Ten Tips for Dealing with Grief
by Jim Otremba
The holidays can be difficult when one is grieving the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job or one’s health. Here are some guidelines that can help you heal during the holiday season.
1. Grieving takes energy, so be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend.
Try this today: Write out “I am a precious child of God” (or “treat yourself like your best friend”) and place it on the mirror in your bathroom or bedroom. Then read it every day.
2. Spend time with people who listen and validate your feelings, and give yourself permission not to spend time with those who don’t know what to say or those who say insensitive things.
Try this today: Call a friend who will listen, and talk with him or her.
3. Create time and space to grieve. Set aside time and get in touch with your feelings. Let the tears come. Use photos or videos to prompt the feelings if you need to. Jesus cried and He understands the need to cry and the need to let go. But He has also redeemed the entire grief process. He has been through this so you don’t have to do it alone.
Try this today: Depending on your needs, call a retreat center to set aside time with the Lord and yourself. Even a few hours at your local church can be helpful.
4. Remember a good thing that your loved one would want for you. When I was grieving the loss of my mom and dad, I would remind myself: “What would they want for me right now?” We know our loved ones would not want us to be consumed by our grief. They want us to know that faith tells us we will see them again. In the meantime God can heal us through the love of others.
Try this today: When you are sad, tell yourself it is okay to be sad; it is okay to cry. Then remind yourself of a good thing that your loved one would want for you.
5. God can turn our grief into gratitude. Rom 8:28 tells us that all things work for the good for those who love God. God loves us so much that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God will heal our grieving, and use it for good. I have seen this in my life and it brings new meaning to my pain.
Try this today: Read Romans 8:28 and write down what it means for you in your grieving.
6. Consider changing holiday routines. Some traditions may be comforting, so keep them. But some traditions may be difficult, and you may lack the energy to do them. Give yourself permission to change them if you think God is calling you do to that.
Try this today: Talk with a safe loved one who can help you decide what rituals to keep and which ones to change.
7. Make time for activities you used to enjoy. I love martial arts, and I try to go to class every Thursday evening; it is my “group therapy.” After my dad died in 2005, Thursday night came, and out of habit I went to martial arts. After coming home my wife asked me, “Did you have a good time?” After a long pause I said, “No, I didn’t, but I went.” At certain times in the grieving process we have to do the things we used to like to do before our grieving started.
Try this today: Take a moment to list some of the things you used to enjoy before your grieving started, and pray about which ones the Holy Spirit wants you to do this week or this day.
8. Consider the way you view yourself. You are not the problem; you are precious. Avoid negative self-statements such as: “How could you be so stupid?” or beating yourself up with regrets (“If only I had told her before she died . . .”). Start telling yourself positive things: you are God’s child, God loves you, God cares for you, you are good and beautiful because God created you good and beautifully.
Try this today: Tell yourself something positive right now! Stop any negative words, which are not helping your healing and may indicate that you need to do more grief work.
9. Understand you are not alone. There is a universal and particular side to all suffering. Universally, there are many people who understand some of what we go through when we grieve. Particularly, you can never fully understand my suffering nor can I fully understand your suffering because I am not you and you are not me. If we focus too long on the particular side it becomes too self-absorbed and we buy the lie that “nobody understands.”
Try this today: If you feel like “nobody understands” the depth of your pain, tell yourself that is only half true: that universally, many people understand the work it takes to grieve, and remind yourself that Jesus understands completely.
10. There is no right way to grieve. We all grieve differently, and men and women will grieve in their own unique way. Being aware of this can free us from trying to control another’s grief work. That said, if a person is not grieving at all and is not sleeping well, has anxiety, or is keeping so busy so as not to feel anything, those can be indicators that they may need more grief work for healing to happen.
About the author
Jim Otremba, M.Div, M.S., LICSW is a licensed therapist and Catholic coach in Minnesota (www.coachinginchrist.com).