Dealing With Grief: A Survival Guide

Dealing With GriefGrief is a life event that we all face at one time or another. Some of us have had much more than our share of it. We cannot avoid grief, but we can engage in a process to work toward feeling better. Some loss is much harder to deal with than other losses. Our unconscious part of the brain does not know the difference between one loss and another. So when a new loss is experienced, even a minor loss, it can bring up all the other losses that affected us previously, even without realizing it. With a large, unspeakable loss how do you make it to the other side of grief? How do you come back from a deep loss when every minor loss revisits this event? Let’s take a look at how that is possible.

There are losses of all kinds: partners, friendships, jobs, losing a home, loss of financial stability, health, and so on. For the purpose of focus and brevity, we’ll be talking about loss of a person. However, for some people the loss of a pet holds the same degree of loss and this article may also be relevant to them.

General Facts about Grief and Loss:

  1. The initial emotional pain eventually begins to lessen when we process the loss. “Time heals all wounds”, though this is in degrees for some people.
  2. People experience and deal with loss in various ways. Families often have their own way of dealing with loss, but it can vary even between family members.
  3. Healing from the loss does not mean we didn’t care about the person who passed. It means life continues. There are things we can do to honor the memory of someone as we eventually get back to our life.
  4. Grieving is not taught in school. Therefore people don’t always know how to deal with grief and survive. But there are ways to deal with loss that heal us.
  5. There can be a difference between how each gender deals with loss. For example, men may struggle more than women with the loss because women tend to have more emotional support available to them. The more we reach out for support, the easier it is to get through the grief process.
  6. Some people refer to the 5 stages of grief: denial or shock, anger, bargaining (looking at what you could have done to prevent the loss), depression and acceptance. Some authors have added guilt, acceptance and re-engaging in life. The stages all relate to one another so don’t focus too much on one particular stage. You will experience the loss in your own way and order.
  7. People can experience some or all of the above stages. There is no one way to experience loss.
  8. Symptoms of grief : physical pain in the body, anger, inability to focus, some memory loss, social withdrawal, loss of appetite, feelings of anxiety or guilt. Sometimes people question their spirituality in times of loss; looking for the “why” something so terrible could happen.


Surviving the Grief

It’s OK to have feelings

  • Be aware of how you feel, physically and emotionally. This change is normal, but you should see it return closer to your “norm” over time. Or you may form a new “norm”. The amount of time differs between people.
  • It is normal to have feelings of anger, regret, deep sadness, etc. All these feelings are normal and you may come in and out of a range of emotions.
  • My aunt would always tell me as a child, this too shall pass”. It helped give me perspective, even as a young child, that I won’t always hurt like I did in that moment of time.
  • Do not be surprised if you feel relieved when a loved one passes after a long illness. It likely was a difficult time for all involved and you didn’t want the person to continue to suffer. However, at the same time you didn’t want to lose them. This is all normal to feel.
  • Don’t be surprised if at moments you might “forget” that the person is gone. This is normal and is how the mind shields us from ongoing shock and pain.

What you can do to help yourself

  • Treat yourself as if you have the “emotional flu” as I call it:. Don’t over-commit, and ask for what you want. When ready, allow trusted friends and family to comfort you with their presence. Set boundaries with people you are not as comfortable being around. Remember, the “right” people around you understand that your needs may be different than theirs in a time of loss. Even if it means leaving you alone for a given time.
  • Try to do things that calm you, nourish you or comfort you.
  • Some people find peace in writing a letter to the person who has passed, or creating a garden for them, or releasing a balloon with a message, etc (if legal to do so).

What others can do to help

  • Try not to isolate. Reach out to your support system as you can.
  • If it fits you, join a grief support group. There are many groups around so make sure it is one that you feel comfortable with. If you find it is not for you, or the wrong group, then stop going or look for a better fit for you in another group.
  • Try to recognize and ASK for what you want. People are not good guessers in a time like this.
  • People often don’t know what to say and worry about that. Be prepared for some people to say “foolish” or inane things at times. They don’t mean to upset you.
  • In my family we tell funny stories involving the person who passed. This is our style of seeking comfort.

Help from above

  • Try to come to a place of peace. Sometimes relationships are rocky or filled with conflict and it is more difficult to find peace. Seeking professional or spiritual guidance can be helpful for some people.
  • If you are spiritual you may want to reach out to your support or institution for comfort and guidance.
  • Look at your beliefs about what happens when we die. Some people believe in an afterlife that is wonderful and joyous. Some people believe there is nothing after death. For some people their beliefs offer comfort. For others, they receive no comfort. If your beliefs no longer fit you, you may want to seek organizations, literature, classes or people who may share similar beliefs that fit you, or open your mind to new beliefs. People whose beliefs already include an afterlife often feel comforted. Some people whose belief is that once life ends that’s it, and there is nothing after that, may struggle with the loss with less comfort. If that’s the case it is more important to find meaning or some positive things to hang on to that offer comfort in some way.
  • Important: try to find some meaning in the loss. It might be just coming to terms that bad things happen to good people at times. Or it might be in giving your time or money to organizations related to your loss, and that offers you some comfort.

If you or others around you feel you are not making any progress in processing your grief after at least 6-12 months, you may want to consider seeking professional assistance. Or if your daily routine (work, cleaning the house, visiting friends, eating habits) significantly changes in a negative manner, professional help may be a something to consider.

Further reading:

Questions to Consider:

  1. What are your beliefs when you die?
  2. What gives you comfort when you experience a significant loss?
  3. Does your family have a particular way of dealing with death and loss? Do you share this? Or does something else work better for you?
  4. Do you already have a support team or group you can approach? These may be your friends.
  5. Do you feel you have not fully grieved a significant loss? If so, you may want to seek professional assistance.

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on and on

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