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Who’s in Control? You or Your Grief?

Bob Baugher, Ph.D.

Someone you love has died and grief has taken over your life. If you are newly in grief, you may not be ready for the suggestions in this article. The question in the title may seem strange to you. Many of the grief reactions you are experiencing are indeed out of your control. However, if you are ready, there are ways to take back some control. It is not a way to stop or overcome your grief. This article is just a way to remind you of what you likely already know. Let’s look at seven ways to feel in a little more control.

1. Educate yourself—There are books, videos, and articles that can help you unlock the mysteries of grief. By identifying the vast array of grief reactions, you can arm yourself with information that can help make sense of the craziness you are going through. Many people who have not experienced a significant death believe that “to be in grief” means that you are crying, wailing, and/or screaming. By learning about grief, you have come to understand that it comes in many forms: emotional reactions, grief-related thoughts, questioning one’s spiritual beliefs, interacting with those around you, and grief-related physical reactions. This knowledge can make grief a bit less confusing.

2. Don’t fight it—Grief reactions can be overwhelming. We may ask, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I get rid of these reactions?” or “Am I grieving too long? Why can’t I just move on?” You might have gotten some of these same messages from well-meaning people around you. Of course you feel lousy. You might even have felt suicidal or like giving up. Your job right now is to let come whatever is going to come and let grief wash over you. As you well know: There is no right way to grieve.

3. Get support from those who understand—Find people who’ve experienced a similar loss. Listen to their stories and discover what they did to support themselves. Share your story with them and look for similarities.

4. Take care of your body—You have control over what you do physically. Yes, go ahead and eat junk food, but also include nutritious foods. Get between 7 and 8.5 hours of sleep. Do not cheat sleep. If you do, it will result in sleep debt which leads to frequent microsleep intervals, concentration problems, and memory lapses. If at all possible, try to awaken and go to sleep at roughly the same time each evening and morning. Take a brisk walk every other day. Go ahead and veg out on the couch, but make sure you do not miss your walks.

5. Keep a journal—Despite your feelings of sadness and lack of energy, find a way to document what you are going through. There is something healing about getting your thoughts and feelings down on paper. If you don’t have time to write, consider talking your feelings into the audio recorder on your phone. Then, weeks or months later revisit what you’ve experienced. It is a powerful way to gain perspective on what you’ve been through.

6. Get counseling—For those problems that interfere with your activities of daily living, find a good counselor and make sure this person has a background in helping people cope with loss. You do not want someone who suggests in any way that you’ve been grieving “too long.”

7. Channel your grief into something positive—create a video or photo album of your loved one’s life, plant a tree, create a scholarship, volunteer. Do something in the name of this person.

Yes, grief has come into your life and, in many ways, imposed its will. However, as you can see from these suggestions, there are still things you can do to gain back some control—if only a little. It is your life. You can choose to sit passively and let grief take over or find ways to actively live your life despite this terrible loss. After all, what would your loved one want you to do? You know the answer.

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