Skip to main content
Category

Grief/Loss

Mom holding and comforting her school-age child

Tips for Talking to and Supporting Children after a School Shooting or Other Traumatic Loss: Dos and Don’ts

By Grief/Loss

Sadly, school shootings such as the one in Uvalde, Texas, are not a rarity here in the United States. Neither are mass shootings in other public places, such as entertainment venues and grocery stores. When they occur, news about them blankets news media and social media, and often features in conversations among friends and family. Children hear about these tragedies. What’s more, children in many school districts are trained in gun-violence prevention measures such as Know the Signs and active-shooter drills. They are, in essence, taught to anticipate violence and loss.

No matter how much we would like to protect them from these horrific realities, our children are all too aware that they happen. With awareness come uncertainty and grief. It’s normal for kids to be afraid that a shooting will happen in their school. It’s normal for kids to be sad, angry, and curious about these massacres. We help children by affirming their normal thoughts and feelings and creating an atmosphere of open communication and love.

Mom holding and comforting her school-age child

We cannot untraumatize traumatized children, but we can do our best to help them feel heard and safe. As a grief counselor and educator for more than forty years, I humbly offer the following suggestions.

Do communicate at a given child’s level of interest and understanding.

Each child is unique and will have unique thoughts, feelings, and questions about traumatic events. Younger children will have different understanding and questions than older children. Age is just one factor, however. Different kids process fears and concerns differently. Follow each unique child’s lead. Don’t overexplain; instead, allow their questions and concerns to guide you. Communicate with them in words they will understand and in ways they will feel cared for.

Do know the difference between grief and mourning.

Grief is everything we think and feel inside about a loss. Mourning is expressing those thoughts and feelings outside ourselves. Mourning isn’t just healthy—it’s necessary. Children need to be given safe places and opportunities for mourning in the presence of compassionate, understanding, nonjudgmental adults.

Do be aware that children mourn in doses.

Grieving children don’t express all their grief in one conversation or day. Instead, they continue to feel their feelings and need to express them in doses over the course of months and years. What’s more, their grieving needs will change as they grow older and develop new understanding of any losses they may have experienced when they were younger. Grief lasts a lifetime, and it is our responsibility to continue to care for grieving children as they grow into grieving adults.

Dad hugging young son at home

Don’t assume that children are unaware of or unfazed by school shootings that may have taken place far away from where they live.

We are all grieving the violent deaths of children in Uvalde, Texas, and other communities affected by traumatic loss. Like us, children think and feel things inside themselves about such tragedies. In other words, they grieve. Our job as caring adults is to be on the watch for their normal and necessary grief, to listen to and love them, and to give them ongoing opportunities to mourn.

Do be aware that if children incorporate loss violence into their play, this is usually normal.

Imaginative play is how young children process new information and work through difficult thoughts and feelings. Always wrap them in understanding and empathy before placing any restrictions on their play.

Don’t assume that children are resilient and thus “fine.”

Children are indeed resilient, but their traumatic experiences also become part of them. As I said, there is no such thing as untraumatizing traumatized children. They learn early that life is not only challenging—it can be violent, random, incomprehensible, and deeply unfair. The only way to help them continue to love life even as they incorporate these tragic realities is to make them feel extra-safe, extra-seen, and extra-loved.

Mother holding school-age daughter close in a comforting way

Do model your own grief and mourning.

Grieving kids need to know that grief and mourning are normal, healing responses to loss. If you’re sad or angry, shocked or anxious, it’s healthy to let the children in your life know that you’re feeling these things. It’s good to cry if you feel like crying.

Do help children feel safe.

Anything you can do in the aftermath of a school shooting or other traumatic loss to help children feel safe is a good thing. If they have questions about the security at their own schools, look into the protocols and answer their questions. Work to improve safety as much as you can. Ensure they feel safe in their own homes. Create and stick to routines and boundaries. Be gentle and kind but also firm when it comes to rules that are for their own good. Listen well, and speak less than you listen. For children who are particularly anxious, seek out professional counseling.

Young dad holding his daughter in a comforting way

Do help children feel seen.

We often call grieving children the “forgotten mourners” because their grief can be less apparent and they may seem to need less direct grief support. You can help them feel seen by consistently observing their play and behaviors and giving them extra attention. If you are understandably caught up in your own grief, ask other adults to help you pay close attention to the children in your care.

Do help children feel loved.

Children deserve our unconditional love. To help children feel loved, we give them attention and good care. We ensure their basic needs are well met (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), and we make it clear that we care about their wellbeing. We also make time to have fun with them. Children are our most precious gift. Together we must treat them as such.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator, and grief counselor.  He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is a past recipient of the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award. Among his many bestselling publications are the books Healing a Child’s Grieving Heart and Healing Your Traumatized Heart. Dr. Wolfelt advocates that we “companion” children in grief as opposed to “treating” them. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about supporting grieving children, teens, adults, and families. If you have additional questions or concerns, you can email the author at DrWolfelt@centerforloss.com

Coping with Your Grief Over the Uvalde Murders

By Current Events, Grief/Loss

Uvalde, Texas, is grieving. America is grieving. A single man has committed a crime of unimaginable violence, taking the lives of at least 21 people—19 of them children—and now an entire country is bereft.

Whether you live near Uvalde or far away, whether you personally know someone connected to the tragedy or not, you are probably grieving. Because you have empathy, you are grieving on behalf of the families whose loved ones were so senselessly taken from them. Grief is normal and necessary. In addition, you may be experiencing a loss of a sense of safety for your own family and others you care about. You may have lost a sense of goodness in the world. You might also have lost trust or pride in your country or community. You are also probably wrestling with why this happened, as well, and your search for answers is part of your grief.

Sad woman with head in hands

As the Director of the Center for Loss & Life Transition, please know that your grief is normal and necessary. In these early days, you are likely to feel numbed by shock and disbelief. This is nature’s way of protecting us from acknowledging the full reality of a terrible loss all at once. You may be struggling with anger, helplessness, sadness, despair, and other emotions as well, especially now, at a time when other worldwide events are already stressing everyone’s mental health.

Whatever you are feeling, it’s OK. Your feelings are not right or wrong—they simply are. Accepting your emotions and finding constructive ways to express them, bit by bit, day by day, are how you can best work through your grief.

If you find yourself thinking and talking about the violent act, this is also normal. Trying to understand what happened is what our minds often do. If this is true for you, the ongoing process of learning more about what happened and discussing the shooting with others will likely help you begin to survive this difficult time.

If, however, as a result of the murders you find yourself battling with nightmares or insomnia, paralyzing fears about the deaths, panic attacks, or other severe symptoms, you may be struggling with traumatic grief, which is a close cousin to post-traumatic stress, or PTS. If this is true for you, please talk to your family doctor or therapist about the intensity of your response. They can help you manage your most disabling symptoms and find ways to continue functioning day to day.

Over time and with the support of others, your grief can be integrated into your life. The key to getting through this terrible time is expressing your inner grief outside of yourself. This is called mourning. Ways to mourn include talking about your thoughts and feelings with others, crying, journaling, writing condolence cards to the families directly affected, participating in an online support group, praying or other spiritual practices, making art, helping others in your community, and anything that helps you feel like you are sharing or demonstrating your thoughts and feelings in some way. Active, ongoing mourning gives your grief movement and is the process through which you will eventually reconcile your grief.

I especially encourage you to reach out to others. We as human beings need personal contact. When we are grieving, we also need emotional support. So I urge you to use this difficult time to build relationships. Talk openly and honestly with the people in your home and be as empathetic as you can. Stay connected as much as possible and be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

About the Author

Dr. Alan Wolfelt is an author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a past recipient of the Association of Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books in an effort to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Healing Your Traumatized Heart. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning.

Father and adult son, holding son's newborn twins

Forever in Our Hearts: 10 Ways to Honor Dad’s Memory

By Grief/Loss, Memorial

No dad is perfect, but some of them get pretty close. Whether you love every aspect of your dad or you are still healing from past hurts, you may want to take time to honor his memory if he has already died. For some, this will be an exercise of joyful remembrance, and for others, it will be part of a series of healing actions that may bring reconciliation to life-long hurts. Wherever you’re at on the spectrum, here are 10 ways you can honor your dad’s memory that will help you heal and move forward.

1. Engage in an activity you enjoyed together

Every relationship is different, so whatever you and your dad enjoyed doing together, consider doing that. Whether that’s going to ballgames, visiting Disney World, woodworking, camping, hiking, watching movies, trying out new kinds of food, or painting, do something that will make you feel close to him once again as you honor his memory.

Man smiling and hugging adult daughter

2. Enjoy his favorite food or beverage

If your dad was a food guy, you might consider grilling out, heading to a winery or brewhouse, making his favorite dessert, or trying out something new with him in mind. You could host an event to honor the dads you know and say a few words about the impact your own dad had on your life. Or, at the holidays, you can make sure to include his favorite dishes and share stories while you enjoy a meal with family.

3. Send him a message

While the physical presence of a loved one may be gone, they are still very much alive in your memory and in your emotions. That’s why sending messages even after loss is still a valuable exercise. You could write “I miss you” on a biodegradable balloon and release it to the sky or you could write a letter to say all the things you wish you’d said. Another option is to visit Dad’s grave – a place where he is still physically present – and share what’s on your heart.

Father, son, and grandson sitting on floor enjoying time together

4. Participate in a memorial action

If you are a person of action, you could do something “in memory” of your dad. Perhaps you could run in a 5K or a marathon, donate time or money to his favorite charity, or light a remembrance candle at home or a place of worship. No matter what you decide makes the most sense for your relationship with your dad, you can do it in memory of him.

5. Take a trip to a place he always wanted to go

Perhaps you and dad always talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail, visiting the Grand Canyon, or finally going to that prestigious art museum. While he may not go with you physically, you can still take him with you. Plan that trip and bring something that reminds you of him on the journey. You could even take pictures wearing that favorite hat or bandana of his so that it’s like he’s right there with you!

Father with adult daughter, talking and smiling while outside near the water

6. Reminisce with others (or on your own)

After losing someone you love, telling the stories of your life together is soothing and comforting. So, as you seek to honor your dad’s memory, take time to look at the photos, watch the home videos, and share the stories. You could even place a memory jar in your home where every member of the family can write down favorite memories, and each of you can read each other’s favorites.

7. Create keepsake items

For those who find comfort in sentimental items, creating a keepsake item might be an excellent way to honor your dad’s memory. For instance, you could create something from one of his favorite clothing items. Or you could create a decorative stone with his favorite saying in your yard or garden, so that every time you pass by, you smile at his memory. A scrapbook or photobook is another way to put your memories into one place where you can recall them anytime you miss him dearly.

Father and adult son, holding son's newborn twins

8. Post on social media

In today’s digital age, it’s common practice to post tributes on social media. Perhaps you can post old photos or memories on your dad’s birthday, at holidays, or on other special days. Alternatively, for his birthday month, you could do one post a day sharing memories from your time together. No matter which platform you prefer, you can use your creativity to put together a post that is meaningful to you.

9. Restore an item

Is there something that belongs to your dad that you just love, but it’s seen better days? Then perhaps a way that you can honor your dad’s memory is by restoring or repurposing that item. For a favorite chair or toolbox, you could restore it to its original glory. However, if it’s not something you can fix, you can perhaps repurpose it and create a new item that works for your life now. For example, you could use that favorite flannel shirt to create homemade Christmas ornaments.

Father and daughter walking on the sidewalk, laughing

10. Host a remembrance event

For some, putting together an “official” event will bring additional healing during a time of loss. While the funeral service is an excellent place to begin the grief journey, there may be days in the years to come that need marking. If you’d like to put together a remembrance event – one year, five years, ten years – after your dad’s passing, don’t hesitate to do that. Invite the people who mean the most to you, who knew your dad, and take time to honor him and remember his impact on your lives.

Now, these are just some ideas to get you started, so take some time to get creative. Ask yourself, “What would Dad want to do?” And if you never knew your dad or you had a difficult relationship with him, you can grieve what you wish you had together. Dealing with grief is never easy, but over time, as you do the work of grief and participate in healing actions, you will find the healing your heart needs.

Adult son hugging his mother, both smiling

Grieving the Death of an Adult Child

By Grief/Loss

Losing a child – at any age – is a devastating experience for parents. It feels unnatural and “out of order” for a child to die first, and no one feels this strain more than the parents themselves. While this feeling is universal for all parents, those who are grieving the loss of an adult child face some unique challenges. Let’s look at a few of these challenges before reviewing key tips for processing grief.

senior woman hugging her elderly mother

Challenges Parents Face When an Adult Child Dies

Below, we will discuss 4 of the most common challenges you may face as you grieve the loss of your adult child. If you are experiencing something else, that’s okay. Every family situation is different and will come with its own set of challenges and concerns.

Challenge #1 – Misunderstood Grief

Unfortunately, when grieving the death of an adult child, it’s not uncommon for parents to face disenfranchised grief. This means that other people – family, friends, co-workers, society in general – may not fully understand the pain you’re feeling and may not know what to say or how to deal with it. In general, society has an easier time understanding the grief that comes from the death of a young child, so when the person is an adult child, they are less sure about how to react.

For instance, a well-meaning friend may say, “At least you had 30, 40, 50 years with your child.” While this comment was intended to comfort, it unintentionally makes light of the depth of pain you feel at the death of your adult child. While disenfranchised grief does not occur in every instance, it is something to be aware of as it can add an extra level of challenge to the grief journey.

Challenge #2 – Feelings of Guilt

For many parents going through grief, guilt is a common emotion (and a normal one!). You may feel guilty for many reasons, including feeling that you:

  • Didn’t do enough to help, or you missed the signs (if the death was related to suicide, substance abuse, drunk driving, or another similar reason)
  • Are separate and isolated (if you live far away and couldn’t be as present)
  • Should have been able to protect your child (whether this is realistic or not)
  • Somehow contributed to what happened

You may find yourself reviewing the details of your child’s death over and over, wondering if you could have done something to change what happened. While this review process is normal and your mind’s way of coming to grips with reality, be kind to yourself. The more you practice negative self-talk, the longer and harder the journey toward healing will be.

Adult daughter and father having tea while sitting on the couch

Challenge #3 – Loss of Support

Every family has different dynamics, and for some parents, the death of an adult child means a loss of support – whether that’s emotional, physical, or even financial. This is particularly true for aging or disabled parents, who may lean more heavily on their adult children for everyday care and support.

If this is your situation, you may find that you are not only dealing with feelings of grief but are also facing instability and insecurity in other areas of life. If this happens to you, consider reaching out to friends and family who can help bring more physical and financial security to your life. That way, you have the foundation you need to work through the emotional aspects of your loss.

Challenge #4 – Isolation

As parents, you want to take care of your children and grandchildren. Because of this protective instinct, you may prioritize the grief of your child’s spouse or children over your own feelings of loss. While it’s admirable to offer comfort and support – and you should – try not to neglect your own needs. You’ve lost a child, and your feelings are just as valid and legitimate. Be open about your needs. Don’t suppress what you feel. If you do, you may unintentionally isolate yourself and open the door to deeper feelings of sadness or depression. Care for yourself even as you take care of others.

Mother and son smiling together

Tips for Healing After Loss

Now that you are familiar with some of the most common challenges that grieving parents face, you can be on the lookout for them. Next, let’s discuss a few suggestions for how you can move toward healing.

Give Yourself Time

Grief doesn’t come with a formula or a handbook. It’s a day-by-day journey, working through your thoughts and emotions with intentionality and purpose. It’s going to take time, and that’s normal and right. Don’t rush yourself. While you will never “get over” the loss you’ve gone through, you can learn how to move forward with meaning and purpose.

Participate in Healing Actions

One of the most effective tools for grieving is to participate in healing activities, like journaling, visiting special places, creating memorial keepsake items, writing a letter saying the things left unsaid, or whatever else makes sense to honor your child’s life. Each time you participate in a meaningful action, it will soothe your spirit and help you work through the emotions building inside.

Adult son hugging his mother, both smiling

Let Others Help You

During times of grief, it’s common to self-isolate. While taking time to be alone is valuable and important to the grief journey, remember to also speak out what’s going on inside your heart and mind. Whether you talk with a friend, family member, therapist, or grief support group, it’s important to get things outside yourself. Not only is this practice essential to healing, it will help your friends and family understand where you’re at and how they can support and love you through the journey.

Take Care of Yourself

If you are like many people, you may be tempted to “stay busy” as a way of avoiding your grief. It feels like a good idea in the short term, but in the long run, this tactic won’t help you heal. That said, do the things that must be done but don’t be afraid to adjust your responsibilities for a time. This will ensure that you have time to take care of yourself – mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Father with adult son, laughing together

What’s Next?

Now that you are familiar with some challenges you may face and have learned several healing tips, it’s time to do the work of grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, puts it this way:

Someone you love has died. In your heart, you have come to know your deepest pain. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of people I have counseled over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.

While it may be difficult right now to fathom a future where your pain lessens, it will come. And if healing feels disloyal or wrong, remember that healing doesn’t mean you forget. On the contrary, you will NEVER forget your child’s life and the joy they brought you. Healing is about honoring their memory in beautiful ways, about keeping their memory alive, and about embracing the joy of life for as long as you have it. Blessings to you on the journey.

Easter & the Search for Meaning After Loss

By Grief/Loss

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult things we experience in life. In fact, the word “bereavement” actually means to “be torn apart,” and how true that often is. Because the death of a loved one causes such distress, it affects our bodies, minds, and emotions.

During his years of walking alongside grieving families, nationally respected grief counselor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt has found that there are six needs of mourning. They are 1) acknowledging the reality of the death, 2) moving toward the pain of loss, 3) remembering the person who died, 4) developing a new self-identity, 5) searching for meaning, and 6) receiving ongoing support from others.

Based on his experience, Dr. Wolfelt has found that the people who take time to work through each one of these needs are on more solid footing throughout the grief journey. They are more likely to find healing and reconciliation after loss. This doesn’t mean they “get over” the loss; it simply means they learn how to incorporate it into their life story and begin to move forward.

But What Does This Have to Do with Easter?

One thing that Easter brings us face to face with is the search for meaning (Need #5). The search for meaning is all about asking the inevitable questions that come after the death of someone we know or love and how we should move forward afterward. For the sake of example, let’s imagine the disciples trying to make sense of Jesus’ death.

  • “Why did this happen?”
  • “What do we do now?”
  • “How do we move forward from here?”
  • “If he was the Son of God, how could he let this happen?”

They must have faced so many doubts, fears, and uncertainties. Not to mention the deep grief of losing a beloved brother, mentor, and friend.

It’s the same for us today when we lose someone we love. We are confronted with questions that feel unanswerable.

  • “Why now?”
  • “Why this way?”
  • “What happens after death?”
  • “Why does it hurt so much?”
  • “How has this changed me?”

Jesus’ Followers Search for Meaning

When Dr. Wolfelt speaks about the incredible importance of the search for meaning, he says:

To heal in grief, we must explore these types of questions if we are to become reconciled to our grief.  In fact, we must first ask these “why” questions to decide why we should go on living before we can ask ourselves how we will go on living. This does not mean we must find definitive answers, only that we need the opportunity to think (and feel) things through.

For followers of Jesus Christ all over the world, Easter answers the questions Jesus’ followers must have asked after his death. Jesus rose from the grave, conquered death, and made new life possible for those who believe he is who he says he is. For them, the search for meaning culminated in the most important event in Christian history.

Though many of their questions were answered and they found new joy and a mission for the future, the followers of Jesus still experienced loss.  While Jesus was no longer dead, he did ascend to heaven, leaving them with instructions to spread his message of love near and far.

While they did have answers to why his death occurred and what they needed to do now, the followers of Jesus still had to work through the grief of losing the physical presence of a beloved friend. On many days, they must have said, “If only Jesus were here, he’d know what to do.” We experience the same thing in our own personal grief journeys.

Your Personal Search for Meaning

The search for meaning is a personal experience. It’s normal for two people to come to different conclusions as they work to make sense of the death. Each person must come to grips with the reality of death and ask, “How does this person’s death affect how I live my life?”

For some people, a search for meaning may result in championing a new cause in a loved one’s honor. Writing a book to share a deeply painful but poignantly inspirational story. Pushing away fear and grabbing onto the courage to pursue dreams. Finding renewed purpose to make positive changes. Whether it’s a big change or a small one, a loved one’s death can be a catalyst to deeper and more meaningful living.

So, this Easter, if you are mourning the loss of someone you love, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Just as Jesus’ followers had to re-evaluate their own lives in the wake of Jesus’ ascension and removal to heaven, we, too, must come to grips with what life looks like now that a loved one’s life has moved from one of presence to one of memory. In time, if you do the work of grief, you will find a way to move forward and come to a place of healing and reconciliation.

To learn more about Dr. Wolfelt’s 6 needs of mourning, take a moment to read his informative article, The Journey Through Grief: The Six Needs of Mourning.

Shows grieving man sitting on bed as he pinches his brow

Can Grief Make You Forget Things?

By Grief/Loss

Grief can have a profound impact on us – mentally, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. And as weird as it sounds, grief actually can make you forget things. Why is that? What’s going on, and how can you cope with the effects of brain fog brought on by grief?

Shows grieving man sitting on bed as he pinches his brow

What is Brain Fog?

If you’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, you may find that your brain isn’t quite as sharp as it usually is. You may experience memory loss, confusion, or an inability to concentrate. You might even feel a little worried about it. Have no fear – each of these experiences are normal reactions to grief.

Also called griever’s fog or trauma fog, brain fog is your brain’s response to a trauma you have experienced – the death of a loved one. While “trauma” feels like a heavy word, it’s appropriate. In big ways or small ways, your life has completely changed in an instant, and your brain hasn’t quite caught up to reality.

Brain fog looks different in different people, but here are a few examples of what you may experience:

  • Forget where you put things or what people told you
  • Miss appointments
  • Inability to remember if you’ve completed a task or eaten a meal
  • Feelings of restlessness, agitation, impatience, or confusion
  • Disorganized or unable to complete tasks
  • Fatigue and lack of initiative
  • Don’t enjoy the things you used to enjoy
  • Yearning for the person who has died

Shows a young woman wondering why she can't remember something

How Long Does Brain Fog Last?

The good news is that brain fog is most commonly temporary, but there’s no set or scientifically proven timeline. It varies from person to person. It may last just a few days, a few weeks, or possibly longer. For the vast majority of people, brain fog isn’t a long-term issue and will go away naturally.

However, for some, brain fog can become a symptom of complicated grief. When grief goes on for longer than normal and has a pronounced impact on a person’s quality of life, it may be related to complicated grief. For those dealing with this form of grief, the death becomes center stage in life and it’s impossible to resume normal life. The person seems stuck in a state of intense mourning.

If your brain fog seems to be getting worse or you are concerned about the onset of complicated grief, talk to your doctor about your concerns so you can start receiving the treatment you need to heal.

Why Does Brain Fog Happen?

The death of a loved one is a form of trauma, and your mind and body realize that. Your body releases stress hormones, and soon, those hormones begin to affect your sleep, immune system, and mood. In short, your body and mind are overwhelmed. Brain fog is your body’s natural response to so many heightened emotions and hormones. In a way, it’s a form of natural protection, dulling your senses while you work to process through what has happened. Once you’ve had time to process and grieve, your body slowly releases its hold, and brain fog recedes.

Many common reactions to loss – like shock, numbness, disorganization, confusion – are related to brain fog. But remember, brain fog is temporary, and as you begin to process your grief, you will see it decrease over time.

Shows woman sitting on couch worrying

How Do I Help Myself Through Brain Fog?

The best thing you can do is actively engage with your feelings of grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator who has walked alongside many people on the grief journey, says that the best way to do the work of grief is to open yourself to its presence and honor the pain you feel:

In many ways, and as strange as it may seem, what you need to do when you are grieving is to honor your pain. Honoring means recognizing the value of and respecting. It is not instinctive to see grief and the need to openly mourn as something to honor; yet the capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn. To honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful, it is self-sustaining and life-giving!

To help you on your grief journey, check out these helpful resources:

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

Grief & the Six Needs of Mourning

10 Helpful Tips When Grieving a Loss

10 Myths About Grieving You May Believe

Shows person using calendar and to-do list to remember things

It will take time to work through your loss and come to grips with what life looks like now. For the now, here are some practical ways you can help yourself through brain fog.

  • Keep a calendar
  • Set alerts/alarms
  • Make to-do lists
  • Focus on getting enough sleep
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Do things when you think of them; don’t put them off
  • Give yourself regular breaks

Click here for even more tips and suggestions for dealing with brain fog.

Remember…You’re Not Crazy

No matter how long you deal with brain fog, remember that you aren’t crazy. You’re grieving. Your mind and body are still processing, and as disconcerting as it can be, it’s normal. Be patient with yourself. Do the work of grief. While life is going to look different moving forward, you can do this.

5 Self-Care Tips When You’re Grieving on Valentine’s Day

By Grief/Loss

If you are grieving the loss of someone you love this Valentine’s Day, you may be tempted to push your feelings to the side and pretend that you’re just fine. Instead of doing that, why not take a little time to acknowledge your feelings and then do something kind for yourself? Grief is hard work, and Valentine’s Day can be about showing yourself a little love, too.

Here are a few self-care ideas to get you through Valentine’s Day (and may even make your day!).

Shows three women eating dinner together and having fun

1. Spend Time with Friends

Rather than sitting at home alone, make plans to fill your day with fun activities with friends. Whether that means grabbing dinner, seeing a movie, or inviting people over to chow down on your favorite snacks and watch movies, you can create a relaxing evening filled with laughter and joy. You may still have moments of sadness when you miss your loved one, and that’s okay. Your friends will be right there to love and support you through it.

2. Give Yourself a Gift

Who says you can’t give yourself a gift on Valentine’s Day? It doesn’t even have to be chocolate. Be kind to yourself and give yourself something you truly want. It takes time and intentionality to work through your grief, and you will need moments of joy to help you through. Whether you want books or craft supplies, dinner at a new restaurant you’ve been eyeing, a spa day, or 18 holes at the golf course, make this Valentine’s Day one of the good days by treating yourself right!

Shows a cell phone sitting in a basket away from people to illustrate taking a break from social media

3. Take a Social Media Break

Social media can be disheartening and exhausting on a regular day. When you’re grieving on Valentine’s Day, seeing all the happy posts may not be what you need. Instead, take a break from social media to focus on real life. Talk with friends, read a good book, go out to your favorite local joint – basically, focus on making your own memories and creating an evening of positivity (not comparison).

4. Practice Gratitude

When you’re in the middle of the journey, it can be easy to get caught up in your own grief. Especially on special days – when you may feel out of sorts or down – it’s easy to sink into the mentality that there’s nothing going right in your life. By taking a few minutes to write down what you’re grateful for, you can re-center your eyes on the positives in your life. Another great way to help you focus outward (and not get caught in the spiral of inward focus) is volunteering. Choose an organization you’re passionate about and give your time and compassion to others.

Shows man participating in a relaxing activity like bowling

5. Do Something that Helps You De-stress

During the grief journey, emotions can run high, and Valentine’s Day may be a trigger for you, especially if you’ve lost a significant other. To help you balance your sad feelings with positive experiences, consider doing something that will help you de-stress. This will differ from person to person – exercise, reading, crafting, golfing, movie watching, spending time with friends or family – but find something that will bring happiness to your heart even as you process through your grief.

If none of these suggestions appeal to you, that’s fine. Choose something that makes sense for your personality and lifestyle. The point is…take care of yourself this Valentine’s Day.

Grief takes time, and in some ways you will never “get over” your grief. Instead, you’ll learn how to live with it and make it part of your story. By intentionally adding positivity to your Valentine’s Day, you take much-needed steps toward normalcy as you move forward on the journey toward healing and reconciliation.

to show someone being comforted

Practicing Remembrance & Gratitude During Times of Grief

By Grief/Loss

Grief can rear its head at any moment – at the dinner table, at a holiday family gathering, at the grocery store, or at a child’s piano recital. And this is okay. It’s normal and natural to experience intense bursts of deep emotion during the most ordinary of moments after a loss. But did you know that practicing remembrance and gratitude can help you work through your grief and find your way toward healing?

The Power of Remembrance & Gratitude

As human beings, our memories play a big role in the way we experience life. All you have to do is talk to the family member of a dementia patient to understand that memory is both a powerful and beautiful gift. It’s one that we often don’t appreciate until it’s threatened.

During times of grief, our memories help us process loss. Remembrance allows us to recall and reflect on favorite memories and reminisce about a loved one’s many quirks and beauties. Then, when remembrance is paired with gratitude, we look beyond the pain of now and dwell on the good things in life – both the cherished moments of yesterday and the coming memories of tomorrow. Together, remembrance and gratitude help us heal.

to show someone being comforted

Nationally recognized grief counselor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way:

The truth, paradoxically, is that in grief, we have to go backward before we can go forward. 

In my experience, remembering the past is the very thing that eventually makes hoping for the future possible. Mourners’ lives will open to renewed hope, love, and joy only to the extent that they first embrace the past. Those who fail to go backward before marching forward after a loss often find themselves stuck in the morass of carried grief.

The loss created by death is the loss of the physical presence of the person who died. In the physical plane, their relationship with the person has ended, and so they grieve. But on the emotional and spiritual planes, their relationship with the person who died continues because they will always have a relationship of memory.

Precious memories, dreams reflecting the significance of the relationship, and objects that link them to the person who died are examples of some of the things that give testimony to a different form of continued relationship.

to show a woman taking time to write and remember a loved one

Simple Ways to Practice Remembrance and Gratitude

When practicing remembrance and gratitude, the most important thing is to take your time. Depending on your personality, you may want to spend time journaling or drawing, engaging in physical activity, watching your loved one’s favorite movie, cranking up favorite music, or talking with a close friend who’s prepared to listen.

How you choose to engage with your memories and honor your loved one’s life is less important than actually doing it. Each time, you may do the same thing, or you may do something different. Both options are completely fine.

Here are a few ideas to help you honor and remember a loved one’s life as you practice gratitude:

  • Set a plate out for them at family gatherings
  • Mark their birthday in a special way
  • Host a dinner in their honor and ask guests to share stories
  • Volunteer with organizations that champion your loved one’s passions
  • Keep a journal of memories and thoughts
  • Set up a permanent memorial and visit regularly
  • Create a memorial keepsake (video, photobook, memory box, etc.)

to show a man listening to music and remembering a loved one

Don’t Rush the Process

You will have multiple opportunities each day to practice remembrance and gratitude. As memories surface – triggered by sights, smells, events – take a moment to engage with the memory and then move toward gratitude.

For example, when washing your whites, you might remember a time when your loved one accidentally threw a red sock into the load of whites, and it turned the entire load pink. In that moment, smile at the memory and let it sit in your mind. Then, take a moment to reflect: “At first, I was so mad, but then we laughed about it. I’m so grateful we had moments like that. I miss you.” And then, take a deep, cleansing breath and continue with your laundry.

It will take practice. At first, the memories may be strong and feel like too much. That’s okay. Over time, the intensity will decrease, and you will be able to engage more easily. After all, grief is a journey, and the ultimate goal isn’t to stop missing the person you love. The goal is to find a way to move forward with hope, healing, and peace with beloved memories by your side.

To show a man thinking deeply

What If I Don’t Miss the Person Who Has Died?

It would be remiss not to acknowledge that people are messy, complicated, and can be difficult – some more than others. If the person who has died was a difficult person in your life, it’s alright to breathe a sigh of relief – this is a completely normal reaction. After that, it’s time to get to work.

Even if you don’t miss the person who has died, you need to work through your feelings for your own well-being. This may mean processing through anger, disappointment, hurt, and painful memories. The work will be difficult (and you may need a professional therapist to help you through the process), but those who never deal with the pain and wrongdoing done to them often end up hurting, broken, and sometimes angry, people. In some cases, they themselves become the “difficult person” in someone else’s life, and the cycle continues.

While moments of gratitude may be few and far between with a difficult person, remembrance will help you unpack any deep emotional baggage. After all the trauma you experienced, its effects won’t end simply because the person who inflicted them has died. We must still learn how to reconcile with our past and move forward toward the future in a healthy way.

to show a mother and daughter looking at photos and remembering loved ones

Get Started Today

Now that you understand the power of remembrance and gratitude and how together they can greatly impact your grief journey, it’s time to get started. Pull out the family photos. Watch videos that feature your loved one. Remember the moments – both the good and the bad. Practice writing down or saying out loud what you are most grateful for with each memory. Find ways to honor your loved one’s life in creative ways.

As you participate in these healing actions, your heart will fill with warmth and love. In time, the sting will lessen. And while you will always miss the physical presence of the person you love, you will remember them with great fondness and celebrate their life, legacy, and lasting impact.

9/11: A Day to Remember Together

By Current Events, Grief/Loss

The events of September 11, 2001, are forever ingrained in the memories of Americans (and people around the world) who were old enough to remember the day. Who could forget the terrifying videos and images paired with the stories of heroic courage coming out of New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon that infamous day? And it’s to our credit that we don’t forget. We should never forget but always remember the lives lost on 9/11.

Why is it so important to remember?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, has found that remembrance is an important part of grieving. We can’t move forward (healing) until we look back (remembrance). In his own words, he says:

I encourage you to take grief’s hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.

This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.

In other words, in order to heal, we must grieve. In order to grieve, we must remember. As we remember, we must find the courage to face the feelings deep within us.

How does the act of remembrance help us as communities and a nation?

1. Remembrance creates an opportunity to share life stories

In so many ways, telling a life story is an essential part of healing. As we learn more about the individual stories of those who perished on 9/11, we are forced to confront the pain and suffering of that day. Even more than that, we see each victim as a person worthy of value. A person deeply loved by others, many of whom are still living. A person whose life was cut short but whose memory lives forever.

By telling the stories of the airline passengers, the firefighters, the bankers, the receptionists, the military personnel, the bystanders, and so many more, we grapple with the national and personal grief we feel and honor the lives of those lost to horrifying events.

2. Remembrance strengthens community bonds

In remembering and grieving together as a nation, we strengthen the bonds in our community. Ask a person born before 1994 where they were when the Twin Towers fell, and they can likely give you a detailed description of exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

Every American was touched by the events of 9/11 in some way. As we mark this day, even so many years later, it’s a chance to remember together, to mourn together, and to connect to each other in a profound way. If possible, consider attending a 9/11 remembrance event in your area where you can connect with your community while honoring the lives of those lost.

3. Remembrance re-connects us to our past

We’ve all seen how details can be forgotten or overlooked with the passage of time, even in our own memories. By taking time to intentionally remember, we can connect with the past. We can learn from what has already happened. We can pave the way toward a better future.

Conversations about a painful event are not something to be feared. Healing doesn’t come from blocking out what has happened but from acknowledging it and facing it. By intentionally remembering the events of 9/11 and the lives of those who died, we participate in a healing action – a ritual – that will not only bring hope and healing but will ensure that lives were not lost in vain.

Never Forget

This year, as we remember September 11th, let’s reflect on what matters most in life. That’s exactly what a group of students in a New York classroom did one year after 9/11. This is what they had to say:

We were eight.

Before September 11th, we would wake up with a list of “Don’t Forgets”

Don’t forget to wash your face
Don’t forget to brush your teeth
Don’t forget to do your homework
Don’t forget to wear your jacket
Don’t forget to clean your room
Don’t forget to take a bath

After September 11th, we wake up with a list of “Remembers”

Remember to greet the sun each morning
Remember to enjoy every meal
Remember to thank your parents for their hard work
Remember to honor those who keep you safe
Remember to value each person you meet
Remember to respect others’ beliefs

Now we are nine.

So, let us remember. Let us be unified. Let us never forget and be the better for it.

Two people holding hands in a comforting way

Caring for Yourself Emotionally and Physically When Someone You Love is Dying

By Grief/Loss, Hospice

If you have a friend or loved one who is dying, you’re likely dealing with a lot of feelings right now: sadness, shock, disbelief, anger, anxiety. It’s normal to experience these emotions, and you have every right to feel the way you do. As you juggle your own grief with the need to be there, physically and emotionally, for your friend or loved one, prioritize caring for yourself and realize that you can’t do it all on your own. Below, we will discuss 6 recommendations that will help you tend to yourself and stay emotionally stable as you care for your friend or loved one in their final days.

1. Share Your Feelings

Someone you care deeply about is dying and will soon be gone. Odds are, you will also need support as you explore your own feelings about this illness and the changes you see in your friend or loved one. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment as you talk out your own feelings. To stay available to your loved one, you need to be able to work through your own feelings. Do this with someone you trust.

group of four sitting together, sharing and talking

Additionally, many hospices, churches, and community groups offer support groups for friends and family of the dying—both before and after the death itself. Take advantage of these compassionate resources.

2. Care for Your Body

Visiting or caring for a terminally ill person will zap a lot of your energy – both mental and physical. To make the most of the time you have left with your loved one, you need to make sure you aren’t running yourself ragged. Make sure to eat nutritious meals. Get plenty of rest. Continue to exercise. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Take a break from the sick room.

Colorful plate of healthy foods like broccoli, carrots, chicken, tomatoes, brown rice

If you’re a primary caregiver, it may feel counter-intuitive or just plain wrong to prioritize caring for yourself, to take time away, or to enjoy simple activities, but you will need these times to help you stay afloat. No one can sustain continuous stress, anxiety, and sadness without starting to crack. Adding a few caring habits to your life will help you keep it together and have the energy you need to be fully present with your loved one.

3. Realize Your Own Limitations

It’s important to realize that not everyone can offer ongoing support to someone who is dying. If you feel you simply can’t cope with the situation, try to understand your reticence and learn from it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so uncomfortable with this?” and “What can I do to become more open and compassionate in times of need?”

Do not, however, avoid your friend or loved one altogether. Phone rather than visit. Write a letter or email if you can’t bring yourself to phone. Let them know that this situation is difficult for you while at the same time acknowledging that your loved one’s fears and needs come first.

On the other end of the helping spectrum, don’t become obsessed with the illness or feel that you must be your loved one’s only means of support. Do not emotionally overburden yourself.

4. Establish a Routine

After a terminal diagnosis, everything may feel out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events, people, and emotions you didn’t expect. Your life has lost its normalcy and has been thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some of the normalcy and control you lost. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your feelings.

Woman writing on a calendar, outlining her routine for the week

Additionally, establishing a routine will help your dying friend or loved one. They also need structure to rely on, as their life has been thrown into just as much, if not more, disarray than yours. If you are a close caregiver, establish a routine together. If you are more on the periphery, make sure to communicate your wish to visit on a regular visit and find a time that works best for both of you.

5. Embrace Your Own Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you during this difficult time. Pray with your friend or loved one and with their family. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Read spiritual verses or poems. Sing songs. Find the comfort that your faith can bring to the hard seasons of life.

Woman sitting in church pew

If you are angry at God because of your loved one’s illness, that’s okay. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore. It’s normal to have questions or doubts when faced with death, but as you embrace your own spirituality, you will find the answers you need.

6. Seek Hope and Healing

As much as you may not want to face it, in time, your friend or loved one will die. To love and live wholly again, you must find a way to mourn. In fact, you cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. As painful as it may be, you must embrace your grief in order to begin to heal.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and author, puts it this way: “You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to ‘keep your chin up’ and stay busy and wait to ‘get over’ your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.”

Two people holding hands in a comforting way

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be caring and patient with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

With these 6 tips in mind, start choosing the best ways to maintain your own self-health while supporting your dying friend or loved one. More than likely, you will still be tired and emotionally worn. However, these caring recommendations can help prevent you from reaching burnout as you journey alongside someone you love during their final days.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping children in grief. Published with permission.

Skip to content