In our community, so many people experience loss and have to come to terms with what their new normal looks like.
A young girl whose mother died by suicide asks who she can talk to about things that are weighing heavily. A friend’s 60-year old brother died unexpectedly. A well-known and respected community member died in a tragic auto accident. A high school student died after a battle with leukemia. Several students at local colleges took their own lives. A middle school lost two students this school year, one to an auto accident and another to illness. A mother walked into MHA carrying her month-old baby, followed by four other children ranging from three to seventeen, looking for guidance on dealing with the loss of her five-year old daughter a year ago.
Loss of someone important in your life can be due to a death, divorce, estrangement, illness, choice or accident. It leaves behind people struggling to figure out how to manage going forward. How do you deal with difficult events that change your life? Few people are prepared for loss and all will need to go through the grief process. Grief is a natural part of life though expressing and coping with grief is intensely personal and different for each of us.
A flood of strong emotions following a loss may include denial, refusing to believe what’s happening. Anger can erupt including questioning why or how the events could have happened. Anxiety or depression can follow a significant loss. Guilt over what has happened can cause a person to question their past action, causing them to wonder what they missed or what else could have been done.
In time, your loss will become more bearable, allowing you to lead a full life once again. Losing someone changes your life. There are healthy ways to work through grief. Grief can overwhelm you at first, but try not to neglect your own needs. Here are some positive ways to cope:
- Eat a healthy diet. You may not feel like eating, but you need to keep up your strength and your body needs fuel.
- Get proper rest. You may dwell on your loss and not allow yourself enough rest or you may not feel like getting out of bed at all. Be sure to follow your doctor’s orders and use medications appropriately.
- Avoid abusing alcohol or medications. Trying to numb your emotions with drugs will only delay your grief and could create new problems. It is OK to feel sad or challenged by your loss. It is not OK to “cover it up” when you are grieving.
- Stay Active. Physical activity such as walking or swimming and other kinds of exercise can help refresh you and take your mind off your pain. Research shows that physical exercise can change your brain chemistry in a positive way.
Healing takes time. Allow yourself to grieve. Some people believe they should stay strong but trying to ignore or hold in your feelings can make things worse. Letting painful feelings out helps you heal. Share your feelings with someone you are comfortable with or attend a support group. Don’t become isolated. Feeling connected to others is critical to getting through a difficult time.
Coping with loss is never easy. It does take time. Be open to the joys and new possibilities in life.
Penny Sitler is Executive Director, Mental Health America of Licking County