death, so I may add that, apart from continuing celebrating our loved ones by remembering the best moments we shared with them, I don’t think about death as the end of life, rather the end of a life. Earthly life. We don’t die, we become something else because there’s nothing else we can do here in our flesh and bone.
    Unfortunately, I am the only one in my family with this kind of creed, so I have to face the death of loved ones from a mostly atheist point of view. I lost my uncle in May and I was caught by a great sense of guilt and regret, because in the last eleven years, we had a lot of friction between us, due to my ignorance and misunderstandings. He helped me a lot in my life and I never really thanked him enough. I had argued with him because of financial issues between my mother and him; issues I really didn’t comprehend, so my intervention and quarreling were useless. I had seen my mother cry because of those issues and, thinking it was his fault, I had unloaded my rage on him.

    I was young and irresponsible and that cost me years of embarrassing silences and distance. I always wanted to say I was sorry to him and when I was gathering up the nerve, he passed.

    I felt very bad. The only palliative is that, one month before he died, he had smiled at me, calling me the way he used to do when I was a little kid:

    “Hi, young boy.”

    Deep inside of me, I want to think that, in the end, he had forgiven me.

    Thanks for sharing again.

    1. Wow, Alessandro, so powerful, thank you for sharing. Yes, I think death is the hardest when we have some sort of unfinished business. It does sound like your uncle forgave you, though. He must have also understood that you would naturally take your mother’s side on the issue. Your views on death sound much like my boyfriend’s and I think it is a lovely perspective to see death as just another transition to our next adventure.

  12. Love what you say about not having to be world famous to make an impact. That is so true! Happy you got to spend time with your family to celebrate your grandmother and go through at least the first part of the grieving process together.

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