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family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

6 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend at Thanksgiving

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief, Seasonal, Thanksgiving

With food to prepare, family trips to manage, and upcoming holidays to plan for, Thanksgiving can be a busy and stressful time. For those grieving at Thanksgiving, this season can also bring heartache. Because Thanksgiving is a family-centered holiday, people who have lost a loved one may see reminders of their loss all around them. A holiday that once brought joy may be a painful reminder of their loved one’s absence.

Whether you have a friend or a family member who has lost a loved one, you can help make Thanksgiving a little bit easier for them. Here are six ways you can help a grieving friend at Thanksgiving!

1. Check in with them

friends catching up outside during the fall

One of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend is to check on them. This is true at any time of the year, especially on holidays and special days. Take time to ask your friend how they’re doing and truly listen to their response. They may not want to talk about their grief and pretend everything’s normal, or they may pour out all their emotions to you. Or they may not want to talk at all! That’s okay. Just let them know that you’re thinking of them and ready to listen when they’re ready to share.

As you talk with your friend, try not to talk too much about your own past grief experiences or offer advice unless it is asked for. Everyone grieves differently, and your friend may just need you to listen to them. Above all, focus on listening and supporting your friend as they navigate their grief.

2. Encourage them to set boundaries

pumpkin mug next to cozy blankets

For many of us, it can be hard to admit when we need to step back or ask for help. This can especially be true for those who are usually in charge of planning for holidays like Thanksgiving. A grandmother may feel like it’s her responsibility to manage everything in the kitchen, or a father may feel like he has to organize the family football game, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Encourage your friend to set boundaries and say no to things if they don’t feel up to participating.

3. Invite them to join your celebration

friends holding hands at Thanksgiving

No one should have to spend Thanksgiving on their own. Maybe your friend is older and has just lost their spouse, or maybe a single friend lives far from their family. Inviting your grieving friend to join your family’s Thanksgiving celebration can be a beautiful way to support them and show that you care.

However, if they refuse to join you, don’t take offense. Your friend may not feel up to being with a large group of people, especially if they don’t know the other members of your family. You can always offer alternatives, like just visiting for part of the time or meeting up for lunch the day before. Just make sure they know your offer is genuine and they are truly welcome.

4. Share food with their family

family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

Planning, cooking, and serving a full Thanksgiving meal can be daunting for a family that has lost a loved one. If you don’t mind making extra and sharing, offer to help your friend’s family by bringing them food on or before Thanksgiving. Providing even one dish can be a huge relief for a family that is grieving at Thanksgiving. You could even gather several other friends and each make a dish to share with your friend. Just make sure you check with your friend first, in case they’ve made other plans for their Thanksgiving meal.

5. Create a new tradition

friends sharing pumpkin pie together

While some people who are grieving want to stick with their usual traditions so things feel normal, others may want to try something completely new. You and your friend can create a new tradition together! Maybe you can try a new pie recipe before Thanksgiving, set up family interviews to learn more about your family history, or participate in a Turkey Trot together. You can even help them find ways to honor their loved one at Thanksgiving. For example, you and your friend could create a memorial for their loved one or volunteer in their loved one’s name.

6. Offer to help in practical ways

friend raking leaves

Many people have trouble asking for help because they feel like a burden – especially when everyone else is busy during the holidays. If you know your friend might be struggling, offer to help in practical ways. You could offer to put up fall decorations or do yard work. Maybe you could pick up groceries for them when you do your own grocery shopping. You can help watch their kids or pets on Thanksgiving or the day before while your friend gets things ready. If your friend has family coming in from out of town, you could pick up their family members from the airport. Take initiative and offer to help with something specific so your friend knows you truly want to help.

Above all, make sure your grieving friend knows they’re not alone, and give them time to process their grief. While it may take them time to accept your help or feel comfortable sharing their feelings, being available and supportive is a wonderful way to show you care. As you celebrate Thanksgiving, let your friend know that one of the things you’re thankful for is them and their friendship!

Sad woman sitting on chair at home

Coping with Grief: What are Grief Triggers?

By Grief/Loss

After the loss of a loved one, we all experience grief, but every grief journey is different because every person is different. What you feel really depends on your personality and your relationship with the person who has died. Some people will experience sadness, guilt, and regret, while others will feel shock, anger, and fear mixed with the sadness. Both of these reactions are completely normal and natural responses to loss.

Sad woman sitting on chair at home

As you process your feelings of grief, they will lessen in intensity over time. However, every so often, you will experience a sudden burst of grief. These moments are called “grief bursts” and are often brought on by a grief trigger. Today, we will discuss what grief triggers are and what you should know about them.  

What are Grief Triggers?

Simply put, a grief trigger is anything that brings up memories related to a loss. That’s very broad, but it’s true. Grief triggers will vary from person to person, so it’s good to pay attention to what triggers grief in you particularly. For example, you may be walking through a department store when the smell of mom’s favorite perfume hits your nose. The scent evokes memories of your mom, and before you know it, there are tears in your eyes. The scent was a grief trigger.  

Focus on man's profile, placing his hand on his forehead

What Types of Things Act as Grief Triggers?

All kinds of things can become grief triggers, even years after a loss. The thing to remember, though, is that these sudden bursts of grief are natural. Even after you’ve learned how to live without that special person, there will be moments throughout your life when you deeply miss them. However, some of those moments of grief may be the result of grief triggers.

Grief triggers may be something you can anticipate, like:         

  • Loved one’s birthday
  • Upcoming holiday
  • Family occasions
  • Death anniversary
  • Days with special meaning to you

Other grief triggers may come from unexpected sources, which can make them more challenging to identify, like:

  • Smells, sounds, sights, actions
  • Songs, words, places
  • Movies, people, colors
  • And anything else that stirs a memory

As you work through your grief, pay attention to when these sudden bursts hit you. What were you doing? What did you see? Smell? Hear? Did a memory come to mind? As you identify your personal grief triggers, you can better prepare for them in the future.

Mother and daughter sitting on couch, daughter sad and mom comforting

What Should I Do When a Grief Trigger Hits?

While it may not be what you want to hear, try to embrace the moment. Too often, we bottle up our emotions and don’t properly process them. While a grief trigger may come at an inopportune moment, the people around you will understand. Friends, family, and even strangers are capable of great compassion, especially if you give a brief explanation, like “These flowers remind me of my wife.”

Nationally respected author and grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative—denying or suppressing your pain—is, in fact, more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, ‘How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?'”

Choose to befriend your pain, to make it familiar and eventually part of who you are. You never “get over” the loss of someone loved. Instead, you learn how to reconcile yourself to the loss, knowing that so many beautiful chapters of your life are dedicated to that person. And you can cherish and re-visit those chapters whenever you want.

Husband and wife sitting at couch at home; husband sad and wife comforting him

Should I Try to Stop Grief Triggers?

Grief is complicated, and as a general rule, we human beings don’t like difficult things. So, you may be tempted to avoid grief triggers as much as possible. If the grief triggers are debilitating, then it may be best to avoid them when you can. For example, if passing your dad’s fishing hat on the hat rack by the front door always triggers your grief, consider moving it to another location for a while. In the early days of loss, your emotions may be especially intense. Over time, they will lessen, and you may begin to find comfort in your dad’s hat.

However, don’t avoid all grief triggers all the time. It’s essential to learn how to deal with your emotions when they arise, no matter the situation. When a grief trigger comes, accept what you’re feeling, engage with it, and when possible, express your feelings. You can express yourself through tears, talking to a friend, journaling, or whatever works best for you. In other words, don’t avoid your grief; that leads to unhealthy habits of avoidance. To heal, you must face the pain head-on, even though it’s hard. 

Quiet woman in green sweater sitting at home, thinking and grieving

What if My Grief Triggers Become Debilitating?

If you are experiencing many grief triggers or your grief triggers are causing you anxiety, it’s best to seek out a grief counselor or therapist. They can give you professional advice on the best way to handle what you’re experiencing. And even if your grief triggers aren’t debilitating, it can be beneficial to speak with someone who’s there to listen and help you process what you’re feeling.

And if going to see a counselor feels intimidating, that’s okay. Many people feel nervous when trying new things. Give it a try and see whether it will work for you. Some people only need to attend a few sessions to see improvement, while others find that speaking to a counselor on a regular basis is just what they need to live a more balanced life. And if you’d rather not meet one-on-one, you can join a grief support group instead.

Woman and female therapist talking together

With this information, you should better understand what grief triggers are and the role they play in your grief journey. As you continue to heal, be aware of your own needs, taking note of what triggers you and how you respond to the triggers. The more you know about yourself, the better you will handle grief bursts and triggers when they show up. Best wishes to you on the journey toward hope and healing!

woman comforting another woman at a grief support group

What to Expect at a Grief Support Group

By Grief/Loss

Losing someone you love is hard, and you may feel overwhelmed as you navigate life without your loved one. You’re not alone! While everyone grieves differently, many people find themselves struggling after the death of a loved one. That’s why many people find joining a grief support group helpful.

woman placing her hand on another person's shoulder

A grief support group can be a great way to surround yourself with a support system after a loved one’s death and hear from others who have also lost someone they love. Plus, you can learn how to express your emotions and grief in a safe space.

But going to a grief group for the first time can be intimidating! While every grief support group will be different, here are a few things you can expect at most groups.

Facilitator-Led Discussions

woman comforting another woman at a grief support group

Most grief support groups have a facilitator who helps lead discussions, organize the group, and keep everyone on topic. Depending on the group, the facilitator might be a licensed counselor, a religious leader, or a peer from the group. Some groups may also have more than one facilitator or rotating leaders, depending on the size of the group and how often they meet.

When choosing a grief support group, consider what type of facilitator you would prefer. Do you want professional expertise and advice from the leader? Or would you rather be part of a group led by a peer who has experienced something similar to you? Everyone has different needs, so look for the type of facilitator who fits your wishes.

Time to Share and Listen

man talking at a grief support group

A big benefit of a grief support group is having a safe space to talk about what you’re feeling. For many people, this idea can be intimidating. However, expressing and acknowledging your emotions is an important step in your grief journey. The emotions you feel after a loss, even anger and guilt, are normal, and refusing to talk about them will only make things harder for you.

However, you won’t be forced to share if you don’t feel comfortable! You can also learn a lot simply by listening to others as they speak about their own experiences with grief. Hearing from others can be a great way to learn that you’re not alone. While everyone grieves differently, hearing about others’ grief could help you find new ways to process your own emotions. Plus, as you share your struggles and grow together, you can support each other along your grief journeys.

Grief Education

Person sharing at a grief support group

Grief support groups aren’t just for talking about what you and your peers feel. They also provide a space for you to learn more about what grief is, how different people experience it, and what you can do to progress along your grief journey. Grief doesn’t end the day of the funeral, and your facilitator and peers in the group can help you learn more about how to cope with your grief in a healthy way.

Plus, many grief support groups can provide you with grief resources, like brochures, flyers, or online articles. Some grief support groups may recommend reading certain books about grief, and your facilitator may be able to point you to more resources, like professional grief counseling.

As you look for a grief support group that works with your needs and schedule, remember that every group will have its own guidelines and methods. You may not like the first grief support group you try, and that’s okay! Keep looking for one that works for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for extra support from close friends and family.

Resources

Your local funeral home should be able to point you to grief support groups in your specific area. Additionally, you can check out these online resources for grief support:

Woman under an umbrella, standing near a lake

5 Strategies to Cope with Anticipatory Grief

By Grief/Loss

You are likely familiar with feelings of grief, but did you know that there are different variations of grief? Of course, the experience of grief is different from person to person, but sometimes grief can take a turn and become something a little different. The four most common variations of grief are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded grief, and anticipatory grief. Of the four, anticipatory grief is the most common and least concerning.

With that in mind, let’s unpack anticipatory grief so that you have a better understanding of what it is and how to cope with it.

Mother comforting sad daughter

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief, also known as preparatory grief, is a type of grief that occurs before the actual loss or death of a loved one. This form of grief is a common experience among family members and friends of a terminally ill person. Anticipatory grief can be complex and challenging, as individuals may experience various emotions, including stress, sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety.

Anticipatory grief can be a positive or a negative experience. On the one hand, having time to process the emotions of grief before the loss can spur you to make meaningful choices. For example, you could spend more time with your loved one, or take the opportunity to have meaningful conversations and say things you’ve always wanted to.

On the other hand, the stress of watching someone you love slip away a little at a time, such as with Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, can bring about feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and stress.

Husband and wife hugging, offering each other comfort during a time of loss

5 Strategies for Coping with Anticipatory Grief

If you are dealing with anticipatory grief, these five coping strategies can help you process your complex emotions and gain peace even in a difficult situation.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Anticipatory grief can be overwhelming and all-consuming. Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and grounded. Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath and observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

You may reflect on the things you are grateful for learning from the person you love. What valuable lessons have they taught you? What values have they passed on that you will carry with you after they are gone? Feel free to share these thoughts with the person you love, if you can. It will mean more to them than you know!

Two people sitting across from each other, each cupping a coffee mug in their hands; aerial view

2. Connect with Others

Anticipatory grief can feel isolating because the loss has not yet occurred. That is why reaching out to friends, family members, and mental health professionals who understand what you’re going through is so important. Understanding and acknowledging anticipatory grief can help you cope with the impending loss and find meaning and peace during a difficult time. Join a support group or seek out a therapist who can provide guidance and support throughout this journey and beyond.

Self-care; man sleeping on couch

3. Take Care of Yourself

Grief of any kind can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.

If you are a primary caregiver for a terminally ill loved one, practicing self-care is crucial to your well-being. Feelings of frustration and burnout can make anticipatory grief even more challenging because you might feel guilty for getting angry or losing patience.

Ensure that you are not neglecting your needs as you care for another individual. You might take a walk to clear your mind, take a nap if you are exhausted, and follow routines that keep you grounded and centered.

Woman sitting at home, writing in a journal, expressing her thoughts

4. Express Your Feelings

It’s essential to allow yourself to feel your emotions and express them in healthy ways. Write in a journal, create art, or talk to a trusted friend about your thoughts and feelings.

Emotions can hold power over us if they go unacknowledged and unexpressed. But when you name an emotion, it loses some of its power. Even if your emotions are not what you want them to be, take the time to understand them and find a way to express them.

Mature man and woman talking with professional about estate planning or funeral planning

5. Focus on What You Can Control

Anticipatory grief can feel overwhelming because it involves so many unknowns. Focusing on what you can control rather than what you can’t control is helpful.

Preparing for a loss in practical ways may help bring a sense of control. You may want to focus on estate planning, funeral planning, and even writing the obituary in advance.

Gather a team of experts around you to help you. Your team might include an estate planning attorney, a funeral planning specialist from the funeral home, hospice nurses, caregivers, and an accountant who can assist with tax issues and questions.

The more prepared you are for a loss, the more you will be able to be in the moment with your loved one in their last days and weeks.

Woman under an umbrella, standing near a lake

Anticipatory grief can be a challenging and emotional experience. However, these five strategies can help you cope and navigate this difficult time with grace and strength. Remember that grief is a natural part of the human experience, and it’s okay to seek help and support when you need it. With time and patience, you will find a way to honor the memory of your loved one and move forward with peace and healing.

Woman wearing an orange shirt as she frosts a cake

Remembering Loved Ones Through Baking

By Grief/Loss

Some things are universal, across every culture and background. Having an emotional connection between memory and food is one of those things. As human beings, we connect with others through food. Shared meals, holiday traditions, beloved family recipes, and special treats all strengthen bonds and bring families together over the years. That’s one reason why baking can be a meaningful (and tasty) way to remember a loved one. Let’s look at a few other reasons why baking can help you grieve and honor a loved one’s memory.

A man and a woman baking together, with ingredients laid out on counter

Baking unlocks memories

According to scientific research, of the six senses, the one most connected to memory is the sense of smell. So, when you bake Grandma’s famous Christmas cookies or Dad’s favorite casserole, the smells are going to unlock cherished memories and bring you comfort.

Baking is therapeutic

After the loss of a loved one, you may feel like your life is spinning and you’ve lost control. For some people, loss of control can increase feelings of anxiety. Because baking is predictable – certain ingredients mixed together create a delectable treat – it can bring a sense of peace and calm. You can’t control every factor of your life right now, but you can control the outcome of Aunt Susan’s tried-and-true banana-nut bread.

Woman pulling a baking sheet out of the oven in a bright kitchen, natural light

Baking reduces stress

Similarly, baking can reduce your stress levels, too. The repetition of steps can calm you down. And the smells bring comfort and relaxation. Plus, knowing that your efforts will result in something delightful to eat (or share with others) brings a sense of accomplishment. And if you are feeling particularly stressed, you can take it out on the bread dough you’re kneading!

Baking provides creative opportunities to honor loved ones

While you may follow a specific recipe, baking also gives you room to express a certain amount of creativity. If you want to honor a loved one’s memory, you could make cupcakes in their favorite color or flavor. Or, you could decorate them with a special theme, like butterflies, sports team colors, or fishing. Alternatively, you can mix-and-match. Perhaps you prefer buttercream frosting, but your grandmother just loved chocolate ganache. Make your favorite cake and ice it with chocolate ganache in her memory.

Woman wearing an orange shirt as she frosts a cake

Baking minimizes the fear of forgetting a loved one

Have you ever feared that you might forget a loved one’s face, their voice, their smell? By actively engaging with the things they loved – like their favorite baked goods – you can keep that memory alive. Not only will the sweet smells activate your memory, so will the look, taste, and feel of whatever you make. Together, your senses will help you travel back in time and keep your loved one’s memory alive.

Baking brings a sense of closeness to your loved one

There will be times when you desperately miss your lost loved one. In those times, you can remember them through baking their favorite things. If it’s the holidays, bring out Mom’s family-famous reindeer cookies. If it’s her birthday, bake her favorite cake. As you enjoy each fragrant bite, take time to reflect on your memories and cherish the time you had together.

Father and young daughter baking together, smiling and having a good time

Baking brings people together

Most of the time, baked goods are meant to be shared. Because of this, baked goods are an excellent birthday or holiday gift, especially when they have special meaning. So, you might choose to bake your loved one’s favorite pumpkin bread to share with family or friends, and when you do, you might say, “This was my son’s favorite.” As you invite others into your grief journey, you allow them to come alongside you to offer support and love. We need both when we’re grieving the death of someone dearly loved.

However, Don’t Stress About It

Maybe baking sounds like a good idea, but you aren’t so sure about putting it into practice.

Just remember:

Keep It Simple

If you want to bake something special in memory of your loved one, keep it simple. If it’s the holidays and you decide you want to bake ALL of the family Christmas cookies, that can get overwhelming fast. Instead, choose one or two that mean the most. The more complicated you make it, the less likely you are to actually do it.

Woman pulling cupcakes out of the oven, focus on cupcakes

If Baking Isn’t Your Thing, That’s Just Fine

And let’s be honest, not everyone enjoys baking. If that’s you, don’t worry. There are other ways to use food to honor and remember a loved one. Pick up their favorite store-bought pastries. Get a meal at their favorite restaurant. Order their signature drink at the coffee shop. You can still benefit from the smell, taste, and feel of meaningful foods if you didn’t make them yourself.

No matter what works best for you and your family, food is closely tied to our memories of the people we love. As you mourn the loss of someone you love, rest on your precious memories and allow them to help you grieve.

Young woman drinking a glass of water

9 Tips for Staying Physically Healthy While Grieving

By Grief/Loss, Living Well

After the death of a loved one, you’re going to experience a variety of emotions. Every person is different, but the emotions will range from sadness and confusion, to anger, fear, and disbelief. So much of the grief journey occurs in the mind, but grief also takes a toll on the body. To help yourself grieve and stay on top of the things you “must do,” here are 9 helpful tips to keeping your body healthy while you’re healing emotionally.

Woman wearing orange sweater as she put together her weekly routine in her calendar planner

1. Establish a routine

Grief will throw your life and routine off balance, so you will need to re-establish a sense of normalcy after a loss. Routines provide a sense of peace and calm amidst the emotional upheaval. You know what’s coming and can enjoy the comfort of regularity. So, determine the best routine for you. This will support your emotional healing as you adjust to what life looks like after the loss of someone loved.

Young man at grocery store selecting apples to buy

2. Eat a healthy diet

You may be tempted to indulge in sweets and junk food when your emotions are in turmoil but try to maintain a healthy diet. Nourishing food will give you strength to face the difficult days and weeks ahead. When you feel good physically, you will also feel much better emotionally! Unless cooking helps you relax, you might consider meal prepping, so that you have less stress throughout the week.

Spoon with sugar in it and small dice with the words "Less Sugar"

3. Eat less sugar

As mentioned above, a healthy diet is important to caring for your body. But let’s take a moment to talk about sugar specifically. Sugar in moderation is completely fine, but research shows that too much sugar leads to mood imbalances, fluctuating hormone levels, and increased blood pressure and inflammation. In some people (higher risk in men), it can lead to depression. So, even if you can’t be completely healthy with your diet due to money, time, or energy levels, consider at least cutting back on the sugar.

Young woman drinking a glass of water

4. Stay hydrated

Much like food, water is essential to a healthy body. It’s actually even more important. The body can go 3-6 weeks without food but only around 3 days without water. So, as you’re grieving, make sure you stay hydrated. Plenty of water will help regulate your body temperature, assist with digestion, help you absorb nutrients, fight off illness, and improve mood. If you have a tough time remembering to hydrate, set timers or carry a water bottle around with you.

Attractive middle-aged woman sleeping in bed

5. Get plenty of sleep

Good sleep is essential for overall health and wellness. After a loss, you may lose sleep due to intrusive thoughts, stress, bad dreams, or anxiety. To promote sleep, try to create a comfortable, cool, and calm atmosphere at night. Over-the-counter sleep aids may also help. If nothing else works, consider talking to your doctor or therapist. For more suggestions, give “Sleeping Tips for the Grieving” a quick read.

Middle-aged man stretching at the park as he prepares to exercise

6. Exercise regularly

Exercise reduces stress and improves mood, which is important while grieving. If you participated in a regular exercise routine before the death of your loved one, try to continue. If you did not practice a lifestyle of exercise, start small. Take a walk, ride a bike, or pick up small hand weights. Even moderate daily exercise can help improve your mood and relieve stress. To learn more about the benefits of some form of exercise during a time of loss, go to “Can Exercise Help You Grieve?

Middle-aged woman sitting on couch at home, mindlessly choosing something to watch

7. Avoid numbing activities

Unfortunately, for some, grief can trigger or exacerbate unhealthy coping habits. When these habits are unaddressed or go on too long, they can seriously affect your ability to live a healthy life. If you notice that you are using activities like overeating, drinking, addictive substances, or mindless TV/news watching to avoid confronting painful emotions, it may be necessary to seek assistance. Not only will these habits inhibit your ability to emotionally heal, but they may also affect your long-term physical health.

Mature man in casual shirt reclining on couch as he listens to music on headphones

8. Choose nurturing activities

Instead of numbing activities, engage in activities that feed your spirit and soul. Look for opportunities to do things that bring you joy or give you a sense of fulfillment. Spend time outdoors. Listen to uplifting music (skip the moody stuff for now). Take walks. Get a massage. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Write in a grief journal. Express your emotions through creativity. Spend time in quiet reflection or meditation. All of these activities will soothe your mind, and in turn, keep your body healthy.

Young woman talking to therapist about her thoughts and feelings

9. Seek out support

If you are struggling with difficult emotions, such as depression, or need a listening ear, don’t hesitate to ask others for help. Trusted friends, family members, therapists, counselors, or grief support groups are all excellent resources to help you on your journey through grief. Grief is something we all go through, but we all experience it differently. You must find the methods that work best for you on your individual journey. Don’t compare your needs to someone else’s – simply find the healthy options that work best for you.

Hopefully these 9 tips will help you on the journey toward healing. It will take time, so be patient with yourself. As you do the work of grief by actively engaging with your emotions, you will begin to see that each day becomes a little brighter. You will never “get over” the death of your loved one; that’s not the point of healing. The goal is to come to terms with it, to make peace with it, and find renewed purpose and meaning in the remainder of your days.

Mature woman sitting on a pink exercise mat, stretching her right leg out in front of her

Can Exercise Help You Grieve?

By Educational, Grief/Loss

You may have noticed that grief puts a lot of stress on your mind and body. To combat that stress, your body’s natural response is to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps regulate your blood pressure, blood sugar, inflammation levels, and stress response. So, it’s a good thing, but cortisol also makes you tired. That’s why it’s important to practice good self-care during times of grief, and one important key to self-care is exercise. The best news – according to the experts, as little as 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can make a difference.

Mature woman sitting on a pink exercise mat, stretching her right leg out in front of her

It might seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re already feeling tired and emotionally spent, but let’s discuss 5 ways that exercise can make you feel better when you’re feeling down.

1. Exercise Boosts Mood

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a hormone that acts as a natural pain and stress reliever. You can decrease your stress and anxiety by exercising just a little bit every day. That might mean a brisk walk outside for 30 minutes or a calming Pilates routine. As you work movement into your day, you will see your aches and pains ease and your mood boost. Numerous research studies have shown that inactivity and staying in bed increase anxiety and sad feelings, so get up and get moving.

2. Exercise Aids Sleep

Every person responds to grief differently, and for some, that includes experiencing sleeplessness. Your thoughts may be racing. You may be struggling to mentally accept what has happened. By including exercise in your daily routine, you can reduce your stress levels and make it more likely that you will relax when bedtime comes around. For more sleeping tips, make sure to read Sleeping Tips for the Grieving.

Young man in group class, sitting on a black exercise mat and doing an ab exercise

3. Exercise Provides an Emotional Reprieve

When a death occurs, it can quickly take center stage in your life. While you shouldn’t ignore your grief feelings, you can’t work through everything at once. Instead, give yourself mental and emotional breaks. Though it may only be for 20 or 30 minutes, participating in exercise allows your emotions to rest and gives your mind a much-needed reprieve.

4. Exercise Increases Self-Esteem & Normalcy

Grief and loss interrupt the normal flow of life. In many ways, grief can make you feel helpless and like you are no longer the captain of your own life. But by committing to regular exercise, you can begin to take back some of that control and normalcy. Whether it’s going for a run, attending a Zumba class, or playing golf, exercise can boost your self-esteem as you grow stronger and give you confidence to overcome any challenges and obstacles ahead.

Three older women walking together outside, enjoying time together

5. Exercise Decreases Loneliness

The grief journey can feel long and lonely, but with exercise, you can increase your opportunities to give and receive support from others. Some days, it’s going to be easier to exercise at home or take a quick stroll around the block. However, when you can, try to attend a group class or invite a friend to walk with you. You will feel less lonely and will even have the chance to share what’s on your heart and mind.

Recommendations for Exercising While You’re Grieving

Now that you understand the benefits of exercise during times of grief, let’s talk through a few quick recommendations if you choose to add exercise to your grief journey.

Young woman taking a relaxing walk outside with her dog

Take it Easy on Yourself

Exercise isn’t going to magically cure your problems. And while exercise is a useful tool to boost your mood and create a better overall outlook, you also need to listen to your body. For a time, you may need to re-define what exercise looks like for you. You may be used to 45-minute HIIT sessions every day, but while you’re grieving, that may need to scale back to HIIT two days a week and long walks on the other days. The bottom line is, take it easy. Listen to your body. Don’t overdo it.

 Eat Well and Drink Plenty of Water

After a death, many people experience a change in eating habits. Some may experience a loss of appetite, while others may overindulge in takeout, sweets, and comfort food. A few days of this is totally normal, but don’t let it go on too long. Instead, make an effort to give your body nutritious foods that will fuel you rather than drag you down. Also, drink plenty of water. Whether you are losing water through sweat (from exercise) or crying (from your feelings of grief), your body needs water to replenish itself. And to be on the safe side, limit your caffeine and alcohol as these two drink choices may dehydrate your body.

Older man standing on treadmill at gym, getting assistance with setting goals

30 Minutes Can Make a Difference

Depending on your personality and preferred workout routine, 30 minutes may seem like forever or no time at all. But regardless of where you fall on the exercise spectrum, you will experience the benefits of exercise in as little as 30 minutes 5 days a week. So, if you aren’t ready to jump back into a full routine, that’s okay. Commit to 30 minutes of moderate exercise and see how you feel. Also, choose an activity that matches your mood. If you need peace and relaxation, do yoga or Pilates. If you’re dealing with anger, a boxing class might be best. No matter what you choose, even a little bit of exercise can help.

Lacking Motivation?

If you find that you just don’t have the desire to exercise but you’d like to, consider exercising to honor your loved one’s memory. You could sign up for a 5K or do a walking challenge. If your loved one enjoyed baseball, surfing, or some other sport, join a league and learn for yourself. You can also recruit friends or family to join you in your exercise goals. You’re more likely to do something if other people are counting on you to be there.

Groups class sitting on exercise mats and stretching after a workout

Don’t Use Exercise to Avoid Your Grief

It’s a natural part of human nature to avoid painful or difficult things. But, if you’re going to heal and learn how to move forward after a loss, it’s essential that you engage with your feelings and come to a place of reconciliation and peace. People all over the world use exercise to provide relief, a sense of purpose, and an outlet for positive or negative emotions. Carefully analyze your own motivations and make sure you aren’t using exercise as an excuse to escape your grief.

While including an exercise routine in your grief journey isn’t required to come to a place of healing, it is a useful tool in your belt. Exercise can boost your mood, help you sleep, provide a reprieve from complex feelings, increase your self-esteem, and decrease your loneliness during times of grief. And if you feel stuck despite doing your best to work through your feelings of grief, consider talking with a grief therapist. They can listen to what’s going on in your heart and mind and give you suggestions that will help you find the healing you’re looking for.

Grandparents laughing with young granddaughter

The Importance of Laughter in Hospice Care

By Grief/Loss, Hospice, Living Well

When you or someone you love receives a terminal diagnosis, the last thing you may feel like doing is laughing. As the transition to end-of-life care begins, you may feel overwhelmed by various emotions, like fear, anger, sadness, or despair.

But a positive mindset and humor can improve the quality of life of a person in hospice, boost their physical and mental health, and help them cope with their new situation. As you and your family begin to process the terminal diagnosis, laughter – at appropriate times – can bring you together and help you grieve well together.

Here are four ways laughter and humor benefit those in hospice care. Plus, make sure you read to the end for some helpful tips for creating a positive atmosphere during this difficult time!

Benefit #1: Laughter helps you cope

adult daughter hugging and smiling with elderly father

Coping with a terminal diagnosis can be difficult for both a patient and their family. But humor can help you change your perspective and make the most of the time you have left together. While death is serious, end-of-life situations often come with weird, peculiar moments, and laughing at those situations can help you have a more positive mindset. Plus, humor is a positive coping skill that can show acceptance, rather than avoidance, of the situation.

Benefit #2: Laughter provides relief

elderly couple laughing together while watching a movie

Laughter can also benefit those in hospice by relieving stress and tension. When we’re in a stressful situation, we often hold in our emotions. These emotions build within us, creating pressure. Laughter releases that pressure and brings those emotions to the surface, providing relief from the stress and tension. This doesn’t mean that negative emotions disappear; instead, laughter helps us relax and cope with our emotions in a healthier way.

Benefit #3: Laughter boosts physical health

Two elderly friends laughing together outside

Most of us know the old cliche, “Laughter is the best medicine.” While this statement is an exaggeration, laughter does have some healing properties! Hospice is about improving a patient’s quality of life, and laughter can help. Laughter increases oxygen intake, which provides a boost for your internal organs, and it can alleviate pain by releasing positive endorphins. Plus, laughter helps boost your immune system, improve your blood flow, and burn calories – all of which can improve your health.

Benefit #4: Laughter connects you to others

group of elderly friends laughing in a circle

Have you ever seen or read something so funny that you had to share it with someone else? Humor has a way of bringing people together and creating connections. Laughing with others helps you let down your walls and be less defensive, encouraging you to be more vulnerable. Laughter can also decrease loneliness, which can be a big problem for some people in hospice care.

Laughing with others can also help decrease relationship tension and stress. During stressful situations, like coping with a terminal diagnosis, tensions can run high, creating conflict. Humor and laughter (at appropriate times) can alleviate tension in these difficult situations. Learning to make light of the awkward moments that may come with end-of-life care can help the patient, family, and hospice workers feel more comfortable with each other.

How can you create a more positive atmosphere?

Grandparents laughing with young granddaughter

After you or a loved one receives a terminal diagnosis, it may be hard to find ways to laugh. Here are a few different ways to incorporate more humor into your daily life.

  • Find humor in situations. Little funny things happen around us all the time, and finding humor in those moments is great! Just make sure that you’re laughing with someone, not at them.
  • Watch a funny TV show, movie, or video. Everyone has a different type of humor that makes them laugh. You can watch a favorite movie that you’ve always found funny or try something new!
  • Talk with kids. Kids can say the silliest things sometimes. If you have kids, grandkids, or know anyone with kids, take time to talk to them, play with them, and ask them questions.
  • Have a game night. Playing games with friends and family can often lead to shenanigans. Just stay away from Uno Draw Fours and Monopoly’s Boardwalk!
  • Share a cheesy joke. The best part of telling someone a cheesy joke or terrible pun is making yourself laugh! Even if no one else finds the joke funny, their groans are sure to make you laugh.

As you look to laugh more, remember that timing matters! Not everyone will feel like laughing during this time, and it’s important to be sensitive to the emotions of those around you – whether you’re the patient or your loved one is. Above all, focus on using laughter to create a positive atmosphere and mindset to make this difficult time a little easier for everyone.

Grief support group meeting; focus on older man receiving comfort from four other members

9 Qualities to Look for in a Grief Support Group

By Grief/Loss

When you first lose a loved one, your friends and family may provide all the care and support you need. But over time, you may require other outlets to process your grief. That’s where a grief support group can help! The question is, “How do you know whether a certain grief support group is a good one or not?” To help you answer that question, we’ve compiled a list of 9 qualities to look for in a grief support group.

Want more information on the benefits of a grief support group? Read 7 Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group.

Grief support group meeting; focus on older man receiving comfort from four other members

9 Qualities to Look for in a Grief Support Group

Every person is different – personality, background, support needs – but at a basic level, every grief support group should showcase these qualities.

A good grief support group:

1. Possesses a strong and capable facilitator

We’ll start with perhaps the most important quality for any grief support group – a facilitator who knows what they’re doing. The facilitator should understand group dynamics, know how to kindly rein people in, and be personally familiar with grief. Often, facilitators receive some form of training or are intimately familiar with the grieving process. Regardless, the facilitator can make or break the group, and so many of the remaining qualities depend on their leadership. So, make sure you trust the facilitator and feel that they are competent and capable.

Grief support group meeting together

2. Recognizes that each person’s grief is unique

Have you noticed that some deaths affect you more deeply than others? That’s because your level of grief directly relates to your personality and your relationship with the deceased. For example, if your spouse dies, you will grieve differently than his of her friends and family. Most people attending the funeral will know and care about the deceased, but they won’t all have the same depth of relationship. A good grief support group will openly recognize that every person’s grief is unique, and they won’t try to lump everyone into the same grief bucket.

3. Reminds you that you’re not alone in your grief

Grief doesn’t come with a timetable; it takes the time it takes. So, it can feel lonely, especially if you see other family members moving forward more quickly than you. A good grief support group will remind you that you’re not alone on the grief journey. The group will be made up of people from all walks of life who are at different parts of the healing process. As you interact with other grieving people, there is comfort in knowing you aren’t alone and that there’s hope for your own journey toward healing and reconciliation.

Group of four women in a support group listening to one talk and share

4. Allows participants to share at their comfort level

In a good grief support group, you should feel comfortable sharing (or not sharing) as you see fit. Also, no one or two people should monopolize the group discussion. You will see participants expressing a variety of emotions – sadness, uncertainty, anger, fear – and all of these emotions are accepted. Each person should feel validated and heard, but never pressured to participate when they don’t want to do so.

5. Creates a judgment-free, safe space

Grief brings out a lot of complicated emotions, and a good grief support group will allow you to express those feelings without fear of judgment. There should be a commitment amongst attendees that the gathering is a confidential space. People should be able to speak without interruption and know that other members are listening with empathy and kindness. There’s comfort in hearing and being heard, but you need to know that you’re in a safe place with safe people.

Larger grief support group, listening and offering comfort to a woman who is speaking

6. Adheres to an organized structure and sets expectations

The facilitator should clearly outline expectations for the group. This may include a confidentiality clause, guidelines on asking questions, things to say and not to say, etc. The gathering should feel organized and well-structured. When you’re grieving, the last thing you need is extra chaos, and a disorganized group may only add to your stress. Also, consider the size of the group. It’s often best to join a group with 5-15 members. Make sure you find a group that clearly outlines the expectations and has an easy rhythm to follow.

7. Respects everyone’s beliefs

When you bring a group of people together, you’re going to get all kinds of backgrounds, beliefs, cultural differences, and opinions. In a good group, everyone should feel welcome. You may not agree with everyone’s worldview, but you have the common ground of grief. You can support each other and learn from each other as you move toward the common goal of healing. However, if you prefer, there are groups that focus on approaching grief from a specific perspective or religion. Feel free to seek these groups out. The most important thing is your healing!

Two people offering support to a young man as he becomes emotional at a grief support group

8. Educates you on what grief is and how to process it

A good grief support group will allow you to share what’s on your heart and mind, but it will also provide you with a better understanding of grief. You should learn more about what grief is, why we feel it, and how to process it in a healthy way. This could mean hearing about relaxation techniques, stress management, or outwardly processing your feelings through creativity, journaling, or exercise. Plus, as you listen to other members, you will glean from their experience and identify habits that will help you grieve.

9. Addresses your specific type of loss

This last quality is not a “must” for everyone, but it’s worth mentioning. Some people prefer to join a support group that focuses on a specific type of loss, such as spouse loss, child loss, or suicide loss. A group that focuses on general grief is excellent and worth joining, but if you feel the need to join a group that targets your specific form of loss, don’t ignore that need. There are countless groups out there – both online and in person. Attend a few different groups (give each group a fair shake) before settling on the one that best fits your needs.

While a support group won’t take away your grief, it should give you hope. There are good things to come, and you will find the healing you’re looking for. If you find that a grief support group isn’t right for you, that’s completely fine. Instead, consider talking to a grief counselor one-on-one. You don’t have to walk this road alone. There are people ready and willing to walk alongside you.

Grief support group offering support to a young woman as she looks sad

Resources

Your local funeral home should be able to point you to grief support groups in your specific area. Additionally, you can check out these online resources for grief support:

man holding a black and white cat

Can Animals Help You Grieve?

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Grieving the loss of a loved one looks different for everyone. Each person has their own unique needs and ways of coping with a loss. But did you know that interacting with animals can actually help you grieve? Whether you feel overwhelmed by stress, struggle to keep a routine going, or have a child who won’t talk about their feelings, animals can help you and your family as you move along your grief journey. Here are 5 ways that animals can provide support and care to those who are grieving.

Boost Mental Health

man holding a black and white cat

Did you know that just being around animals can improve your mental health? For most people, just being in the presence of an animal can help boost positive hormones like dopamine and decrease stress-related hormones. Interacting with animals can also reduce anxiety and help those with depression.

Even more importantly, animals provide companionship – an important need after losing a loved one. Many people struggle with loneliness after someone they love dies, but a pet can combat loneliness through their presence.

Provide Physical Benefits

woman walking her dog in a park

Animals can also provide physical benefits to those who are grieving. Pets, especially dogs, need exercise, which helps their owners stay active. Exercising is known to help with depression and sadness, which are common during times of grief.

Plus, having a pet can encourage you to take care of yourself. No matter what type of pet you have, your animal friend relies on you to feed and care for them, which can motivate you to get moving when you don’t feel like it. Even more importantly, having a pet can encourage you to take better care of yourself – whether that’s through exercise, diet, or choosing to do things you love.

Create Routines

man with iguana on his shoulder

After losing someone you love, you may feel like your world has been turned upside down. That feeling can make everyday life a struggle, but sticking to a routine can give you a sense of normalcy when everything else feels chaotic.

Animals need to be fed and cared for on a regular basis, which can help you create a structured routine. The motivation to care for a pet that’s relying on you can encourage you to keep moving and stick to your daily routine. Whether you’re feeding your pet iguana, playing with your pet rabbit, or taking your dog for a walk, a routine can help you find your new normal at a time when your world might feel hectic and stressful.

Give Social Support

guinea pig standing in grass

Social support is important after the death of someone you love. But did you know that animals can provide social support, too? Animals are great to talk to, and most pet owners have built relationships with their pets. This relationship can reduce loneliness, especially for those struggling with grief.

In fact, one study about social support found that people who had pets or interacted with animals were more likely to feel supported in their grief. Because most animals are very loving and enjoy attention, they provide an unconditional, endless source of companionship for grieving people.

Help Children Process Grief

young girl hugging a cat

Coping with grief can be a struggle for children. Their brains are still developing and learning to navigate the world and their emotions. The death of someone they love can bring on emotions they are unprepared to handle. While they struggle to understand their feelings, they must also learn how to process their grief and the sudden absence of someone they knew well.

Spending time with an animal can comfort a child. But many children also love talking to animals, which can help them learn how to talk about their emotions. Many children may not feel comfortable sharing their feelings with an adult, or they may not know how to describe their emotions. Talking to an animal provides a low-pressure way for children to explore their feelings and begin to process their grief.

Different Kinds of Support Animals

Animals can support people who are grieving in different ways, depending on their level of training! Here are the different ways animals can help.

As a pet

An animal doesn’t need to be certified or specially trained to help with grief! Any pet can provide emotional support to its owner. Even pet fish can help your mental health!

As a therapy animal

brown dog with therapy dog vest

Therapy animals are typically pets that help support large groups of people. For example, dogs or other animals that visit hospital patients are therapy animals. So are grief therapy dogs that some funeral homes have. Therapy animals don’t always need to be trained or certified, but they must be well-behaved and may need to undergo obedience training.

As an emotional support animal

Just like therapy animals, emotional support animals (ESAs) don’t need to be trained or certified. But instead of helping a group of people, ESAs help a particular person with a mental or psychological disability. To obtain an ESA, a person must receive a prescription letter from a licensed mental health professional who determines that an animal would benefit them. ESAs are not service animals since they only provide mental health support and aren’t trained to perform a particular task.

As a certified service animal

A service animal is trained to perform a specific task for someone with a specific disability. For example, a seeing-eye dog is trained to guide someone who is blind or visually impaired, so it would be a service animal. Service animals must be specially trained and certified to assist someone with a disability.

While everyone has different needs, interacting with animals can greatly benefit you while you’re grieving. Whether you spend time with your own pet, interact with a therapy animal, or apply for an emotional support or service animal, consider spending time with an animal as you continue your grief journey.

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