Coping with the loss of a loved one

by John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D.

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be a difficult challenge. Individuals and organizations offer many good suggestions, such as talking with others about the loss and your feelings about it. This site describes three modern coping methods that are less obvious:

Write about your feelings

Write about your loss, your emotions related to the loss, and what the loss and the emotions mean or suggest that you do.  For instance, you might write about how a parent died of heart disease and what that loss means to you.  You might write about your sadness and feelings of loneliness. You might write about your fears that you too will die from heart disease and about what you will do to reduce that risk.  You might write something completely different -- that's up to you.  But focusing on the loss, your emotions, and what it all means to you will tend to assist your coping by helping you organize your thoughts and feelings and understand the situation and your reactions to it.  In essence, you tell your story, including the important emotional part, and then write the ending, as in a book.  Surprisingly, writing about one's stressful times can be as helpful as talking with a friend or a psychologist (see Pennebaker, 2004).  You may benefit more if you write on at least a few occasions.  It's up to you whether you read over what you write and whether you show it to others.  You can keep everything confidential if you want.

Honour the loved one by emulation

To honour a deceased loved one and to help cope with the loss, people sometimes create elaborate funerals or name children or charities after the deceased person.  A new idea involves honouring the loved one by behaving in some positive way just as that person did.  For instance, my deceased father was quite outgoing, so I sometimes push myself to join others for a social event when I would rather be working.  My deceased mother often played games with her children, so I take time to play games with my children.  What better tribute is there than emulation?  This tribute has the advantage that it tends to aid the person who is doing the emulating or others around him or her.  You decide what behaviour you emulate and when.

Use problem solving strategies

Losing a loved one is hard on almost everyone, but if the loss of a loved one drags you down beyond what you consider tolerable, you have a problem unlike that of most other bereaved individuals.   If in such a case the methods described above don't help, use general problem solving strategies, e.g., Malouff (2005).  Some of same strategies that wiped out smallpox and put rovers on Mars might help you cope better with your loss.  For instance, if you use problem solving strategies you might try to change your perspective on the loss or consult an expert.

References

BBC (undated).  Coping with bereavement.  At http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/onelife/personal/bereavement/coping.shtml.

Malouff, J. (2005). Fifty problem solving strategies explained

Pennebaker, J. W. (2004). Writing to heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma and emotional upheaval.  Oakland:  New Harbinger.