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Grief and Loss: How to Accept Death

learning to accept death

Accepting death – especially that of a loved one – can be difficult, but grief can be managed through coping skills and support from family and friends. 

Losing someone close to you can be one of the most difficult challenges you face in life. The grieving process is different for everyone, and each person may have different reactions and cope in different ways than others. This is normal and to be expected. A loved one’s death can leave you feeling shocked, angry, sad, or depressed. People experience a variety of different emotions when in mourning, and it’s okay to feel whatever you feel. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

It is important to grieve so that you can accept the loss and move forward with your life in the present. As time passes, your feelings of grief will become less intense. The majority of people will recover on their own if they use therapeutic coping skills and have social support from others in their lives. The amount of time it takes to grieve is different for everyone and depends on the relationship you had with the person you have lost. In some cases this can be only a few months, and other times the process of mourning can take a year or longer. 

Knowing What to Expect During Grief

Even though the grief process can be different for everyone, many experience similar feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. There are no specific stages of grief and no order to what you will feel and when, because they can occur in any order and for varying amounts of time. Here are some of the things you may experience when accepting death of a loved one.

Feelings

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Blame
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Helplessness
  • Shock
  • Yearning
  • Denial
  • Relief
  • Numbness

Thoughts

  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Preoccupation
  • Sense of the loved one’s presence
  • Hallucinations

Behaviors

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances
  • Distracted or absentminded behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dreams of the deceased
  • Avoiding reminders of the deceased
  • Sighing
  • Restlessness
  • Crying

Physical symptoms such as stomach aches, tightness in the chest, and breathlessness may also be experienced when grieving a loved one.

Dealing With a Major Loss

Accepting death of a loved one is always difficult, but some can have more of an impact than others. When your relationship with the deceased was particularly close it can take significantly longer to complete the grieving process. It can be especially difficult for a parent to lose a child. They may feel responsible for the child’s death because they were responsible for the child’s life, no matter how the death happened. Parents also tend to experience a loss of identity when they lose a child. 

The loss of a spouse is also a major loss. When your spouse dies, you lose a friend, companion, sexual partner, and may also lose financial stability. The grieving spouse may have to navigate entering the workforce if the deceased partner was the primary source of income for the family. Elderly people who lose a spouse lose a lifetime companion, and this can make the loss more difficult.

Another very difficult loss is due to suicide. Surviving loved ones may feel guilty, angry, and responsible. They may have a difficult time understanding why their friend or family member would take their own life, and processing these feelings. 

A woman in the process of grief and loss, accepting the death of a loved one

Complicated Grief

Some people may have a more difficult time learning to accept the death of a loved one. This is called complicated grief and affects around 15% of people who have experienced a loss. There are a number of reasons why some people struggle with grief more than others. Complicated mourning often occurs when the death was sudden, unexpected, or traumatic. It is also common when the deceased person was young, because the surviving loved ones feel a sense of injustice. 

How close the relationship was also contributes to whether or not you will successfully grieve your loved one. Many people who lose a spouse or those with an especially dependent relationship with the deceased have a harder time recovering and accepting the person’s death. 

Complicated grief includes chronic grief reactions that last longer than usual and don’t result in feeling like the grieving process is finished. While grief can last for different time periods for all people, someone who is still feeling that they have not moved on with life 2-5 years after the death likely needs help completing the process. Some people also experience delayed grief reactions, where grieving is not done sufficiently at the time of loss and must be completed later so the person can move forward. 

There are a number of clues that may suggest a person is experiencing complicated mourning:

  • They can’t talk about the deceased without intense grief
  • A minor loss may trigger a major grief reaction
  • Themes of loss come up when they speak with a family member, friend, or counselor
  • They are not willing to move things that belonged to the deceased
  • They develop physical symptoms similar to the ones the deceased had before death
  • They make radical lifestyle changes
  • They experience a long period of depression or false euphoria after the death 
  • They feel compelled to imitate the deceased
  • They exhibit self-destructive behaviors
  • They feel intense sadness on holidays or anniversaries related to the deceased
  • They become afraid of illness or death
  • They may have avoided going to the gravesite or other rituals that prevent them from resolving their grief

Coping Strategies

How to Accept Death and Start Building a Social Support System

The goal of both grieving and grief counseling is to accept the death of the loved one. Social support from family and/or a therapist is important as it gives you permission to grieve. Developing new social relationships and deepening old ones can ensure you have the support you need during this difficult time and during good times to come. Talking about the death of your loved one with your family and friends will help you process what has happened and remember them.a woman with her head in her hands, accepting the loss of a loved one, with words that read grief and loss

Process Grief Through Remembrance

Other tasks of grief include processing the pain of grief, adjusting to a world without the person, and finding ways to remember them while moving forward with your own life. 

While the closure of saying goodbye can be helpful for some people, a more positive way of coping is to continue the bond you had with the loved one through positive memories, continuing to think about them, and imaging how they would react to the events happening in your current life. For some people it may be a positive coping strategy to keep an item that belonged to the person. For others, keeping this object may prevent them from moving on. For many people, participating in a mental health retreat for grief and loss helps them move through grieving to healthy living. 

Design a New Life and Move Forward

One of the most helpful strategies for accepting death and resolving grief is to design a new life without the deceased. This doesn’t mean pretending they were never a part of your life, but it does mean moving forward with your own as a way of honoring them and caring for yourself. 

Psychologist Intervention

Sometimes you need a little more help to accept death and coping with grief, and that’s okay. Whether you are experiencing signs of complicated grief, or just need a little help building resiliency and practicing positive coping skills, a licensed mental health professional can help. A therapist or counselor can help you to process your emotions in a healthy way. Grief can be treated with individual or group therapy. When mourning is complicated, trauma-informed therapy, psychodrama, or other advanced therapies may be used to help you get back on track. If you or a loved one is struggling with accepting death and grief, please contact us to find out how we can help.

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