How to Mourn the Loss of a Loved One

Published September 8, 2020
Woman writing in a notebook outdoors

The emotions associated with the loss of a loved one can feel hard to describe and may come in waves of intensity. While there isn't a formula that works for everyone, figuring out how to mourn and best care for yourself during this time can be immensely helpful in coping with your loss.

How to Mourn When Someone Dies

Coping with grief and loss can feel like an unpredictable roller coaster ride. Finding ways to support yourself is important during this time.

Schedule Time to Process Your Feelings

For some, one uncomfortable aspect of grief can be that there is no set time frame, and it can be especially hard to endure pain when you aren't sure when it will decrease. This can lead to avoiding painful emotions or attempting to numb yourself. To help mitigate the desire to avoid painful emotions, it may be helpful to schedule some time to release what you're feeling. To do so:

  1. Find a block of time in your schedule where you can give yourself as much time as you need to process your feelings and decompress afterwards.
  2. Create a ritual around this time by sitting in a certain area or room, lighting a candle, or doing anything else at the start of your processing time.
  3. Bring up the loss, and do anything that may help you process (journal prompts, draw, paint, grief worksheets, music, etc.)
  4. Give yourself time to decompress after your release- you can do some light stretching, some breathing exercises, or anything else that can help re-ground you.
  5. Schedule your next time to process depending on your unique needs.

Scheduling some time for yourself to process your emotions can also lend some semblance of control to a very intense and uncertain experience.

Acknowledge Your Emotional Process

Acknowledging what you're going through instead of resisting the process can be extremely difficult. Although it may sound simplistic, allowing yourself to understand the weight of your experience can help you process what you are feeling. Avoiding your emotions may lead to:

  • Anger outbursts that may feel random at a later date
  • Mental health symptoms and possibly a diagnosable disorder
  • Feeling more easily triggered
  • Feeling less emotionally stable even years after the loss

Nourish Your Body

One of the most basic ways you can care for yourself after the loss of a loved one is to remind yourself to eat throughout the day and to drink plenty of water. Appetite and sleep changes may accompany the grieving process, which can impact your hunger cues. Try to check in with yourself three or four times throughout the day and notice if you feel any hunger or thirst cues. If so, be sure to address those as soon as you can. Even if you can only stomach a small snack, continuing to eat and drink water throughout the day is one less stressor for your body to manage during this time.

woman eating cereals in bed

Create a Mantra

Mantras can help reinforce your love and support for yourself during this incredibly difficult time. Some examples:

  • I'm going to allow myself to feel my emotions, even in moments of heightened pain.
  • I believe I can move through this.
  • I trust in my ability to care for myself and listen to my body's needs.
  • I acknowledge my pain is connected to how deeply I loved (insert deceased individual's name).

Set Emotional Boundaries With Others

In the midst of grief, well-meaning others may try to contact you and say things that are well-intentioned but feel hurtful. It is perfectly acceptable to set boundaries and give yourself some emotional space from others who aren't supportive in the way you need. To set emotional boundaries, you can say:

  • Thank you for the well-wishes. I'm not comfortable discussing that right now, but I appreciate you reaching out.
  • Thanks for connecting, but I'm giving myself a bit of a break from talking about that at this time.
  • I appreciate your sentiments. I don't want to talk about that right now, but will let you know if that changes at a later time.

Connect With Supportive Others

Finding others who are non-judgmental and who are wholeheartedly there for you during this time is an important aspect of feeling connected to your community. Feeling supported during painful moments can help decrease feelings of isolation. If you don't have friends or family members who understand what you need, consider joining an in-person or online grief support group.

Speak With a Therapist

If you are in excruciating emotional pain that isn't easing up at all, even months to years after the loss, consider reaching out to a therapist who can help you process your experience. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others that you are worried you may act on, reach out to a crisis counselor immediately. Your mental well-being needs to be the highest priority during this time.

What Is Grief?

Understanding the many ways grief can present itself can help you better understand your own unique process. Grief is more than just missing someone, it's your entire brain reorganizing your world from what it used to be to what your experience is now. Grief is a complicated process that every individual will experience a bit differently.

The Grieving Process

Grief can come in stages, but some may not experience all the stages, and/or may experience the stages in a unique order. Emotional processing is complex, and triggers can propel certain individuals into certain stages depending on their experience.

How Long Does It Take to Mourn the Loss of a Loved One?

There is no set amount of time it takes to mourn the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately grief can feel abundantly present or more in the background at any given time. However, allowing yourself to fully process your grief experience typically coincides with emotional intensity decreasing over time. This doesn't mean that you no longer miss your loved one, but it does mean that you are able to adapt to your new normal, while still acknowledging your loss.

How Do You Check On Someone Who Is Grieving?

If a friend or family member is in the midst of grieving:

  • Send them a thoughtful text.
  • Send them a sympathy card.
  • Offer to drop off something helpful.
  • Offer to help out with their chores, childcare, and/or pet care.
  • Ask them if you can call or text to check in with them at a later date.

Mourning the Death of a Loved One

There isn't a specific formula it takes to cope with the grief associated with the loss of a loved one, so it may take you some time to figure out what works best for your needs. In general, it can be helpful to be patient with yourself, allow yourself to experience your emotions in full force, and reach out for support to mitigate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How to Mourn the Loss of a Loved One