Feeling empty, exhausted, and like you never want to get out of bed is normal when you’re in the grieving process. Here’s what I learned from a grief workshop I recently attended – I was inspired to share these ideas for recovering from loss by a widow who not only lost her husband, she lost her identity.
“I feel empty,” says MW on How to Recover From Loss and Survive Grief. “My husband was ill from the age of 34. I cared for him for 45 years; he died when he was 68. I’m now in my late 60s and I don’t know what makes me happy or what to do. I think ‘Oh well I’m not going anywhere what’s the point of getting dressed?’ I can’t be bothered and I know this is not healthy. I have no idea what to do. Any advice would be appreciated.”
I recently attended a “Recovering From Loss and Grief” workshop by Dr Norman Wright. Here’s what I learned about the grief cycle from him – and from my own experiences with loss and the grieving process.
“You don’t get back to normal,” says Dr Wright. “You create a new normal, a new stability in your life.”
Recovering from loss can be more bearable when you feel like you’re not alone. These ideas on how to survive the grieving process will help you see that even though one season of your life is over, there is hope for your life. Don’t lose heart; don’t give up on the possibility of love, life, and meaning in your future.
Be open to the possibility that you might still have a Blossom or two left in you – and that you can learn how to survive the process of grief.
How to Survive the Grieving Process
There is a season for everything. Perhaps this is your season to stay in bed, take care of your wounds, and allow yourself to adjust to your new reality.
You lived one way for many years. Now, you must learn how to live in a new season, a new way, a new life. Whether you’re starting over in your 60s or learning how to let go of someone you love, you need to give yourself time to grieve your loss. Here are a few ideas for surviving the grieving process, plus tips for dealing with specific types of grief.
Allow the wispy shadow of grief to live in your heart
We start learning how to recover from loss when we’re kids. We lose our toys and comforting blankets, our innocence and wide-eyed wonder of the world. My childhood experience was a bit different, though…I grew up with a schizophrenic mother, no dad, and a gypsy-like existence. I moved from foster home to foster home, city to city, school to school. I learned how to survive the grief cycle every day because we were constantly saying good-bye to people we attached to.
But it wasn’t until I lost my grandmother and my sister that I learned how to survive the grieving process. That’s when all could think was “I can’t get out of bed” – and so I didn’t. I stayed in bed, and I slept. That helped me recover from loss…but it didn’t erase the pain of missing the people I loved so much.
It wasn’t until my husband and I discovered that we can’t have kids that I learned that we never really recover from loss. We just learn how to live with it. The cycle of grief never ends; it’s part of who we are.
Open your mind and heart to a new, different you
Before, you were a wife. Or maybe you were a mother, a sister, a daughter, an auntie.
Now, you aren’t. You are different now. That season of your life is over, and it’s time for you to let go of that identity. You’re letting go of the dreams you had, the life you shared, the possibilities you hoped for, and the responsibilities you took care of.
You didn’t just lose someone you love. Part of the grieving process is acknowledging that you have lost a huge part of your identity. Maybe you can’t get out of bed because your reason for living has died. Maybe you can’t get out of bed because you pushed someone away, or allowed a loss to happen. However your loss occurred, you are now a different person.
You’re not only recovering from loss, you’re learning how to be a different woman in this world. This is sad, and it needs to be grieved. Maybe part of your grieving process is giving yourself a few days of rest. Allow yourself to weep from your soul, to work through the grieving process, to feel like you’re breaking down.
Learn about the stages or cycle of grief – but walk your own path
“When you’re in the grieving process, your thinking patterns are different,” says Dr Wright. “There’s irrational thoughts, there’s a lot of fear. Part of the fear is that, ‘I will never, never get over this.’ And the second big fear we hear about is that, ‘The loved one that I lost is going to be forgotten.’ And that usually is true. People tend to forget. After about three months, where’s the casserole parade? Where’s everybody coming to help? They’re not around. And we feel isolated. That’s the time when we are in deep, deep pain.”
Dr Wright’s books on the grieving process are excellent – and the more you learn about how to grieve in healthy ways, the better you’ll be able to handle your feelings. You will go from “I can’t get out of bed” to “I’m getting up for an hour. Then I’m going back to bed” to “I stayed out of bed for four hours! I’m exhausted, but it was good.”
Learn how to lovingly loosen your grip on the past
Before I started blogging full-time, I was a freelance writer. One of my assignments was to write an article for a health magazine about recovering from loss and letting go of someone you love. I shared my experience of the grief cycle, and I shared suggestions from psychologists on how to survive the grieving process.
The article was so well-received that I decided to take it a step further. I interviewed counselors and grief therapists about living with loss and letting go, and the result is my ebook How to Let Go of Someone You Love.
The secret to letting go is to do it every single day – or several times a day if your grief is fresh. So every morning I accept my life for what it is. I didn’t have healthy parents growing up, and I won’t ever have a baby. I lost my grandma and my sister. I’ve lost my beloved pets, friends, and hopes for my life. And I’ve learned that accepting and surrendering to my life as it is – to how God has planned my life – is the best way to let go and cope with the grief cycle.
Finding comfort – and Blossoms – in the grieving process
I refuse to live in darkness. I don’t accept the burdens of the past; I refuse to carry them. For me, learning how to survive the cycle of grief is about recommitting my life to God every morning, and surrendering myself to Him every night. I find comfort in knowing I’m loved and protected, even in my suffering.
If you need to be comforted when you’re still in the grieving process, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken. But, don’t allow yourself to skip over the pain of processing your grief. Unresolved grief and pain will come back to haunt you. This is why it can be so important to allow yourself to stay in bed if you’re too weepy to get up.
Dr Wright says, “If you have any type of unresolved loss in your life, the loss that you now experience reaches back into your past, grabs ahold of that loss, and brings it forward so you’re dealing with not just what you experience this week or this month—you’re experiencing the past.”
Create reasons to get out of bed
If you have no reason to get out of bed, you need to create activities and responsibilities. A dog can be especially helpful for this, because he requires walks and attention. Whether you’re 68 or 88, you can still find ways to be involved in whatever is alive around you: animals, kids, coffee shops, library events, community activities, church groups, neighborhood associations…or even grief support groups.
You don’t necessarily need to join a grief support group or talk to a counselor (though those can be very helpful), but you do need to remember that we were made to connect with other people. Your burden will be lighter if you share it with others. You don’t have to talk about your loss or the grieving process – you might volunteer with kids or animals, or at a community gathering.
Don’t wait until you feel like it. When you’re recovering from loss and goring through the grieving process, you won’t feel like being around people for a long, long time. You may need to force yourself at first…but it will get easier. Maybe it’ll even become enjoyable! No matter what type of loss you’re dealing with – no matter what stage of the grief cycle you’re in – you’ll find comfort if you join with others who are suffering.
A prayer to help you recover from your loss
May you accept your loss, and may you give your burden to Christ. “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden,” He said, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will give you rest.”
May you surrender to both the sad and the joyful parts of your life. We all encounter both, don’t we? Hold on to those little bright spots, those little Blossoms of light and life. Set down your heavy burden of grief for a moment, and pick up God’s peace, joy, and freedom. May you heal emotionally during the cycle of grief, and may you recover spiritually from your loss. May you find people who comfort and cheer you. May you Blossom despite the pain of grief and loss. I pray for strength, courage, hope, and faith. May light and love enter your heart, and may your spirits lift higher and higher.
“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present,” says Jan Glidewell on 4 Ways to Come Alive When You Feel Dead Inside.
May you let go of the past, and start looking forward to the future.
I hope you found my thoughts on how to survive the grieving process helpful. I shared the biggest losses I experienced in my life, and mentioned a few ways I deal with grief. My next article offers more practical tips on surviving grief; it’s about whether widows “should” move to a new house or apartment after a spouse dies.
Additional Ideas for Surviving the Grieving Process
Get a journal to write in, and answer the following questions about the grieving process:
- What is one word that describes how you feel about the grief cycle? You can write more than a word if you’d like. Sometimes it’s helpful to just bundle all your feelings into a single thought. Expressing your thoughts and feelings is one of the best ways to deal with grief, because it helps you process your emotions and move forward.
- How have you grieved in the past? As we get older, the grieving process changes. We might become more accepting or more depressed, depending on the situation.
- Who is one living person that you’d get out of bed for? Write about who they are, how they make you feel, and when you’ll be with them next.
Life is a series of letting go of people and things, big and little.
I welcome your thoughts on recovering from loss and the grieving process below. I encourage you to respond to other readers’ comments if you feel led, and to share your experience of surviving the grieving process.