Handbook for Mortals : Enduring Loss : Consolation

Here are a few ways to help survivors through this sad time of life.

Solitude helps
You may need time to think about your loved one, to remember times you shared, to consider how your life will be now. You may be overwhelmed by your sorrow. You may want to stay in bed and cry or sleep, go for a walk, or sit in a chapel.

Other people help
Friends and family members are likely to empathize with you. Even if they do not know what to say, just being with other people and talking can be supportive. Accept others’ invitations to participate in activities - but leave if you feel you need to. Reach out to family or friends when the next hour or day seems unbearable.

Accepting support helps
Others may want to help by doing things for you. They may want to bring you food or talk on the phone or run errands. Accept these acts of kindness whenever you can.

Rest and sleep help
Caring for a dying person has been exhausting. You may need time alone simply to regain your physical energy, as well as your emotional and spiritual strength.

Routines help
Even though your life may feel turned upside down, try to keep up a routine of healthy eating, occasional physical activity (even a 10-minute walk), and regular sleep.

Time helps
Your life may never be the same again. Whatever your experience with death and dying, you will find that you see the world and your place in it differently. Time lessens some of grief’s pain, but it does not diminish your loss or sadness.

Dreams help
Many people dream of the dead person and feel that, in this way, they are with the person again.

Nature helps
Take a walk and focus on something promising in what you see.

Creativity helps
You might try writing about your feelings, or creating a special area in your home to honor the memory of your loved one.

Experts on grief and bereavement do recommend a few steps to consider taking as you go through this period of your life:

Postpone major life changes
You may make decisions impulsively that will later prove not to be in your best interest. Impulse spending is only a temporary fix, and geographical changes (such as moving) will not leave grief behind. If you have to make a major life change, talk it over with people you trust and encourage them to counsel you about whether you are thinking clearly.

Ask for help
Other people may want to offer help but not know how. Ask -- the process can be a healing one. If you are widowed and have children at home, you may need help with the practical issues of life, such as childcare and survivor benefits.

Turn to others
Tell others that you are grieving. There is no reason to hide your grief or sadness. Let others know how you are doing.

Keep your expectations within reason
Grief is a major stress in anyone’s life. Reduce other stresses, and try to keep your expectations of yourself reasonable. Lower your expectations if you need to.

Avoid the "shoulds" and "oughts"
Most mental health experts encourage grieving people to avoid the "shoulds" of life and focus on what unavoidably must be done and what one would like to do. Feeling that a good person "really should" do more is especially tough on the bereaved.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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