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Coping with the Loss of a Loved One

Grieving the death of a loved one can be all-consuming but having support from others and developing coping skills can help in the healing process. Molly Fairchild, a chaplain at Overlake, leads the Path of Grief program. Shannon McCullough, who co-facilitates the bereavement groups with Molly, offers suggestions for both those who are grieving and those who want to support someone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one.

What are some ways you can help someone who’s grieving?      

Always ask what they need/want and try to follow their lead:

  • Some want comfort: Listen, accept and validate their feelings—they are real. 
  • Some want distraction: Invite them to do something with you that you know they will enjoy. Make it easy for them—make the reservation, be the driver, buy the tickets, schedule the appointment.
  • Some want/need practical help: Do what it takes to help them—pick up the kids, mow the lawn, go grocery shopping, do laundry, make phone calls, pay bills, find solutions.

How do I deal with emotions that range from sadness to guilt to anger?  

Please know that all these emotions are a normal and healthy part of the grieving process. Try not to judge yourself as “not coping;” instead, recognize that this is you figuring out how to cope with your loss and how to be in the world without your loved one. As you figure things out, the intensity of these feelings will lessen, and you’ll have more interior space for other emotions.  

What are some ways to cope during days that meant a lot to me and my loved one, like birthdays, anniversaries or holidays?  

Ask yourself if you want to acknowledge the occasion publicly, within a family unit, with friends or by yourself, and follow your own lead. What are your traditions around that occasion? Use the tradition in a way that is different but honors your loved one at the same time.  

For example, if on your anniversary, flowers were a tradition, give yourself flowers or surprise someone you know with flowers. On their birthday, make their favorite meal, do something you know they would have loved, be in the company of others who will also recognize this day, donate to their favorite charity. At holidays, perhaps talk about your loved one. Sharing fun and happy memories can introduce joy into otherwise painful times.

Most importantly, a plan, whatever it is, provides focus and prepares oneself for holding the intense emotions that are often a part of special days. 

It has been quite some time since my loved one passed, and I’m still really sad. When will I ever feel better?

Grief is a journey of inches. Progress is best seen when looking back. Is your grief different than it was? Does it take up less of your conscious time that it once did? Are you inching your way forward? Your path is unique to you and will take as long as you need it to. But, if your answer is "yes," you are on your path to healing.

What are the benefits of joining a grief support group?

Grief can sometimes be very confusing, chaotic, isolating and overwhelming. It is natural to feel separate from the healthy and happy world around you. It is natural to feel you’re not “getting better.” There is comfort being in the company of others going through the same emotions and issues. Because group members attend in different stages of their loss, it is possible to see hope ahead of you, healing behind you, and to receive validation and comfort in this moment of your path through grief. 

How is Overlake's Path of Grief support group structured? What is covered in the six weeks?  

Each session is two hours. The first hour is sharing and talking with each other about your experiences of grief—whatever aspects of grief are affecting you in that week. The second hour is learning about the path of grief—what to expect of it, why it happens, how to cope with it, how long it takes, etc. Each week, the facilitators introduce a new aspect of grief and encourage group discussion around that topic.

Overlake's Path of Grief support group is scheduled throughout the year at various times. Please check the latest schedule for the most up-to-date information.

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