How to Cope with Death
Trying to navigate how to cope with death is never easy, even if it’s not the first time you’ve mourned the loss of a loved one. It’s important to understand that no one’s path to healing is the same. Turning to your support system and practicing the coping techniques that bring you comfort are critical during this time.
The Grieving Process when Coping with Death
The most important thing to understand when you’re trying to figure out how to cope with death is that everyone grieves differently. Some people can’t make it through the day without crying for weeks after the death of a loved one. Others throw themselves into their work so they can focus on something other than the emotional pain they feel. And some appear as though they aren’t sad or upset that someone they loved died.
However it is you cope with death, give yourself grace. Your grief might take on a different form than that of your family and friends, and that’s normal. What’s important is that you find healthy ways of coping with death. Here are a few things you may wish to try that may help you on your path to healing:
- Accept that you’re going through pain. Avoiding it makes it difficult to go through the process of working through it.
- Understand that you’re on a journey. It’s impossible to know how long it will take to cope with a loved one’s death, so it’s important to not try to rush it.
- Turn to your family and friends for support. It sometimes feels easier to pull away from people when you’re trying to figure out how to cope with death, but your loved ones want to help you. If you need a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, reach out to someone. If someone offers their support, accept it.
- Rely on your faith. Many people find that their religious beliefs are a huge source of comfort when navigating their grief. Turn to whichever practices bring you solace, be it praying alone, attending a religious gathering, meditating, or talking to a spiritual leader.
- Channel your feelings creatively or actively. Especially for those who aren’t comfortable verbalizing their emotions, finding a creative or active way to process their feelings is a huge help in the grief process. For example, you could create a scrapbook of memories, write music, or volunteer for an organization that was meaningful to your loved one.
- Maintain healthy habits. The healthier your body, the more equipped your mind is to process your grief in a healthy way. Try to eat healthy, set some time aside for physical activity, and get enough sleep each night.
- Join a support group. The death of a loved one often makes us feel completely alone, but the truth is there are countless others who have gone through this devastating experience. Finding a group of peers to share your grief with can be extremely therapeutic, especially if you find a group that focuses on the type of loss you’ve experienced (such as the death of a spouse, parent, or child).
- Speak to a mental health professional. If you feel overwhelmed by your grief, reaching out to a therapist or grief counselor for a few one-on-one sessions can feel like a lifeline. If you’re already part of a support group, ask your counselor for recommendations on who to speak to. You can also use an online tool to find a specialist.
Coping with the Death of a Spouse
Learning how to cope with death when you’ve lost a spouse is a life-changing experience. The grief of losing a partner is traumatic, and it’s important you take care of yourself during this time. The above coping techniques can help bring you some peace, but know that it may take a very long time for you to feel like you’re truly moving forward into the next phase of your life.
If you have children, coping with your spouse’s death may be even more overwhelming. In addition to moving through your own grief, you’ll be helping your kids cope with the loss of their parent. The same techniques you use to help you deal with the loss may also help your children. You might also consider joining a family support group so you can process your grief together.
Stages of Grief when Coping with Death
Again, no two people cope with loss exactly the same way. Coping with death is a very personal process, so everyone’s journey is different. However, it’s common for people to experience what are known as the five stages of grief:
- Denial: This term is used when a person cannot or refuses to deal with the fact that someone they love is dying or has passed away.
- Anger: Many people feel angry about the death of someone they love. Usually, they blame someone for their loss, such as a doctor, a spiritual entity, themselves, or even the loved one who died or is ill.
- Bargaining: Bargaining is a negotiation of sorts. Some people ask a higher power to save their loved one’s life and promise to do good deeds in return. Others — usually those dealing with their own death — come up with scenarios they think would change their present situation, such as, “If I had never started smoking, this wouldn’t be happening.”
- Depression: This phase of mourning may come even before someone has died. It may last weeks or even months after someone you love passes away.
- Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief. Many describe this as being at peace with the loss, but accepting the death doesn’t mean you won’t still feel sad some days. It’s better to think of acceptance as learning how to live with the loss and finding ways to continue on living your life.
There isn’t a definitive timeline for moving through these stages. You may also find that you don’t experience some (or any) of these phases, which is also normal. No matter what, the ultimate goal is to move to a place of acceptance. If after a few months you find you’re still struggling so much that it’s difficult to get through the day, reach out to a mental health professional. They can help you find a healthy path forward.
Types of Grief when Dealing with Death
There are a few terms used to describe some of the most common forms of grief. While you’re trying to navigate how to cope with death, you may experience one or more of the following.
This describes the process of mourning before someone dies. For example, if you have a friend or family member with a terminal illness, you may begin to grieve their death before it occurs.
Going through the grieving process without being debilitated by it is often referred to as normal, or healthy, grief.
On the other hand, those who are unable to resume their normal routines or relationships even after a few months may be suffering from complicated, or abnormal, grief. Those with intense feelings of longing for their loved ones, hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts should reach out to a mental health specialist to find a treatment plan that will help them learn how to cope with death so they can move forward.
How to Cope with Death while Funeral Planning
Funeral planning is an intense process whether you’re making arrangements for a family member or preplanning your own funeral service. There are a lot of things you need to do when a loved one dies, and trying to take care of everything in the midst of mourning can feel like an impossible task.
Finding healthy coping mechanisms and incorporating them into your daily routine while planning a funeral is critical. If you start feeling overwhelmed, step away for a bit, and come back when you’re ready. If possible, have family and friends help you with the details. Also keep in mind that experienced funeral directors have years of experience with this process. You can provide them with a budget and a few details, and have them reach out to their professional contacts to arrange for services. Giving a reputable funeral director the responsibility of making the arrangements for you can lift a huge burden from your plate and allow you to focus on healing.
How to Cope with Death after the Funeral
Many people feel a sense of relief after a loved one’s funeral, especially for those who suffered a prolonged illness. Others find themselves in one of the stages of grief before acceptance, not knowing when they’ll feel a sense of peace about their loss.
Wherever you are on your journey after the funeral, continue practicing the activities and rituals that have brought you any sense of comfort during this difficult time. Keep in mind that you may need to make some adjustments to your coping techniques as well. For instance, if you weren’t comfortable confiding in your family members before but are ready to open up about your feelings now, you might find that you’re able to move forward more quickly by reaching out to your loved ones.
Helping Your Loved Ones Grieve with Loss
It’s important for loved ones to support each other during their time of loss. It’s wonderful to be able to help the people you love in their time of mourning. Many people will tell you what kind of support would be most helpful. For those who don’t, simply checking in from time to time to see if they’d like to talk is really meaningful.
Just be sure that you’re not spreading yourself thin by offering your support to others. You’re also grieving, and helping others during this emotional time may feel like too much. It’s healthy to take some time to sort through your own emotions before being fully available to help others process theirs.
Support for Coping with Death
When you’re navigating how to cope with death, there are a lot of sources of support you can consider turning to:
- Family and friends
- A spiritual leader
- A grief counselor, therapist, or psychologist
- A support group
No matter who you reach out to, know that you don’t have to go through this process alone. Learning how to cope with death, whether this is the first time you’ve lost someone or you’ve mourned the passing of many, is difficult. Take care of yourself, lean on your support system, and find healthy ways of coping so you can move forward.