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focus on two women attending a grief support group, one older and one younger

7 Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group

By Grief/Loss

After the death of someone you love, it’s hard to come to grips with your new reality. Figuring out how to move forward, how to do life, without their presence can be both physically exhausting and emotionally overwhelming. If you are struggling with the emotions of grief, then it might be time to consider joining a grief support group.

The idea of joining a grief support group might feel uncomfortable, especially if 1) you’re an introverted person, 2) you’ve never done it before, or 3) you don’t like admitting that you need help. But really, grief support groups come in all shapes and sizes. You can choose a group that focuses on a wide range of grief types or select a group that has a narrower focus (spouse loss, child loss, suicide loss, etc.). This way, you will journey with other people going through a similar type of loss. Also, you can choose a group similar in age to yourself or one that spans generations.

No matter which type of group you choose, there are many benefits to attending a grief support group. Let’s discuss seven of those benefits together.

Grief support group of senior adults, sitting in circle

7 Benefits of Joining a Grief Support Group

By joining a grief support group, you can:

1. Build connections and find a sense of community

Perhaps the biggest benefit to joining a support group is finding a community you can be vulnerable with. Depending on your life and circumstances, it might be hard to open up with friends or family members. With a grief support group, you are all there for the same reason – to process your grief and move toward healing and reconciliation. There’s freedom in opening up to people who don’t inform your everyday life and who are solely interested in helping you heal. And if friendships arise from the group, all the better. You have advocates for your continued grief journey.

2. Realize you’re not alone

By nature, grief can be isolating. We all process loss in different ways, and the voice in your mind tries to convince you that you’re absolutely alone. That you’re the only person dealing with these complicated feelings. When you join a grief support group, it quickly becomes clear that you aren’t alone. Your feelings are legitimate, valid, and normal. But most of all – there are other people who understand what you’ve experienced and are figuring out how to deal with it, too.

Grief support group, focus on young man who is sharing and has his hands placed over his heart

3. Positively impact your mental health

In many ways, it’s easier to keep our feelings to ourselves, but that’s often not the best choice for good mental health. Getting things off your chest has a cathartic effect. Being open, sharing what’s going on inside, dealing with your emotions – these are all proven ways to deal with stress and improve mental health. In a recent study, it was determined that grief support groups can even help reduce depressive symptoms after loss.

4. Find hope and foster personal resilience

When you’re in the depths of strong emotions, like sadness or anger, it’s hard to see your way through. It may feel like this is just your new norm, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In a grief support group, you will find people who are at various stages of the grief journey. Interacting with people who are further along the grief journey can instill a sense of hope and inspire your own resilience. There is a better future ahead as you actively work through your feelings of grief.

Two people sitting together, clasping hands in comfort, focus on hands and torsos

5. See the reality of the grieving process

If this is the first big loss you’ve suffered, then your own feelings may take you by surprise. Is it normal to feel this way? Should I feel this sad or this angry or this lost? In a grief support group, you see people at various stages of grief. They will showcase a wide range of emotions and help you normalize your own feelings. Grief is up and down, slow and messy, strong today and quiet tomorrow. Some people will share their story freely while others will sit back and only listen. Every person processes differently. No matter where you’re at on the spectrum, it’s okay and it’s normal.

6. Discover a safe space to express yourself

Within a grief support group, there’s a commitment to listen, encourage, and help each other. This sense of commitment and camaraderie creates a unique opportunity to be real. Surrounded by a group of hurting people, you don’t have to hide your own hurt. Instead, you can open up. Create common bonds with the people around you. Express what’s going on in your own heart and mind freely. This is a safe space – a place where you won’t be judged, a place where you can find validation and encouragement.

focus on two women attending a grief support group, one older and one younger

7. Learn from the wisdom of others

No matter how many times you’ve experienced loss, every death hits different. Because of that, you may feel even more lost as to how to process your feelings. In a grief support group, you have access to a wealth of knowledge and experience. You will hear about coping skills that are new to you. You may learn more about how the mind and the body react to grief. With the valuable insights and tools you learn, you can create daily practices that will help you manage your own grief and move toward healing.

Should I Attend Online or In Person?

Ultimately, the decision between online and in person depends on either your preference or what’s available in your area.

With an online group, you can join from the comfort of your home and choose what level of involvement you want. Plus, an online group would be an excellent option for those who are homebound or have responsibilities that prevent them from attending in person.

With an in-person group, you can still choose your level of involvement, but you also have the option to go deeper. For instance, a few people may want to grab coffee or dinner after a group session. Plus, if you feel a connection to someone’s story, you have the option to catch them after class for a one-on-one conversation. That’s not easily possible with online groups.

Simply weigh the pros and cons. Evaluate your personal circumstances. Then, choose what works best for you.

Grief support group circle of five people, image looking down at the group with focus on their hands and arms

What if a Grief Support Group Isn’t Right for Me?

While grief support groups help thousands of people every year, it’s not the best fit for everyone, and that’s okay. If you are feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, out of place, or unwanted, try going to one-on-one grief counseling first. After you have a better grip on your own grief, you can then transition to a grief support group your counselor recommends.

Now that you understand the many benefits of grief support groups, it’s time to decide whether or not to visit groups in your area. Contact your local funeral home, a church, a local grief counselor’s office, or go online to familiarize yourself with the grief resources available locally. Then, choose one that best fits your age, location, or type of loss and find the supportive encouragement you need for the grief journey ahead.

graves with bright red and pink flowers

Cemetery Etiquette: 6 Tips for Visiting a Cemetery

By Cemeteries, Grief/Loss, Memorial

Visiting your loved one’s grave can be an important part of your grief journey – it can help you process your loss and reflect on memories of your loved one. But visiting a cemetery can be intimidating, especially if you’re unfamiliar with cemetery etiquette. Whether you’re going to the cemetery by yourself or with others, it’s important to be considerate of those around you. By following the 6 tips below, you can show respect to other mourners, the groundskeepers, and those buried in the cemetery.

Drive with care

person driving a car

When driving through a cemetery, drive slower and more cautiously than you typically would. To avoid accidentally driving over a grave or monument, stay on the roadways and off the grass, even when parking, if there’s enough room for another car to pass. Also, follow the cemetery’s posted speed limit – if there are no signs, driving 10 mph or slower is recommended.

Remember that people walking in the cemetery may be grieving and not paying attention to their surroundings. Be cautious and watch for people crossing your path. If you’re listening to music in your car, keep the volume low while driving through the cemetery.

Respect graves and monuments

headstone for a mother with pink flowers on it

Out of respect for both the deceased in the cemetery and their loved ones, avoid touching monuments or stepping on graves. Depending on how old the cemetery you’re visiting is, some of the monuments may be decades or even centuries old and could be fragile and crumbling. While walking through some cemeteries, it can be difficult to tell where it’s okay to step. Try to follow the path made by the headstones, and don’t step over or on headstones or monuments.

Additionally, you should never remove anything left by another person at a grave. Flowers, coins, and decorations all have special meaning to the person who placed the items, and removing these personal items can cause more grief for a loved one. Coins may seem out of place, but they often have specific meanings, especially when placed on a veteran’s grave, so leave them where they are.

Be considerate of other mourners

Person standing in front of a grave

People visiting a cemetery are likely visiting a deceased loved one and may be overwhelmed with emotion, praying, or spending time in contemplation. To respect their needs, keep your speaking volume low and avoid talking on the phone or playing loud music. Keep your phone on vibrate or silent to keep distractions at a minimum.

Many people who are visiting a loved one’s grave don’t wish to speak with others. If you are nearby or passing them, it’s okay to smile or nod at them, but don’t try to start a conversation unless they seem like they want or need someone to talk to. Likewise, if a funeral or graveside service is going on while you visit, steer clear and leave them plenty of room. It’s also inappropriate to take photos of someone else’s funeral or of someone who is visiting a grave.

Keep an eye on children and pets

Parent holding a child's hand in a cemetery

Bringing your child to a loved one’s grave can benefit them by helping them come to terms with the death and learning about their own emotions and grief. But before you bring your child to a cemetery, speak to them about how to behave. They’ll need to be relatively quiet and respectful of others, and they shouldn’t run around the cemetery. Ensure your child knows the rules and can follow them before bringing them with you.

Some cemeteries allow owners to bring their pets, while others only allow service dogs. If your cemetery does allow pets, keep them on a leash at all times. You should also be respectful of other mourners. Not everyone likes animals, and an excitable dog may not be a welcome visitor for some people. Even more importantly, make sure you clean up after your pet. You don’t want to leave an unwelcome surprise for someone visiting their loved one!

Clean up after yourself

Person picking up an empty water bottle

No one wants to visit their loved one in the cemetery and find trash on the grave. Out of respect for other visitors and the groundskeepers, don’t litter and pick up any trash you see. If your cemetery doesn’t have a trash can, you can take the trash back with you – and next time you visit, bring a bag to put trash in.

It’s also a good idea to avoid leaving highly breakable items. Glass or ceramic vases and jars are beautiful, but bad weather or nighttime critters may knock over the items. Leaving food at a grave can also attract ants, bugs, and critters, so many cemeteries recommend that you not leave food at a grave.

Learn the cemetery’s specific rules

graves with bright red and pink flowers

As mentioned above, different cemeteries have their own rules, so learn your cemetery’s regulations before you go. One way to determine the cemetery’s rules is to check their website or call the office. If you can’t find any information online, many cemeteries also have a sign near the entrance with their rules. Most cemeteries are also only open at certain times, so please respect your cemetery’s hours.

Visiting a cemetery can be intimidating at first, but spending time at your loved one’s grave can help you in your grief journey. During your visit, remember that everyone grieves differently. You may find it helpful to speak out loud to your loved one, pray, cry, or simply stay silent and ponder. As long as you are respectful of both the deceased around you and other mourners, do what will help you in your grief journey.

small gift box that holds a gift card

Sympathy Gifts You Can Mail

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

If someone you know has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, it’s natural to want to offer comfort and support. In fact, it’s a good thing. It shows that you’re thinking of them and understand they are going through something hard right now. But what if you’re too far away to offer in-person support? You can still let them know you care by sending sympathy gifts through the mail!

Today, let’s talk about some gift options you can easily send through the mail to offer support and love to a grieving friend or family member. But remember – this list isn’t comprehensive! Feel free to come up with your own creative ideas.

food gift basket with bread, pasta, and daisies

Food Gift Basket

You may not live close enough to drop off a casserole at your friend’s home, but you can order a food basket for them. There are so many companies out there that specialize in food baskets. Whether you want to send fruit, sweets, savories, or a mix, you are sure to find a basket that fits your own expectations and budget while also matching your friend’s favorite eats.

small gift box that holds a gift card

Gift Card

Whether you want to help with meals, gas, or other household needs, you can send a gift card through the mail. Choose their favorite eatery, grocery store, or gas station. Or, if you want to give them broader options, send an Amazon or Visa/Mastercard gift card. In a similar vein, you can give them gift cards to Door Dash, GrubHub, or some other food delivery service, so they can order a meal without having to leave the house.

woman lying in bed with blanket on top of her

Weighted Blanket

After a loss, sleep can be elusive. Stress, racing thoughts, and strong emotions can keep you awake at night. However, many people praise weighted blankets for their ability to calm anxiety and fight insomnia. These blankets work through deep pressure stimulation – applying pressure over the entire body in a way that creates a sense of comfort and calm. Most are available in weights from 5 to 30 pounds, and it’s recommended to purchase a blanket that is roughly 10% of the person’s body weight.

older person planting a pink hydrangea outside

Flowers or Seed Kits

For many years, flowers have been a staple gift to those who are grieving. They are an excellent way to bring life and beauty to a home and to let someone know you are thinking of them. Another plant gift alternative is to give a flower kit (like for roses or hydrangeas) or a memorial tree kit. Each of these gifts will allow the grieving person to watch the plant grow over time and act as a sweet reminder that their loved one is not forgotten. They can even put a little plaque near the tree or plant that says “In Memory of” to make it more special.

book wrapped in brown paper with lavender tied to it

Grief or Self-Care Book

With this gift, you do have to be sensitive. If possible, choose a book that has helped you personally. Whether you choose a book about grief or a book on self-care, there are many options out there. And if you aren’t familiar with a book, check out online reviews or ask family and friends what books helped them through a loss. Then, with a thoughtful note, mail the book to your grieving friend.

two cups of green tea sitting on wooden table

Calming Tea & Mug Set

Sitting down at home with a hot cup of non-caffeinated tea, wrapped up in a blanket with a good book or TV show can have a truly calming effect. And after the death of a loved one, there’s so much that may cause stress, worry, doubt, and confusion. According to research, tea has a calming effect on the nervous system, helps reduce stress and anxiety, and promotes a feeling of well-being. Some of the most calming teas are chamomile, lavender, mint, rooibos, and green tea. Pair a tea with a cute or inspirational mug, and you have a caring sympathy gift you can mail.

homemade spa set with candles, oils, soap, and pink flowers

Homemade Spa Set

If your grieving friend adores relaxing in the bath, a homemade spa set may be the perfect sympathy gift. Put together a smattering of bath bombs, aromatherapy candles, and scented Epsom salt to create the perfect self-care package. You could also include their favorite beverage or a relaxing playlist of songs. And if you just don’t know what items to select, you can also choose a spa gift set online and have it delivered right to their door.

man in blue shirt opening a box while sitting on his couch

Sympathy Gift Box

Just as there are many food gift boxes out there, many companies specialize in creating sympathy gift boxes. All you have to do is type “sympathy gift box” into your search browser and a multitude of options will pop up. Some boxes focus on food, self-care, calming or creative activities, or even humor and laughter. Simply choose a gift box that fits your grieving friend’s personality and send it to them.

woman sitting on couch as she worked on colorful portrait

Hand-drawn Portrait

While this gift will take more time, effort, and talent, it also has the potential to be deeply meaningful. If possible, find an image online of the person who has died and then hand-draw or paint a portrait of them. Choose whatever size or medium you prefer and go to work creating something truly unique. When your grieving friend opens the package, there will be tears, of course, but there will also be sweet memories that bring comfort and healing.

young boy sitting at home hugging a light brown teddy bear close

Stuffed Animal

For some adults and definitely grieving children, a stuffed animal brings a smile. Many people have an affinity to a certain type of animal, which makes it the perfect sympathy gift. Some love teddy bears, unicorns, cats, bunnies, or red pandas – simply go to the store or online and find the stuffed toy that makes the most sense. Then, when feelings of grief come, your friend can look at the animal, give it a hug, and remember that you care.

picture of grandfather and grandson in a photo frame covered in gold stars

Special Photo & Frame

Sometimes the simple things can mean the most. By purchasing a personalized frame and pairing it with a sweet photo, you can create an impactful gift. Choose a photo you know the grieving person loves or send them a photo they may not have. Include yourself in the photo, when possible, but keep the focus on your friend and their lost loved one. Add your own special touch with a handwritten note of love and support.

themed adult coloring book that woman is coloring in

Themed Gift Box

While you can certainly find themed gift boxes online, you can easily create your own. Let’s say your grieving friend loves pineapples. Go to the store or online and find all the pineapple things you can. Pineapple hand towels, soaps, dried fruit, stuffed toy, flavored tea, mug, bathrobe, whatever. Then put everything in a box with pineapple tissue paper and card. When your friend receives it, they will find comfort in the time you took to create the perfect package, tailored to them.

No matter what sympathy gift you choose to mail, the key is to find something that’s personal, practical, and comforting. Think about what your grieving friend likes and choose something that will benefit them most. If you don’t know them well, choose something that would comfort you personally. They will still feel the sentiment and know that you care about what they’re going through.

woman holding child's shoes after losing a child

The 6 Needs of Mourning for Grieving Parents

By Grief/Loss

Losing a child is one of the most heartbreaking experiences any parent will ever face. It feels wrong and unnatural for a child to die before a parent, and you may be questioning yourself, wondering if you could have done more to protect your child. You may feel like life will never be normal again. Or that maybe it shouldn’t be.

As you try to process losing your child, keep in mind that grief is different for everyone and follows no timeline. You may be experiencing intense emotions, such as anger, guilt, doubt, fear, depression, extreme pain, and deep sadness. As a mother or father, you may have very different feelings from those around you. Losing a child can strain your relationships with your spouse, other children, or extended family members as you all try to process the loss in your own way.

As you begin your grief journey, remember that the goal is not to “move on” or “move forward” but to move toward healing, peace, and reconciliation with the loss. Renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt says that those mourning the death of a loved one have six needs that must be met as they grieve. While it takes time to begin healing, meeting these needs can help you process your loss in a healthy way.

grave with peach flower on top

Acknowledge the reality of the death

According to Dr. Wolfelt, the first need of mourners is acknowledging the reality of the death or, in his words, “gently confronting the reality that someone you care about will never physically come back into your life again.” The death of a child or a teenager is often sudden and completely unexpected. When hearing of the loss, parents, siblings, friends, and other family members may respond with shock and denial. Even if your child had a prolonged or terminal illness, you might struggle to wrap your mind around the fact that they are really gone.

To help yourself begin to heal, you can take small actions to come to terms with the new reality. Viewing your child’s body before burial or cremation can be helpful. Using the past tense when telling their story can also help. It may be painful at first, especially if you wake up thinking that losing your child was just a nightmare. The mind needs time to adjust to new realities, so be gentle and patient with yourself throughout this process.

woman holding child's shoes after losing a child

Move toward the pain of loss

The next need of mourners is to move toward the pain of the loss. As Dr. Wolfelt says, “It is in confronting our pain that we learn to reconcile ourselves to it.” When faced with strong negative emotions, many of us try to block the pain to protect ourselves. When grieving the loss of a child, you aren’t just grieving their death – you’re also grieving the loss of all the hopes and dreams you had for them. We may try to avoid the pain of the loss through numbing activities that temporarily bring relief. But this only stalls the healing process. As Dr. Wolfelt often points out, there is no way around grief. The only way to the other side is through it.

Instead, focus on grieving in a healthy way. Slow down and let yourself feel. Try going on walks or runs or writing in a grief journal. Visit your child’s grave, talk to them out loud, or speak with a friend or family member that you trust. Let yourself cry, scream, and vent your emotions in a way that helps you. It may feel unnatural to you at first, especially if you tend to bury your emotions. Remember that it’s okay and healthy to fully feel your emotions and set them free, as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or anyone else. By facing your grief and emotions head-on, you can begin to understand them and continue healing.

Honor your child’s memory

After moving toward the pain of the loss, the next need of mourning is to transition from a physical relationship with the person who died to a relationship of memory. Whether your child was with you for minutes or years, they made an impact on your life, and they live on in your memories of them. Dr. Wolfelt says that “remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.” By holding your memories of your child close and sharing them with others, you will continue to keep their memory alive.

There are many ways you can honor your child’s memory. For example, you can share stories about them with your friends and family, journal your memories, or write a letter to your child. Doing creative projects, like making a memory box or a scrapbook, can also help you process your grief. These physical memorial projects are a great option to do as a family, with your spouse or your other children. You may find it painful at first to think about your child, but learning to treasure the moments you were able to spend with them will bring them even closer to your heart and allow you to find hope for the future.

Develop a new sense of identity

The fourth need of mourners is to develop a new sense of identity. As Dr. Wolfelt explains, “We all have mirrors in our life that remind us of who we are. But after a death, we experience identity diffusion, a sort of confusion about who we are and the purpose that we serve in the greater scheme of things.” Your relationships with your closest friends and family members are a part of your identity, and your child made up an even bigger part of who you are. Your brain is likely struggling to understand life without your child, and you may feel like a part of yourself died with them.

A funeral or memorial service can be the first step to recognizing your new identity. While you wrestle with your change in identity, don’t be afraid to seek the support of family and friends who know you best. Losing a child can also strain your other relationships, especially with your spouse or other children. Life can become even more difficult if you, your spouse, or your children avoid talking to each other or close yourselves off. Instead, take time to sit down as a family and talk regularly. By opening up lines of communication, you and your family can work through your new identities together and learn how to continue life in your new identities.

woman standing in a field on a mountain

Search for meaning in the loss

As you grieve, you’ll also need to search for meaning in the loss. After your child’s death, you may ask yourself many questions – especially “Why?” You might feel like you’ll never understand. As Dr. Wolfelt says, “The death reminds you of your lack of control. It can leave you feeling powerless. At times, overwhelming sadness and loneliness may be your constant companions.” The death of someone we love makes us confront mortality – our loved ones’ mortality and our own.

It’s completely normal to ask these questions, but remember that death is a mystery, and some questions will be left unanswered. That’s okay! Exploring deep questions, even without finding answers, can help you examine your own life and consider whether you are where you want to be. Take this time to ask yourself what you can do to live a meaningful life. You can use this experience and your questions as an opportunity to make positive changes to become the person you want to be. While you may not find all the answers you’re looking for, asking these questions can help you find meaning in your continued living and discover hope for the future.

woman being comforted by a family member

Receive ongoing support

The final need for mourners is ongoing support. Grief comes and goes in waves – you’ll likely struggle more on some days than others. That’s why finding ongoing support from your family and friends is important. As Dr. Wolfelt says, “Drawing on the experiences and encouragement of friends, fellow mourners, or professional counselors is not a weakness but a healthy human need.” As you work through your grief journey, don’t be afraid to reach out to a grief or family therapist or join a grief support group. It can be hard to reach out for help, but taking this step can give you the support you need on the hardest days.

Special days, like your child’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or holidays, can be especially difficult. Plan ahead for those days, and don’t be afraid to let your friends and family know if you need extra care on a certain day.

Losing a child is heartbreaking, and it will take time for you and your family to heal. As you begin your grief journey, be patient and gentle with yourself, and allow yourself time to heal and grieve so that you can find healing, reconciliation, and hope.

cemetery with bright sunrise behind

Why Should You Visit Your Loved One’s Grave at Easter?

By Grief/Loss, Seasonal

Easter is typically a joyful time, but if you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may find it difficult to find the hope that Easter usually represents. Your grief may feel at odds with the celebration of new beginnings, but you can still honor your loved one’s memory while celebrating Easter. One way to do that is by visiting your loved one’s grave.

While visiting a cemetery at Easter may seem like a somber activity, it can help you in your grief journey. Easter is a time of reflection, and spending time at your loved one’s grave can help you find meaning in your loss and hope for the future.

Here are a few reasons you should consider visiting your loved one’s grave at Easter:

bouquet of Easter flowers

Bring Seasonal Flowers

Easter is often celebrated with beautiful flowers, like lilies, tulips, and daffodils. Because Easter happens at the beginning of spring, it’s one of the first occasions when there are more flowers in season and available. Bringing a bouquet of spring or Easter flowers to your loved one’s grave can make your visit more personal and make it feel like they’re a part of the day with you.

Many families decorate their loved one’s grave at Easter using flowers or other Easter decorations, like stuffed rabbits, pastel butterflies, or angel wings. These displays can be a way for families to incorporate their loved one into their Easter celebration. If you wish to leave flowers or decorate your loved one’s grave, please check your cemetery’s rules about graveside decorations.

Small plant sprouting

Meditate on New Beginnings

When we think of Easter, we often think of new beginnings. For Christians, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a symbol of hope and new life. For many others, Easter is a time to reflect on the new beginnings that spring brings. When you visit your loved one’s grave, you’re able to meditate and reflect without distractions, which gives you time to slow down and think deeply.

Visiting your loved one’s grave at Easter after a long, dreary winter can also remind you of hope. If you visited the cemetery during the winter, the air was likely cold, the grass dead, and the mood somber. But at Easter, the grass has turned green and flowers are blooming. The landscape will be beautiful again after the darkness of winter, which will help your visit feel more joyful and remind you that hope is just around the corner.

yellow spring flower by headstone

Reflect on Your Loved One’s Legacy

Have you ever watched a movie where a character visits a loved one’s grave to have a moment of reflection and talk to them? Believe it or not, talking to your loved one at their grave can help you in your grief journey. Speaking out loud to your loved one can help you better process and understand the emotions you’re feeling. Plus, with the warmer spring weather at Easter time, you’ll be able to linger longer than you could in the previous months. While you can talk to your loved one any time, their grave serves as a physical reminder of them, which can help you feel more connected to them.

As you speak with your loved one, reflect on the positive memories you have with them. Your loved one left behind a legacy. By remembering what they taught you and the impact they made on your life, you can find gratitude for the time you were able to spend with them. After all, that’s what Easter is all about – being grateful for the blessings we’ve received. When we lose a loved one, it’s easy for us to wish they were with us and mourn the moments we won’t be able to share with them, but it’s just as important to treasure the beautiful times we did spend with them.

grave at Easter with bright sunrise behind

Contemplate Life and Death

Easter is the perfect time for contemplation – especially about life and death. When we visit the grave of a loved one, we are reminded of our own mortality. It’s a wonderful reminder that life is short and that the time we have is precious. Visiting your loved one’s grave can help you consider what’s most important to you by reminding you of what was most important in your relationship with your loved one.

For Christians, Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection and a reminder of the hope of salvation and life after death. Visiting a loved one’s grave can be a reminder that you will be reunited with your loved one again someday. No matter what you believe, though, Easter and the coming of spring can be a great opportunity to contemplate your beliefs about life and death and consider what makes your life meaningful.

 

As you celebrate the hope, joy, and new life of Easter, taking time to think of your lost loved one can help you on your grief journey. If you’ve never visited your loved one’s grave before, visiting on a holiday like Easter can be a great place to start. By taking time to reflect at your loved one’s grave at Easter and incorporating them into your traditions, you can begin to find peace and new hope for the future.

Shows decorated Easter basket with candy, homemade bunny, and stuffed animal

6 Ways to Honor a Loved One’s Memory at Easter

By Grief/Loss, Seasonal

While holiday grief is often more closely associated with Thanksgiving or Christmas, any holiday can stir up feelings of loss and sadness. If you are missing a lost loved one this Easter, consider taking comfort in honoring their life through meaningful actions. When we take those internal feelings of grief and outwardly express them through mourning actions, something almost unexplainable happens. Somehow, peace comes. The heart aches less. The person you’re missing seems closer than they did before. So, to help you pinpoint the best way to honor your loved one’s memory this Easter, let’s brainstorm options.

Close-up of white Easter lilies

Order a Bouquet of Easter Lilies

Perhaps you’ve heard that flowers have meaning, and the lily is no different. It represents purity, sympathy, innocence, peace, and hope. Traditionally, the lily is closely linked to both Easter and funerals. The connection lies in the belief that there is new life and rebirth after death, much like the hope that comes with Jesus Christ’s resurrection. To honor your loved one, consider ordering a bouquet of Easter lilies to display in your home, donate to a local church, or place at your loved one’s final resting place.

Shows decorated Easter basket with candy, homemade bunny, and stuffed animal

 Honor Your Loved One in Your Easter Baskets

If your family celebrates with Easter baskets, you can theme the basket after your loved one. For example, use “grass” or tissue paper in their favorite color. Include their favorite candy or chocolate bar with a note that says “Love, <name>.” Include a photo, poem, or work of art that has special meaning. Depending on what you want to do, you could even put together a basket specifically for the person who has died. This might be particularly helpful when a child or young sibling has died. It allows that lost family member to be included in the festivities and keeps their memory alive.

Plastic Easter eggs to use for memory notes

Create a Memory Basket

Though similar to a themed Easter basket, a memory basket is a bit different. To create one, you should set up an area in your home with a basket and empty plastic Easter eggs. Add pens and little strips of paper. Then, in the days leading up to Easter, encourage family members (and friends) to write down a special memory and place it in an egg. Then, on Easter, you can read the memories aloud together or each person can find their egg and keep it as a remembrance token. There’s flexibility with how you set things up, but the main idea is to recall and share sweet memories.

Person sitting quietly with religious book, hands clasped in prayer

Attend an Easter Service

If you are a person of faith, attending an Easter service can bring great comfort and a reminder that life doesn’t end with death. Spirituality and faith sustain millions of people around the world as they process loss and grief. That’s why attending a service can be the perfect activity when you are missing a loved one at Easter. You can light a candle of remembrance, speak your loved one’s name aloud, read a litany, say a prayer. All of these symbolic actions can bring peace and hope. Plus, if attending a service is something that would make your loved one smile, you can do it for them!

Family of 4 posing with Easter bunny ears and dyeing eggs

Take an Easter Family Photo

Many families take a family photo at Easter, and it can create a sweet remembrance keepsake. When you take the photo, include something that reminds you of your loved one. For example, wear a clothing item they gave you, hold a framed portrait of them in the picture, grab their favorite thing (quilt, stuffed animal, book, etc.) to include. Just because your loved one is no longer physically present doesn’t mean that you can’t include them in the special moments of your life. After all, their influence and impact doesn’t end with death – that will live on in you!

Shows a delicious loaf of strawberry bread with bunny shape in the middle

Keep Family Traditions Going

If you ask different families what their Easter traditions are, you’re going to get different answers. To honor your loved one, choose one of their Easter traditions and start doing it with your family. Maybe that’s an elaborate Easter egg hunt or only filling the eggs with Hershey kisses. Perhaps it means roasting Peeps over the fire, baking a bunny cake, or watching the Irving Berlin movie Easter Parade. Whatever it looks like, you can add a special tradition to your holiday that will bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart.

There are, of course, many ways to remember a loved one on Easter, so feel free to be creative. While the grief you feel may not entirely go away, doing something to honor them can turn your mourning into dancing.

What Should I Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

By AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving. It’s not because they are difficult to talk to or that you’re a poor conversationalist. Most of the time, our discomfort boils down to the fact that we don’t deal with death on a daily basis (and therefore, don’t have much experience with how to talk about it), and we don’t want to say the wrong thing. That’s why it can be helpful to have a plan in place when you know you’re going to offer condolences for a recent loss. To help you prepare in advance, let’s review some helpful tips and useful phrases.

woman kindly holding another woman's hand in caring gesture

Tip #1: Acknowledge their loss

Perhaps one of the most straightforward yet necessary things you can do is acknowledge their loss. They have experienced something truly heart-wrenching, and your simple acknowledgement and sympathy can go a long way.

You can choose a phrase that feels natural to you, but a few options are:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I heard about your dad. I’m so sorry.”
  • “I can’t imagine how hard this must be. I’m so sorry.”
  • “I was so sorry to hear about your loved one.”

Mother and daughter sitting on couch, sharing memories

Tip #2: Share a memory

If you had a personal connection to the person who has died, it can be sweet and meaningful to share a memory. One of the ways that we work through feelings of grief is by reminiscing about the memorable moments. Oftentimes, the grieving person may share the same story more than once, and that’s okay. It’s needed and necessary. So, sharing a story of your own, when possible, can be a perfect addition to your condolences.

A word of caution: if the grieving person seems very fragile, ask permission before sharing a story. Also, only share positive memories in your condolences. While it is important to work through any negative feelings, wait for an appropriate time. Your condolence is not the time.

Here are a few suggested phrases:

  • “I remember your mom’s sense of humor. She always had us laughing.”
  • “My favorite memory of your sister was when…”
  • “Would it be okay if I shared a few stories with you? Things that I remember about your grandmother?”

Adult man and woman sitting across from each other, woman talking while man listens

Tip #3: Give them the opportunity to talk

If you don’t have a story to share or don’t feel comfortable doing so, you could instead provide a chance to talk. As mentioned, talking about the person who has died is a necessary part of the grieving process. Be a safe person to share with and engage in active listening.

A word to the wise: Don’t offer advice or compare their experience to your own grief experiences. You may have gone through a similar loss, but you aren’t necessarily feeling the same things. Every person grieves differently, so instead, simply listen, comfort, and be present. If they ask about your experience, then feel free to share.

A few useful phrases you could use are:

  • “This must be so hard. Would you like to talk about it?”
  • “I’m here to listen if you want to talk. I’d love to hear about your loved one.”
  • “When I lost my mom, it helped to talk about her. I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
  • “I’m here for you.”

Two young, female friends sitting on a couch, one sad while the other offer support

Tip #4: Validate their feelings

Most people try to keep their emotions under control in public settings. However, you can show extra kindness by validating, normalizing, and recognizing their feelings. Grief is hard, and really, we need to let out the emotions welling up inside. Once again, be a safe person. Don’t try to “fix it” because you can’t. Instead, offer a nonjudgmental space. Let them express what’s going on inside. Be compassionate, caring, and gracious.

What does this look like in words? Here are a few thoughts:

  • “Whatever you’re feeling is okay. This is hard.”
  • “You don’t have to keep it together around me. It’s okay not to be okay.”
  • “I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I’m here to listen if you want to share.”
  • “I wish I could make things better.”
  • “I wish I had the right words to say, but please know I’m here for you.”

Two older men sitting on a couch, one comforting the other who is upset

Tip #5: Stay away from cliches or platitudes

One thing to remember as you offer condolences is to stay away from cliches or platitudes. They are rarely helpful, and often, they feel hollow and impersonal. In some cases, they may even be harmful. For instance, saying “Everything happens for a reason” is intended to be comforting, but really, what possible reason could there be for this person’s death? Especially if it’s a sudden or unexpected death or someone who is still young.

Here are some phrases to STAY AWAY from:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for.”
  • “It’s part of God’s plan.”
  • “He’s in a better place now.”
  • “At least…” (…you can get married again, you had time together, you can have more children)
  • “This is behind you now. It’s time to get on with your life.”

Man delivering crate of groceries to older woman

Tip #6: Take supportive action

Following a loss, it can be hard to keep up with the everyday things. Grief takes a lot of time and emotional headspace. In fact, it’s not uncommon to forget things when you’re grieving. That’s why it can be kind to offer practical help. But don’t leave the responsibility on the grieving person. In other words, don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” Instead, say, “I’m going to drop off a casserole for you on Tuesday. What time should I drop it off?”

Here are some ways you can provide practical help to someone who is grieving:

  • Shop for groceries or run errands
  • Mow the lawn
  • Drop off a casserole
  • Help with insurance forms or bills
  • Take care of housework, such as cleaning or laundry or taking out the trash
  • Watch their children or pick them up from school
  • Look after their pets
  • Go with them to a support group meeting
  • Accompany them on a walk
  • Take them to lunch or a movie
  • Share an enjoyable activity (sport, game, puzzle, art project)

Sometimes, just being a friend is exactly what they need and doing normal activities together can make things comfortable for both of you.

man in brown sport coat hugging woman, focus on man's back and woman's hands as they hug

Tip #7: Give them a hug

Physical touch is powerful, and often, it says more than words. The grieving person may not feel like talking, and that’s okay. Instead, offer eye contact and a sympathetic expression. Squeeze their hand or shoulder. If you’re family or a friend, give them a hug. If tears come, let them come. Don’t let the tears bother you. Don’t try to stop them or make a joke to lighten the moment. Sometimes, it’s best to just sit and be and let the emotions come. And if you are willing to sit and be present with them, that’s a gift.

Young woman video calling with older friend, checking in on her

Tip #8: Check in

Even after you’ve offered your initial condolences, consider taking it a step further. People in grief need support for months and sometimes years following the loss. To let them know you care, you can send a thoughtful gift. Reach out on special dates, like birthdays and anniversaries. Offer childcare or a lunch date. Text or call to ask how they are and if there’s anything you can do to help. Write a card or invite them to a day at the spa or the golf club. There are many ways you can support them in the days and months following a loss. Just make sure to follow through and let them know you’re available.

Before we go, remember – no matter what you say – it doesn’t have to be perfect to be supportive. You don’t need to take their pain away – that’s impossible. If they don’t open up right away, don’t force it, but also, don’t steer the conversation away from the death. Let things happen naturally. The grieving person simply needs you to show that you care and that you love them, no matter what they are working through.

For most suggestions on how to support a grieving friend or loved one, read:

10 Caring and Creative Sympathy Gifts

8 Simple Tips for Writing a Meaningful Condolence Letter

6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

Sympathy Cards: What to Write & Examples

By AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Sending someone a sympathy card is a thoughtful way to show your support and let the bereaved know that you are thinking of them. But what should you write in a sympathy card? It can be difficult to know what to write to someone who has lost a loved one, but sharing a thoughtful message is a good way to encourage the bereaved.

To help you express your condolences in a thoughtful and meaningful way, we’ve put together some ideas for what to write in a sympathy card. Your relationship with both the deceased and the person who is grieving will affect how long or short your note is, so just use these ideas as a starting point.

Here are 5 ideas for what you can write in your sympathy card:

older woman comforting her adult daughter

Express your condolences

Often the first step in writing a sympathy note is expressing your condolences. This can be as simple as writing “I’m sorry for your loss” or “Please accept my condolences on the loss of ____.” Focus on offering words of comfort and support, like “I’m here for you if you need to talk” or “You’re not alone in this. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

Keep in mind that sometimes it is better to say nothing at all than to say something that might upset or offend the bereaved person. If you had a strained relationship with the deceased, it is perfectly acceptable to simply express your condolences to the family without further comment. More neutral statements like “I am so sorry for your loss” or “My deepest sympathies go out to you and your family during this difficult time” can be a good way to express your sympathy for the family’s grief without being dishonest about your feelings.

Don’t shy away from using “death” or “died” in your condolences. While substitutions like “passed away” or “didn’t make it” may feel softer and more considerate, acknowledging someone’s death is an important part of the grieving process. As long as your tone is gentle, using the words “death,” “died,” or “dead” is acceptable.

Examples:

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.
  • My deepest sympathies/thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family during this difficult time.
  • I will miss ____ very much.
  • I’m thinking of you in this difficult time.
  • You’re not alone in this. I’ll be with you every step of the way.

Share fond memories and appreciation of the deceased

If you were close to the deceased, you can also share fond memories or express your appreciation for them in your sympathy card. Reading about your gratitude for the deceased can help the grieving person feel connected to their loved one and may bring some comfort during this difficult time. As you share stories, be sincere – if you don’t have positive memories of the deceased, it would be better to simply offer your condolences.

When sharing memories, highlight the deceased’s qualities or mention how they made a positive impact on your life. You can also share a story that illustrates how much the person meant to you. As you share your memories, keep it relatively short and make sure that your focus remains on the deceased and not on yourself.

Examples:

  • I’m so grateful I had the chance to know ____ and his/her kindness and compassion.
  • ____ was always so kind and helped me through [situation].
  • I always smile when I remember [memory].

man in a blue shirt offering his hand to help someone up

Offer to help

If you want to offer help to the grieving person in your sympathy card, make sure you are truly willing and able to follow through. It can be difficult for someone who is grieving to ask for help, so offering your assistance can be a nice gesture. But only offer help if you are actually willing to commit to it – otherwise, your offer may do more harm than good.

When you offer to help, do so in concrete ways. Saying “Let me know if you need anything” is vague and noncommittal, and many people won’t feel comfortable asking for help. Think of a specific way you could help, like cooking a meal, doing yard work, providing child or pet care, or listening and talking with them.

Examples:

  • If you need someone to look after ____, I’m always available on the weekends.
  • I know I’m far away, but if you want to talk, I’m just a phone call away OR my number is ____.
  • I’d love to bring over a meal for you and your family. Just let me know what day would be best for you!
  • I know you have a lot going on, so let me know if you need someone to pick up groceries or help with chores. I’d be happy to help.

two girls comforting each other

Avoid making comparisons or minimizing the loss

When you are writing to a grieving person, it is important to avoid making comparisons or talking about yourself. This can be difficult, as you may want to share your own experiences to empathize with the person you are writing to. However, writing too much about yourself can take away from the focus on the deceased and make the grieving person feel like you are dismissing their grief. Remember that everyone grieves differently and what worked for you may not work for them.

You should also avoid saying anything that might place blame on the deceased or trivialize the feelings of the bereaved. For example, don’t say “I’m sorry for your loss, but at least he lived a long life.” In general, it’s a good idea to avoid adding a statement that starts with “but” after offering your condolences.

Also, try not to use clichés and platitudes such as “Everything happens for a reason” or “They’re in a better place now.” These phrases may be well-intentioned, but they often fall flat and can even come across as insensitive.

Phrases to avoid:

  • I know how you feel.
  • When I lost ____, I…
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • It’ll get better.
  • They’re in a better place now.
  • It was his/her time.

person writing a note in a sympathy card

Add a personal sign-off

When you sign your card, you may or may not choose to include a short sign-off. If you do include one, keep it personal and informal. While the classic “Sincerely” may seem like a good option, it could seem overly formal. Use a sign-off that expresses your sadness and your support for your friend.

Examples:

  • With love,
  • Praying for you,
  • With sympathy,
  • Thinking of you,
  • Sharing your sadness,
  • Here for you,

To make your sympathy note personal, consider which of these ideas you should include. It’s okay if you can’t think of a story to share or don’t know how you could help the bereaved. If you are struggling with what to say, keep things short and simple. A short, kind message means more than one that rambles or focuses on the writer. Focus on being sincere and kind, and your grieving friend will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

shows memorial benches along the middle of a inlet walkway with lighthouse are end of wharf

9 Outdoor Memorial Ideas to Honor a Loved One

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Memorial

When you’re grieving the death of a loved one, it helps to find just the right way to honor their life. Sometimes that may mean painting a portrait, creating a scholarship fund, or writing down the story of your life together. Other times, when the person particularly enjoyed the sun and fresh air, it might mean creating an outdoor memorial.

To help you think through all the possibilities, here are 9 ways you could honor your loved one’s life outdoors.

white rose resting on top of gray granite headstone

1. Personalized Headstone

First, let’s look at a traditional option – a personalized headstone or grave marker. Whether it’s a burial plot or a cremation niche, you can customize a headstone or plaque that is meaningful. Include a sweet sentiment. Choose a unique color or shape. Add a photo or special image. There really are a lot of custom options available to you, if you’d like to honor your loved one’s life in this way. For more information on how you can create a one-of-a-kind headstone, read 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker or Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker.

shows memorial benches along the middle of a inlet walkway with lighthouse are end of wharf

2. Bench with Memorial Message

Whether it’s at a cemetery, a favorite park, or even in the middle of downtown, you’ve likely seen memorial benches. Often built of wood or metal, the bench stands in a picturesque or meaningful location and includes a message. The message could be anything you want. Forever loved. In loving memory of <person’s name>. For <person’s name>, impractically perfect in every way. You could also choose a special quote or add a few details about the person. With metal benches, you can even include cutout shapes and various colors to make the bench even more unique.

shows person hugging a tree trunk that has a red heart painted on it

3. Remembrance Tree

If you prefer a completely natural option, you can plant a remembrance tree. While it’s certainly not required, you can also bury a loved one’s ashes with the tree. There are biodegradable urns specifically intended for this purpose. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together, and the ashes rest in a lower section. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down to the ashes, and everything mingles together. With this option, you have grown a tree that supports the environment, but also created a lasting memorial for someone you love.

shows a white outdoor flag against a wall of ivy

4. Memorial Flag

Whether you want a smaller garden flag or a full-sized flag, you can order a custom flag to honor your loved one’s life. Add a favorite photo. Use their favorite color. Choose a flag with a special image, like hearts, flowers, teddy bears, bees. Whatever makes it personal. Then, display it whenever you want. You may want to leave it out all year, or you could put it out on the person’s birthday or the anniversary of their death. There’s no right or wrong way. Simply do what feels right and helps you honor their life.

Shows small stone painted like a fox sitting in the grass

5. Garden Stone

You don’t need a garden to use an outdoor garden stone to honor a loved one’s life. You can either add a personalized plaque to a larger rock, or you can paint a smaller rock. Then, you can place the stone outside your home in a place that makes the most sense for you. That might be in your yard, on your patio, or lined against the walkway to your front door. This option is very versatile, and if you move or want to change things up, you can easily transport the stone to a new location.

Grandfather and grandson building a custom bird feeder

6. Bird Feeder

If birds are special to you or your loved one, then a memorial bird feeder may be just the right thing. You can choose one that appeals to you and add personalized elements, such as a loved one’s name or photo. You can choose the color or design based on their favorite feathered friend, such as red for the cardinal or rust orange for the robin. Then, select the best tree in your yard for its home. Every time you see a bird visiting the feeder, it’s like your loved one is enjoying it, too.

shows silver wind chime with hearts

7. Wind Chime

If you don’t have a large outdoor space, a wind chime doesn’t require much room and holds its own charm. Select a wind chime that feels like the perfect match for your needs and then find a space to hang it up. You can even add customized touches, like a specific color or engraving. Once its in place, the chime’s windswept tones will become a sweet reminder. Some days, it may even feel as if your loved one has stopped by to say hello.

Shows a light wood roadside cross with flowers and gifts around it

8. Memorial Cross

All of us have passed memorial crosses on the side of the road, marking the place where someone loved lost their life. For those who are lost tragically, a memorial cross can bring a sense of comfort to family and friends. It provides a place to mourn, but it also brings attention. Other people – even strangers – will pass by and think kindly of your loved one. Who were they? What were they like? And in a small way, your loved one’s memory lives on and serves as a reminder to value life and to live well.

Young woman creating a sculpture in an art studio

9. Sculpture

Finally, while this option is not for everyone, it may feel right and appropriate for your circumstances. With this form of outdoor memorial, there really are no creative boundaries. Though the most famous memorial sculptures are often associated with historical figures or key historical events, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can commission something small for your own backyard or for a local organization your loved one supported. In fact, many organizations have a memorial wall where beloved contributors are honored and remembered.

Please remember, these ideas only scratch the surface. There are so many ways that you can honor a loved one with an outdoor memorial, so let your imagination loose. And as you consider the best way to honor your loved one’s life, you will find that the process is helping you work through your feelings on the journey to healing and reconciliation.

Woman sitting alone on couch, wrapped in gray blanket

Recognizing Unhealthy Coping Habits

By Grief/Loss

Losing someone you love can throw you off-balance and make you feel like you’re losing control of your life. This is completely normal in the early stages of grief. Whether you’re feeling sad, angry, guilty, numb – all of these are natural reactions to loss. However, the intensity of your grief should decrease over time, becoming less sharp, less overwhelming. Unfortunately, for some, grief can trigger or exacerbate unhealthy coping habits, leading to something called “negative coping.” When these habits are unaddressed or go on too long, they can seriously affect your ability to live a healthy life.

Woman laying in bed, having trouble sleeping

What is “Negative Coping”?

First, let’s look at negative coping, so you have a clear understanding of what it is and how to identify it.

Definition

While we all cope with grief and stress in our own ways, there are some habits that are destructive to a person’s health – both physical and emotional. “Negative coping” refers to any behavior that is used to avoid painful emotions or situations. These numbing actions provide momentary relief (“avoidance”), but they do not facilitate healing in any way.

Why is negative coping bad?

The biggest reason negative coping is so harmful is because it prevents you from dealing with your emotions in a healthy way. In a way, you get trapped in a cycle of avoidance. It’s too hard to deal with the emotions, so you numb yourself with other things. These other things aren’t necessarily bad on their own, but they can be taken to an unhealthy extreme. For example, it’s fine to enjoy a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage now and then, but if you are leaning on alcohol to numb your feelings, there’s a problem.

How do I know when someone is participating in negative coping?

It can be hard to pinpoint because everyone experiences grief in a different way, but numbing activities are a good indicator. For example, if you know someone who has been watching TV a lot, that may not be a sign of negative coping. However, if that person is actively avoiding all other responsibilities, isolating themselves, and skipping work to watch TV (even months after the loss), then there’s cause for concern.

Now that you understand negative coping, let’s discuss 4 unhealthy coping habits to avoid.

Middle-aged woman sitting at her desk with laptop, glasses, and cup of tea nearby

4 Unhealthy Coping Habits to Avoid

Before we look at some of the more damaging unhealthy coping habits, it’s important to understand that any behavior can be unhealthy when it’s used incorrectly. For instance, if you spend too much money, eat too much food, sleep too much, or watch TV too much, you can develop an unhealthy habit around that behavior. It’s important to evaluate why you are doing it and what you are avoiding.

Here are some normal behaviors that can take on an unhealthy edge during times of loss:

  • Working long hours/staying busy
  • Focusing on the needs of your family only/ignoring yourself
  • Using food to numb your feelings
  • Forgetting self-care/hygiene
  • Sleeping too much
  • Allowing an activity to consume your life (working out, TV, video games, etc.)

While all of these are concerning, there are some coping habits that are particularly damaging to your physical and emotional health. Participating in these activities may end up harming you or someone else.

#1 – Living in Denial

While denial is a normal part of grief, it should pass relatively quickly. When you see a loved one’s body at the visitation, attend the service, or help scatter the ashes, these actions all help you accept the reality of the death. However, refusing to acknowledge reality or choosing to live in denial can be very harmful. This doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t believe the death occurred, but it does mean you’ve shut off your emotions. If you don’t come to some form of acceptance, it can lead to fewer meaningful connections and feeling trapped in an emotional purgatory. Without meaningful connections, the zest for life is lost, and you live the shadow of a life you could have.

Woman sitting alone on couch, wrapped in gray blanket

#2 – Choosing Isolation and Withdrawal

When things are hard, running away sometimes feels like a good idea. One way to run from dealing with your feelings is to withdraw and isolate. While this behavior may feel comforting in the moment, it leads to feelings of loneliness and a higher risk of mental health problems. When the grief feels like it’s ripping you apart, it is hard to engage with others, but it’s important that you do. You don’t have to become a social butterfly but let in the people who are closest to you. Be open and honest with those you trust and start to engage with your feelings. It will help, and you can balance your emotional needs.

#3 – Using Addictive Substances

Science tells us that some people are more likely than others to develop an addiction. Sometimes, an addiction starts from a desire to fit in with others, but often, it begins during times of great stress. Whether it’s alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs, the temptation to overuse addictive substances lies in their ability to help numb the emotions. We are looking for an external way to heal internal pain, but it’s only temporary. To truly heal, you have to confront the pain and deal with it. With this unhealthy habit, the effects can be far-reaching, including permanent damage to your body or even criminal charges.

Older man sitting alone at home, elbow on knee with hand to face

#4 – Engaging in High-Risk Behavior

Perhaps the most alarming unhealthy habit is engaging in high-risk behavior. This could include abusing alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, but it refers to other things, too. It could mean compulsive spending, gambling, self-harm, reckless driving, getting into an unhealthy relationship, or unsafe sexual activity. These activities can have very real and long-lasting consequences, which makes them particularly harmful. For example, gambling can lead to extreme debt or reckless driving can lead to criminal charges. High-risk behavior is a very obvious indicator that someone is not processing their grief in a healthy way.

If you find yourself or a loved one participating in any of these harmful behaviors or you are simply having trouble finding a healthy balance in your life, it’s helpful to talk with someone – a trusted friend, a pastor, a church elder, a licensed counselor. Suppressing your feelings gets you to no place good, so even though it hurts, face them head on.

Renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way, “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.”

man and woman sitting on couch, woman comforting man

How Can I Express My Pain in a Healthy Way?

Every person and every grief journey is unique, which means you have to figure out which healing actions work for you. However, there are many tried and true options that have been successful for a variety of people. Give different activities a try and see what works for you. For tips on healthy grieving habits, take a moment to read 10 Helpful Tips When Grieving a Loss, How Creativity Can Help You Deal with Loss, and 5 Benefits of a Grief Journal.

Grief is hard, and you may find yourself staggering from the loss. Even so, for your own sake, find a way to work through your emotions. Name them. Embrace them. And eventually, begin to heal from them. In the meantime, if you need help moving away from unhealthy coping habits, reach out to a grief therapist. They can help you do the work of grief and get on the road to healing.

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