Losing a Loved One: Healthy and Unhealthy Coping
Death and loss are not the lightest of topics. It’s why we usually wait until our kids are a little older to discuss the concept of someone no longer being on Earth. Unfortunately, everyone has a time when they will cease to exist; that is one cold fact of life that all of us have to accept at some point.
It would perhaps be a little easier to take if we were guaranteed a long life where the only reason we pass away is simply due to old age. Life isn’t that kind, though. I believe that the fear of death comes not only from not knowing what lies beyond it, if anything, but also just how unexpected it can be. Fatal accidents and terminal illnesses rip our loved ones away from us before we’re ready to say goodbye. Then again, maybe there is no ready for this kind of thing.
Regardless, whether it’s natural causes or a sudden death, we mourn our loved ones and sometimes even people we don’t know that well, like celebrities or murder victims. Despite what’s generally believed, there’s no “right” way to grieve someone’s passing, only different ways. That said, death can be traumatic, and you might find yourself coping with it in ways that don’t benefit you in the long run. In fact, they might end up harming you in the end.
Coping with grief and loss unhealthily
There are a few unhealthy coping methods you may adopt after losing someone close to you. Some are blatant, while others are more illicit.
- Denial. This is a big one. After all, there’s a reason it’s the first in the five stages of grief. Denial can happen due to shock, especially if the loss was sudden and unexpected, and is normal. However, prolonged denial is unhealthy, because never acknowledging the passing of a loved one means never letting yourself truly begin to heal the wound left behind by their death.
- Over or under indulging. This usually pertains to food (i.e. loss of or excessive appetite) but it can be for other things as well. Hyperfocusing on anything to stay distracted, like alcohol, or not focusing enough on important things, like hygiene, for example. The balance in your life can shift dramatically after a loss without you noticing or caring.
- Risk taking. After a loss, you may find your normally level-headed self needlessly spending big amounts of money, doing dangerous things like drinking and driving, or interacting with people who aren’t good for you. This is usually because you want to “feel something” by doing thrilling things, or because the loss has left you not caring about what happens to you. These things can have long-term, irreversible impacts on your life depending on the severity.
- Sudden controlling behavior. Unable to control your loved one’s death means you might want to feel like you’re “regaining” control by micro-managing every other aspect of your or other people’s lives. This is not a realistic way of living, and it ends up frustrating both you and those around you, ultimately leading to unhappiness.
- Bottling your feelings up. Grieving doesn’t necessarily mean openly weeping in public. However, similar to denial, if you don’t let yourself properly process what happened and try to move on too quickly, the gap in your heart won’t close properly, and a plethora of issues could arise from it, such as the ones stated above.
Coping with grief and loss healthily
The point of coping isn’t to act like everything is perfectly fine–in fact, that’s just denial and bottling your feelings up, which I put in the unhealthy coping section for a reason. It’s not on you if you develop depression and anxiety following the loss of a loved one. Hell, I was already depressed before my dad suddenly passed away when I was seventeen, but his death threw me into an even deeper depression. What’s important is what you can do afterwards to make it even a little bit easier on yourself during the grieving process.
- Express yourself when you’re ready. People grieve differently, which means you might be the type that doesn’t show the sadness on your face. That’s perfectly valid, as there’s no rule on how to grieve. However, it’s good to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Expressing how you feel about your loss to people you trust will help lighten the weight on your heart, because you won’t be going through the pain alone.
- Don’t rush the process. There’s no set time for when you “get over” a loss. In fact, you might always tear up or cry when you remember them, no matter how long it’s been since their passing. That’s perfectly fine. The pain does become easier with time, but be patient with yourself while you grieve. Death is hard on everyone.
- Try not to isolate yourself. You might want space after a loss, and that’s totally normal. But always remember that people are there for you, and they want to be there for you. Being with others can help ease the pain and remind you about the good things in life.
- Don’t be ashamed to seek therapy. Some people can move on from loss without therapy, and some can’t. There’s no shame in getting professional help if you feel like it would help you cope with your loss. Death is one of the hardest things to deal with for a lot of people, after all.
I’ve written this article for those who are going through their own grief, those who want to prepare themselves, and those who are simply curious. More than that, though, I’ve written this article as an homage to my teenage self who simply had no idea what to do when her dad passed away and thus couldn’t process it properly for a long time.
I want to let her know that it does get easier, and that we’re okay.