Questions I get asked: 5 tips for someone who has just lost a parent or someone they love
Over the weekend I was asked what my top 5 bits of advice would be for someone who has just lost a parent or someone close to them so I thought I’d share them here too. Most of them I’ve written about before separately, but I thought it would be a great idea to have them all here for you in one place, if you need them. Within each tip I’ll link to the blog I’ve written about that particular topic if you want to read a little more.
That period just after a death can be all over the place. Maybe you’re just holding it all together (or not), trying to figure out what needs to be done, trying to make sense of what has happened and what is going on around you, trying to look after others as well, and wondering how on earth you’ll get through each day. So here are the 5 things to be doing to get you through this time, and to make sure what happens next is much less tough on you.
1. Look after yourself
First and foremost – be kind to yourself. You may be doing alright or you may be a bit of an emotional/physical wreck or anywhere in between. I know there are lots of things to do and lots of people to help as well, but you are important – you really are – and you aren’t much good to anyone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself first anyway. I wrote a blog on the absolute basics of looking after yourself here. But to sum up:
- make sure you are eating enough and eating well enough
- make sure you are drinking enough water
- if you’re drinking alcohol around this time then try to watch your intake (alcohol is a well-known depressant. It might feel helpful at the time but overall it can be making you feel worse)
- get a little bit of fresh air and exercise daily
- have a daily shower/bath
- make sure you get some human contact – friends/family. I know a lot of the time you might want to be alone and that’s fine, but don’t underestimate the impact that total isolation can have on you – it’s a very vicious cycle
- know what things can pick you up a little if things feel really bad (is there a particular song you like or a friend who makes you laugh? Maybe a little meditation if that’s your thing, or some rescue remedy. Quickest thing to comfort me is often a dog or a cat.)
- cry. I can’t emphasise this enough. If you need to cry then do it. If you don’t need to then that’s fine – don’t force anything. But don’t hold it all in – holding in emotion your body wants to release is pretty toxic for you, and while you may think it’s about ‘being strong’ you aren’t helping yourself by keeping it all in and you aren’t helping anyone else by not sharing what you feel
2. Be honest with yourself
Be honest with yourself and let yourself feel whatever you feel. Particularly if you read the above tips and thought “oh, I don’t feel as bad as that. I should do though, shouldn’t I?” then read this next bit carefully. Grief is made up of a specific set of emotions and feelings, questions and confusion – some that virtually never get mentioned. What these are and the degree to which you’ll experience them will vary from you to the next person. Don’t bother with expectations of what you ‘should’ feel. Don’t tell yourself you should be ok…or you should be really upset. The more you try to convince yourself you should be feeling something other than you are, the more guilt you create for yourself. Guilt is a massive factor in grief, though it is rarely recognised as that, and will just make things far more painful for you.
Just recognise for yourself what thoughts and feelings come up. Some will be uncomfortable and you’ll think you aren’t supposed to be having them. Just acknowledge them. If you can see what they are they’ll be far easier to process and make sense of when you’re ready than if you’re hiding them from yourself or emphasising them. My blog on how you are feeling and how you think you should be feeling (which are often very different) is here.
3. Be honest with others about what you need.
Be honest with others. Don’t just expect everyone else to know how you feel and what you need from them, if you need anything at all. This goes for other people dealing with the loss of the same person and also for your friends, family, colleagues who aren’t involved. The people around you aren’t mind-readers and a lot of them will be more than just a little wary about trying to work out what you might need or want right now. If you don’t want to talk about it, say so. If you want someone to just have a coffee with you and distract you with gossip for an hour, say so. If you need to be left alone, say so. You’ll make it way easier on yourself and the people around you if you just tell them what you need and want and don’t just hope they’ll miraculously know what to do with you. Half of them will be making themselves anxious trying to figure out what to do and say around you and what, if anything, they can do to help right now – make it easier for them and tell them. Read more about asking for help when you need it here.
4. Don’t expect everyone to be there for you.
This part is incredibly important after what I’ve written above. People will react very differently towards you – anything from smothering you to staying as far away from you as possible. There is nothing wrong with this – people have their own experiences, beliefs, and fears around death and, whether they are aware of this or not, you are reminding them of these right now. Not all of them will be able to handle what is happening in your life. Read more about this in this blog because one of the quickest ways to make this time harder on you than it needs to be is to expect everyone close to you to automatically be there for you…and then end up hurt and disappointed when they aren’t. The best thing you can do here is know who is good for what. A particular friend who totally distances themselves from you is probably not the person to try to call when you really want to talk about what has happened. The person who wants to talk to you about it, in great detail, constantly, is not the person to have that relaxing, gossipy coffee with when you just want to be distracted. Just figure out who is good when you want to talk about it, who is good to distract you, who is good for a hug, etc, and go to them when you need what you know they can give you.
5. Know you won’t feel this way forever.
I could write a whole series of blogs (make that a book) on this topic. There are very common beliefs in society about what grief looks like, how it feels, and how long it lasts – and these can be incredibly damaging because they set your expectations very clearly of what you think you are supposed to go through and what is acceptable. If you believe you will feel a certain way forever, and that you are supposed to, then you will probably make sure you do….or feel very guilty about not managing it.
Grief is a place to spend some time…..but you don’t need to move in there. That is the last thing the person you have lost would want for your life. Now I know that probably everyone else is telling you that grief is all about pain and will last a long time and that, though it will fade, you will feel this pain and loss forever. Believing these things will ensure two things – that you will suffer for far longer than necessary, and that over time you will push the memories of the person you love away (as the details of them are a source of pain for you) and you will start to forget. And neither of these are necessary. I’ve been through enough grief myself, worked with enough professionals – both on a personal and professional level, studied enough, and worked with enough clients to know that it doesn’t have to be like that at all. You can reduce your pain and feel closer to your parent, and remember them better.
So right now, when you’ve just lost someone close to you, just pop that thought safely in your head somewhere. It isn’t going to stay like this. You aren’t always going to feel in so much pain. You aren’t going to always feel this separate from them. You don’t have to forget. No matter what anyone else tells you.
If you have any questions/comments about anything I’ve written please feel free to comment or email me. And if you know anyone who is going through a loss feel free to share this or any of my blogs that might help them.