How do you get back in the game after grieving has left you feeling out of it?
This happened to me recently. My friend died under tragic circumstances. I lost not only a friend, but also a whole family of neighbors who won’t be coming back to the neighborhood because of the loss.
The guilt at not being able to help or change it, the disbelief, sleepless nights, and the nightmares or images you can’t get out of your head can send you reeling.
I’ve experienced all of this and more. But how do you bounce back, and what helps keep you centered and not totally despairing after such a tragedy?
The following are some things that have helped me.
1. Accept the situation.
It happened. Nothing can change that. Stay in the present and realize it’s in the past, that the person is out of pain now and try to think of ways that you can help the living. They will need to call upon your strength after what they've been through.
2. Keep your routine going.
This is very important. For me that meant exercising, eating right, getting some sunshine, writing, meditating, doing yoga and praying. Whatever the practices are that help keep you centered, it’s utterly vital to your wellbeing that you continue these as much as possible. Otherwise, how else will you avoid succumbing to the sadness, let alone be able — if you so choose — to support others?
3. Be specific about your offers to help.
Rather than saying, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” it’s probably better to be specific. “Can I give you a ride somewhere?” “Can you tell me where I can drop off a casserole?” are more helpful than just a general offer of help. You can even help without asking. Those who are grieving don't need another thing to think about — they're already overwhelmed.
4. Share your love.
A hug can go a long way toward helping the healing process. Freely give out hugs to those affected. Be generous. Also, talk about your love and appreciation for the one who's passed. Share stories from your favorite moments with lost loved ones. Such gestures can go a long way toward easing their pain.
5. Talk with others.
If there are others nearby who were also affected by the tragedy, touch base with them and find out how they are doing. In my case, it was extremely helpful and comforting when one of our neighbors — who happened to be a minister — had those nearest to the loss over to her home the following evening to share their feelings and support for one another. Check in on each other from time-to-time to make sure everyone is okay or offer an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on.
6. Maintain a sense of humor.
I would never make light of a tragic situation, but sometimes a sense of humor — even if it’s a dark one — is actually therapeutic. (Again, in my case, when the father who lost everything still had one, I knew it was okay.) It may feel strange, but a moment of levity can help break the heavy spell of sorrow. Death is a part of life, after all, and it is possible to mourn while also maintaining a sense of loving humor. Lightening that burden, if only for a few moments, can help everyone carry on.
7. Share your gratitude.
As hard as it may be to remember, those who have gone do not want us to grieve. When we think about them, try to remember the gifts they gave, the wisdom they imparted, or the fun they brought you in this life. In my family's case, the tragedy brought us closer to some of our neighbors.
My friend touched a lot of people during her life. That was evidenced in the enormous crowds at her memorial service. It made me realize that she brought warmth not only to me, but also to so many others. That made her passing a bit easier. It was uplifting to realize that so many besides me were able to share in the friendship of one so wonderful.
What about you? What's kept you from going off the deep end after a traumatic or tragic event? What help bring you back on track?