Battling loss and grief are normal after suffering a difficult life event. Whether you lost a loved one to illness or an accident, had your sense of safety and security stolen from you after being nearly killed in combat, or were left feeling vulnerable, worthless, and lonely after a breakup or divorce, it will take time to heal.
Feeling depressed and anxious, having problems with sleep and appetite, and feeling angry, resentful, and numb are to be expected. It doesn’t mean you are crazy. And for the vast majority of people, these problems are time-limited.
Remind yourself that healing takes time. In spite of what the old saying claims, time does not necessarily heal all wounds … but it usually does help. Don’t rush through the grieving process. Accept the fact that your life has changed while also remembering that growth can come with change.
Rely on those around you who care about you and whom you trust. Few things in life are done well in isolation. This is particularly true for overcoming emotional struggle. The collective compassion and wisdom of those around you is immense, but you must first ask for it and accept it when it’s provided.
Make sure to let yourself mourn. Grief can produce a profound sense of emptiness and despair. To overcome these feelings, you need to mourn your loss.
You can actively mourn the death of a loved one through a wake, a funeral, or a memorial service. These formal activities allow you to remember your loved one and start the process of letting go.
For someone who has recently divorced, an act of mourning could be donating to charity anything that an ex chose to leave behind. Or it could consist of burying, burning, or giving away pictures and other visual reminders of the relationship.
A person who narrowly escaped death from combat or suffered sexual assault may hold a “funeral” mourning the loss of her previous sense of safety and security while also celebrating the promise for creating a more realistic, yet optimistic view of life.
An activity I’ve found helpful when working with people who are struggling in the aftermath of trauma is to ask them to become the professional. The ability to look outward and to focus on providing support, guidance, and advice to others is a great way to temporarily separate yourself from your distress.
Losing something or someone important to us is a harsh reality that we all must face at some point. And like any service member knows, being prepared is the key to moving through the smoke swiftly and safely.
Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. He is the co-author of “The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook.” This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.