Five ways to help process your grief

Grief can be frightening because its immediacy and unpredictability run contrary to our sense of being in control of our lives. Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s pioneering work, On Death and Dying, is one framework that identified five stages of grief that people typically go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This is a useful overview, but you may not go through all the stages, or in that exact sequence, and you may also find that you revisit certain stages or themes.

In this post I would like to offer some suggestions for positive ways to express and process your loss, to help you move forward.

1.Talk about the person and about your feelings

Find people you can trust, who it is okay to feel vulnerable with. This might be a family member or friend, or a grief counsellor or other professional. People can be reluctant to intrude upon your grief (partly because it can stir up their own emotions), so be open about your needs and give them permission to broach the subject when you feel ready. It can also help to include the person you’ve lost in general conversation, so that they are ‘present’ to you and not erased from your life.

2. Talk to the person

That’s not a typo! It can be therapeutic to talk to the departed, whether that’s out loud or in the privacy of your own mind. It can be a way of acknowledging the impact of your loss and of saying things you may not have had a chance to when they were alive. You may find yourself doing this while watching TV programmes they loved, last thing at night, or at other times when you feel close to them. Some people may choose to do this with intention in meditation or by visualisation – e.g. closing your eyes and imagining the person in a chair opposite you. An inner experience like this can create physiological changes, bring comfort and reduce stress.

3. Write down the stories

Families and friendships are much more widely dispersed these days and sometimes rely on social media, Skype and email. When a loved one dies, we may fear that their stories will die with them. However, you and other mourners can create your own book of remembrance – either a physical collection of their personal history and memorable tales or an online collection of anecdotes and memories through a Facebook page or other social media site. If it’s online it can be a wonderful way of bringing everyone’s stories together in an archive that people can also use to stay in touch and share support, wherever they are in the world.

4. Make a tribute in honour

This can be as simple as placing a single stone in the ground, tying a ribbon to a tree, or something more elaborate such as building a cairn. Alternatively, you could plant a tree to create a living shrine and visit it regularly to mark the passage of time through its growth. This act of dedication, in the memory of a loved one, enables you to mark your loss through the seasons.

5. The power of symbols

Personal symbolism is important in grief because every relationship – whether it’s familial, romantic or a friendship – develops its own shorthand over time. Particular songs, words or images have a special meaning that acts like a tuning fork for the connection. You may find yourself wanting to replay a favourite tune, or to reproduce a special word or image, even if it upsets you. Go with your feelings.