Coping with Grief

By Tom Horvath, PhD, ABPP

image of empty bench to symbolize coping with griefWhen we experience anguish (despair, heartache, melancholy, sorrow) after a significant loss, the depth of the anguish reminds us of the depth of the loss. Usually, the anguish does not surprise us, but we may be surprised at how powerful it is. Even our bodies can hurt. We feel anxious and confused. We ruminate about the past and imagine “if only” over and over. We neglect ourselves, and possibly others. We fear for the future. We think we need to talk about how we feel, but we don’t know where to start.

Most often we think of grief as arising from the loss of a person or a relationship, but grief can arise from any significant loss. Like other aspects of human life, grief is an experience we will likely have several or more times. We will somehow get through these experiences. Psychological scientists have not created a formula for what to do, but they have identified some ideas and behaviors that seem to be helpful. I especially acknowledge the work of Robin F. Goodman, PhD, on the subject of coping with grief.

Taking an active role in addressing our grief appears to be a helpful idea for most of us. We can “tell a new story” about the person, recognize that there is no set of “stages” we must go through to grieve (and can do so in our own time and way), accept that our world has changed (perhaps drastically), accept that we are likely to have a  wide range of intense emotions, learn to live in our changed world,  create a new “place” in our life for the memories of that person, and lean at times on others who share our grief.

Talking with others, even with those who do not share the specific grief, is an effective (but often gradual) method for coping with grief. As we are coping with our loss of connection, we are also building up other connections. Reminding ourselves of past griefs that are now easier to manage can also place the immediate moment in a larger context.

The risk of grief goes along with being alive. If we have times of grief, it means we have had important relationships as well. A life without grief would be a life without love.

If you or a loved one are using substances to cope with grief, addiction treatment may be helpful. Please reach out today – you don’t have to navigate this alone.