Wisdom//

14 Ways to Cope With Grief and Channel Your Resilience

How to practice self-care despite the pain.

Courtesy of Sasin Paraksa / Shutterstock
Courtesy of Sasin Paraksa / Shutterstock

Grief is no easy thing to deal with; it hits us in stages and can manifest itself in unexpected ways. It often leaves us with mixed emotions and, sometimes, physical symptoms, making it difficult to retain a sense of normalcy or routine. Processing grief is complicated, but it also speaks to our resilience and incredible ability to show up for ourselves and the ones we love when life gets hard. 

We asked members of the Thrive community to share the different tactics they’ve discovered to take care of themselves during periods of grief. Their Microsteps can help all of us during our most difficult times.

Answer when grief “calls”

“At the beginning, grief is a full-time job, even when we don’t recognize it is. Then, it moves in and out of full and part time employment, often unexpectedly. Imagine grief is your benevolent employer for a time. It’s never a mean boss; it’s one that cares about your heart. If you allow yourself to pay attention when it calls, it will feel more like a loving partner than an annoying boss. When you stop, listen to your heart, and allow yourself to feel, you are taking the best care of that place in your heart — the place that will forever hold the love for the person you have lost.”

—Bridget Fonger, author of Superhero of Love, Los Angeles, CA

Take ownership of your healing process

“I became a widow at only 29 years old when my husband was killed. In the first year, I was in a deep fog and lived on autopilot. But then it hit me — even though life was unfair and unpredictable, my healing was my responsibility. The first thing that will helped me jump start my healing journey was my mindset. I made peace with the fact that we can’t control all events and circumstances in life, but we can choose our response. I developed the HEAL method to help people navigate grief in a healthy way. H: Healthy boundaries, E: Embrace emotions, A: Accept what is, and L: Love yourself. The truth is we never stop grieving, but we can learn how to manage it in our lives. HEAL is a proven pathway back to a whole heart.”

—Karen Millsap, resilience and mindset coach, Orlando, FL

Keep your loved ones’ memory alive by journaling

“Last year, I unexpectedly lost my dad to a heart attack. Being a new solopreneur and newly married, his loss was another huge life change that challenged my existing battle with anxiety and depression. I began journaling every time a memory of my dad popped into my head, if I wanted to call him or I wanted to capture my thoughts and emotions related to my grieving. My journal has been a keeper of my secrets, giving me permission to heal. It has also allowed me to celebrate the memory of my father who had a huge influence on who I am today.”

—Joyel Crawford, leadership development consultant and career strategist, Westmont, NJ 

Create small rituals to help you heal

“Exchanging stories with others about our grieving processes and actively listening has been helpful in my healing process. This helps to normalize each other’s grief. Creating small rituals to care for my grieving heart has also helped. For example, making an essential oil blend and using it when I meditate, or placing it in my bath water. I’ve tried keeping a dream journal that documents whenever a past loved one appears in a dream, and paying attention to the ways my deceased loved ones live on (like showing up as birds or rainbows and symbols, or even through my and other family members’ gestures). I also do things my loved ones enjoyed, like baking my dear mom’s famous recipes.” 

—Anna O., volunteer coordinator for Hospice St. Joseph, Patient Care and Grief Services, Sebastopol, CA 

Nourish your body and soul

“I learned to nourish myself by eating foods that were good for my body, reading words that were good for my soul, and being with people who were good for my heart. I’m reminded of the late poet Mary Oliver’s words in her poem ‘Wild Geese’: ‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ This was absolutely essential for my healing.”

—Kasia Laskowski, chief of staff, business operations, Thrive Global, New York, NY 

Focus on how much richer your life has been for knowing them

“I have been a life insurance broker for 45 years and the way I handle grief has changed significantly over my lifetime. As a young person, my solution was to ignore the signs and symptoms and get on with life and work. But as I have aged and observed how my clients and friends handle their grief, I have borrowed what I consider their best practices. Understanding that grief is a necessary part of life was my first step to acceptance. When I have a grieving period, I understand it is just a moment in time. I embrace those sad feelings but dwell on all the positive aspects of the situation. If I am grieving the loss of a friend or loved one, I concentrate on how much richer my life was having known them, and I reflect and share this with other grievers. If the grief is concerning a serious health issue impacting me, a family member, or a friend, I accept that all I can really do is listen, hear the fear, frustration, and sadness, yet still bring as much joy as possible to the situation. I believe my handling of grief for my future years will be better and healthier than it is today.”

—Mike G. Rogers, life insurance broker, Canada

Maximize mindfulness and minimize numbing

“My fiancé and I put our dog down four days ago, which happened to be two weeks before our wedding. The grief is intense. There are several tactics helping me cope. The first is extreme self-care. I am mindfully eating and drinking and continuing my exercise and sleep routines, which has helped keep me strong and balanced in body and mind. If I let these go, I’d be irritable. I’ve tried to minimize numbing, too. So, I’ve said ‘bye, Instagram!’ Activities that numb my pain are off-limits. I express gratitude, and using the “40 Days to Making a Miracle” model, I journal my emotions and our experiences. When my thoughts stir-up painful emotions, I come back to the present by focusing on my hands. And if I need to cry like a baby, I do. It passes.”

—Jacqueline Hawk, leadership coach, San Francisco, CA 

Focus on who you want to become 

“I’ve coped with grief very recently. I felt disconnected from everything else, even from myself. At first, I found it truly comforting to share my tears and feelings with someone who had gone through something similar. Then I felt empty; I needed something else to focus on. So I decided to go on a small trip to the beach. Find yourself and talk and cry to yourself. And most importantly, find your purpose. Whenever you feel bad, sad or alone, just focus on your purpose and who you want to become. You will never feel empty again.” 

—Luciana Paulise, agile coach, speaker and author, Beaumont, TX 

Honor birthdays 

“Taking care of ourselves while we grieve is essential. When it comes to the loss of a loved one I have learned to honor the birthday, not the day they died. Each year, I keep in mind the birthdays of my lost loved ones. Sometimes it’s making a phone call to another loved one to talk about the loss and other times, we’ve made a cake for the person. Over the years, I have put pictures of the person in my house to help continue the conversation. The best thing I can do for myself when I feel the weight of grief is to talk about it with people that love me and will listen.” 

—Josh Neuer, licensed professional counselor, Greenville, SC 

Disconnect from the day-to-day to reconnect with your spirit

“I lost my wife of almost 20 years to cancer, taking care of her at home up until her last 48 hours in hospice. It was a grueling three-and-a-half year battle. Three weeks after her passing, I took a three-week, 5,000-mile road trip by myself. I felt it was important to completely disconnect from my life for a while, including work, home, friends, and my to-do list. I took her ashes with me and left them in spiritually moving places like Cannon Beach, Oregon, The Redwoods in California, on a SoCal beach we visited many times while our kids were growing up and, finally, Oak Creek in Arizona where we got married. Along the way, I had some powerful experiences that have become more profound in the years since. I believe I had these experiences because I did not allow my life to protect me from connecting deeply with my grief. It will be 10 years this September and I still feel the power of that experience.” 

—Dave Newton, electronics engineer, West Paducah, KY

Tap into your creativity 

“When Grant, my fiancé, died suddenly seven years ago, I wrote to him almost everyday for the first year. Moths seemed to turn up in strange places — I saw them everywhere and so began his letters with ‘Dear Moth.’ Intrigued, I followed up by becoming a visiting artist at the Australian National Insect Collection. I made a very good friend there, and a number of abstract paintings — ‘Moth/Flame,’ ‘Moth’s Song,’ and ‘Moth’s Lullaby,’ which sold at exhibition. Getting into the creative flow writing and painting was so soothing, I don’t know how I would have coped otherwise.” 

—Suzanne Moss, artist, educator and coach, Melbourne, Australia

Let others in 

“I try to remember to let people in. When I’m grieving I tend to shut people out, assuming that they can’t possibly understand my pain. But grief is a universal suffering that no one is immune to. I remind myself that people want to be there, and when I allow myself to be vulnerable, it makes the pain easier to carry.” 

—Crystal Nicholls, dancer, London, U.K.

Celebrate life and love

“I lost my dad when I was 23. His death was unexpected and happened at the worst time imaginable: The night before my parent’s 33rd wedding anniversary, which was also the night before my brother’s wedding, and nine days before Christmas. We were on our way to the rehearsal dinner. During a time where family and friends had gathered to celebrate, we instead found ourselves faced with shocking tragedy. But we had to celebrate — that is what my dad would have wanted. So, through a lot of tears but even more love, my brother got married and we celebrated. That day shaped my family but it also shaped how we celebrate. Almost 14 years later, it is still hard to celebrate without my dad, but life cannot stop. So we have made it a point to celebrate, just differently and with a point to honor my dad without trying to fill his void.”

—Portialyn Peterson Buzzanga, behavioral health administration, Orange County, CA

Decide what’s best for you

“Your friends and family will have opinions about what is best for you when grieving. Feel free to listen to them, but make your own decisions. Before you make a decision, no matter whose advice you are following, consider: Am I making this decision out of fear? Am I making this decision based on someone else’s expectations? Am I making this decision based on a system of beliefs that I do not embrace? How will this decision help me to live the life I want to live?” 

—Margaret Meloni, Ph.D., author, Long Beach, CA 

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