Three months ago, I lost my father to cancer. In the wake of his passing, I was shoved into the throes of grief. I’d never lost anyone close to me and so this was uncharted territory.
I learned that just as our personalities are so multifaceted and diverse, so are our grieving styles, and we shouldn’t shame or punish ourselves for not grieving the way others want or expect us to grieve. Everyone has a unique way of handling a tragedy and it’s OK to honor that.
It’s important to respect and love yourself enough to recognize that you’re dealing with your emotions the best way you know how, in the way that you’ve been designed to deal with them.
Below are five ways to not only honor your loved one but also heal your heart and strengthen yourself.
1. Organize a drive in your loved one’s memory.
My dad’s nickname was Bear, and upon his passing, I had the idea to hold a teddy bear drive in his honor. After his diagnosis, he’d always had a heart for children dealing with cancer and wanted to help them somehow. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. I felt as if this could essentially be a final act of kindness on his behalf.
In an amazing turn of events, we ended up collecting 61 bears in less than two weeks—amazing because my dad was 61 years old. In a time when we were hurting, the outpouring of love from those who donated as well the excitement of the children’s hospital upon receiving the donation filled our hearts with very-much needed joy and peace.
You might also consider donating a loved one’s clothes to a shelter, purchasing a memorial plague/brick in their honor, or perhaps selling their personal belongings to raise money for a charity of which they were especially supportive.
2. Transfer your emotions into an activity.
Months before my father’s cancer diagnosis, I’d begun writing a novel about a girl who lost her father in a sudden accident. It was eerie to resume writing the novel in the wake of my own father’s passing. However, I also found that I could pour everything I was feeling into the protagonist. After each writing session, I felt refreshed, relieved, and even stronger.
Whether it’s a hobby that’s been dormant for some time, a new activity altogether, or even something you used to share with your loved one—transferring your emotions into an activity is a great way to detox yourself from stress and other disempowering emotions.
3. Surround yourself with their love.
Cover your bed’s headboard with their pictures. Wear their shirts and sweaters and hats. Put a memento they loved on your nightstand. Wallpaper an area in your home with the greeting cards you exchanged. They may not be physically present any longer, but it’s okay to cherish what they meant to you and surround yourself with the wonderful time you shared together.
4. Memorialize them in creative ways.
I’ve heard of people who’ve turned ashes into fireworks, and then set off the fireworks on that person’s birthday. Others buy paper lanterns and light up the night sky at a special memorial service. Still others might have ashes manufactured into pencils, or may send off their loved one’s favorite shirts to be made into a quilt or used as patchwork for a stuffed animal, or may have a canvas painting done from a favorite picture.
These are all ways to not only comfort yourself and have something special that reminds you of your loved one, but also things that celebrate their life.
5. Meet with a grieving group.
Sometimes what a person really needs is the opportunity to talk out their emotions with people who know what they’re going through. You can find grieving groups within faith communities, hospitals, online forums, and local community meet-up groups.
Putting your emotions to words can help you better understand your true feelings and you’ll also benefit from the encouragement, support, and advice from others who want to help you along the way.
Remember, grief isn’t a race to see who can bounce back and recover the soonest. It takes time. Don’t rush yourself to feel better again. Also remember that not every suggestion in the world is going to resonate with you. Don’t continue pursuing a strategy that remains ineffective just because thought leaders and experts say it works wonders. If it’s not restorative in any way and you see no benefit, then it’s time to move on to a new method.
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the best you can do is follow your heart. Deep down, you know what’s going to work and in time you’ll find those things that bring you true healing and peace.