Lessening The Heartache Of Missing A Loved One
Updated June 03, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
The pain of missing a loved one can be so all-consuming that it seems those feelings will never subside. Whether you have lost a parent, spouse, child, friend, pet, or someone else who was special to you, feelings of missing someone are much more intense shortly after you've lost them. You'll probably never stop missing them completely, but it's important to recognize that the intensity of your feelings will subside and change over time. There are things that you can do to help ease your loss and memorialize someone special while you grieve. Understanding the stages of the loss and grieving process is one of the most important parts.
Grief Happens in Stages
Grief happens in five recognizable stages. The stages are:
1. Denial - If one sentence could sum up the first stage of grief, it would be, "This isn't happening." There must have been a mix-up, a terrible mistake. In this stage, life makes no sense, and we can't bring ourselves to believe that our loved one is gone. Avoidance, confusion, shock, and fear can all be experienced. During this phase, we are simply getting by. Life is meaningless, and we function in survival mode. The denial phase is a cushion in a sense. It is our body's way of softening the blow and helping us deal with something extremely painful. Once denial starts to subside, the healing process begins.
2. Anger - Anger is the emotion that grieving people have the hardest time coming to terms with. Many of us hold this false belief that anger is a "bad" emotion, that it isn't normal or healthy, and because of that, we should avoid it. This notion couldn't be further from the truth. Questions like, "Why me?" and thoughts like "This isn't fair!" are likely to come up, as is the tendency to blame others, question God, and act out. The best way to work through this stage is first to recognize your anger, secondly work through it, and finally, forgive yourself.
3. Bargaining - If you find yourself thinking or saying "please" then you are probably in the bargaining stage. "Please, God, heal my mother. Please don't allow this to happen. I'll do anything if (fill in the blank)." In this stage, you hold onto the false hope that things might be different. That thing could change and go back to the way they once were. Bargaining is also associated with "What if" and "if only" statements. "What if I would have gotten him to the doctor sooner. If only I had insisted that she not drive late at night." Bargaining, the opposite of anger, takes power and blame away from others and unjustly places it on ourselves. Stuck in the past, we can't seem to accept that there is no going back, and even if we could, it doesn't mean the outcome would have changed. Once we realize that no bargain can be reached, depression usually sinks in.
4. Depression - Sadness swallowing me whole. That is how Mary, a grieving thirty-something, described the fourth stage after losing her best friend to cancer. Although the anger stage seemed to pack the hardest punch, sometimes, the pain of depression hurts the worst. Because this stage is the most commonly accepted form of grief, not wanting to get out of bed, feeling numb, and being filled with sadness probably feels more "normal" than wanting to punch a wall or fall on your knees while begging God to bring your loved one back. But remember that this hopelessness, while normal, is just a pit stop and not a final resting place. We shouldn't "just get over it," and we can't possibly "snap out of it," so don't press yourself to do so. Instead, work through your depression day by day, taking slow steps to piece your life back together bit by bit.
5. Acceptance - Many people who are grieving the loss of a loved one can't imagine getting to this stage. This is mainly because they confuse acceptance with never feeling sad when, in fact, they are two separate things. You may never be able to smile about your loved one's death, but acceptance doesn't require that. The acceptance stage is all about acknowledging that the loss has occurred, and that fact can't and won't change. At this point, we must accept our new norm and try to move forward into a life that is different but not over.
The stages don't necessarily happen in order, and some of them can occur at the same time. There's no way to know how long any of the stages will last because grief looks different for each person. You can expect to go through each step in some fashion. Eventually, you will get to the acceptance stage, and your grief will lessen to some degree.
Give Yourself a Time Out for Missing a Loved One
It may seem as though the rest of the world is going on with business as usual while you are stuck with feeling sad. It's okay to take some time off from life for a while as you learn to cope with your loss. Permit yourself to avoid events and activities if you don't feel like going. If you don't feel up to reading sentiments of sympathy from others put the sympathy cards out of sight until a day when you feel stronger. Stay off social media outlets for a while. Give yourself time to be sad. Allow some time in your day to do the things that give you particular enjoyment. If you find that you're spending less time with friends or family due to your sadness, you should reach out for help. Many people who have lost a loved one struggle with depression issues as a result. The best way to combat this is with the help of a trained counselor or therapist.
Celebrating Someone's Life Lessens the Heartache of Missing a Loved One
When you feel ready, think about some special ways to memorialize someone that you love. Find a trusted friend who is willing to listen to you express your feelings of sadness and will offer empathy.
Do you love writing? How about starting a blog where you can express your thoughts and feelings about your heartache over missing a loved one? Others who are going through the same situation will follow you and become part of your support network. If you don't want to make your feelings public, you can start a journal on your computer or write your sentiments in a diary. Either way, writing gives voice to your feelings and all the special memories that you have for your loved one.
Many families are memorializing their loved ones with a Celebration of Life ceremony rather than a wake or funeral. This type of event may include photos, a video, or a slideshow that depicts the cherished memories of the person's life. It's also time for sharing stories to last for generations.
Focus on You While You Grieve
One final key to lessening the heartache of missing a loved one is to focus on yourself. That may seem contradictory. After all, aren't you supposed to be focused on the one you loved who is no longer here? Of course, you will focus your thoughts and feelings on them at the time, but one of the best ways to make sure you are doing this in a healthy way is to embrace self-care.
Eat healthy foods and snacks, get lots of rest (nap, nap, nap), exercise, talk about your feelings, and laugh when you can. You can paint, spend time with friends, go out to eat. Whatever is healthy and not self-destructive but also helps you move past the pain.
The most important thing to understand about dealing with heartache is that missing someone special is not an event, but a process. The intensity is temporary and everyone eventually finds their way through it.
Take time for you. No matter how much you are tempted to neglect yourself, don't. Set time aside each day to dedicate to taking care of yourself and your mental health.
- Go for a walk. Exercise is healthy for the body and mind. Getting in a good daily walk is a great way to release endorphins. You will also get rid of excess energy, which can help you get to sleep at night. You will find this solution to be especially helpful because many times, the intense emotions we feel while we are grieving can make it difficult to sleep.
- Play a tune. When you are feeling down, try listening to an uplifting song. Music can make you feel better and give you something else to focus on. This is helpful while you are grieving because you will be able to have just a few minutes in the day where you aren't overcome by your emotions.
Grief counselors can be very instrumental in helping you understand the stages of grief and which stage you are in. BetterHelp has certified counselors are standing by and ready to help you right in the comfort of your home. If you are feeling overwhelmed or if your life is being extremely affected by the loss of your loved one, don't try to go through it alone. Help from a professional is your best route. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Neville has been there for me, understanding me, guiding me, helping me see things through. His kind language, thoughtful approaches to issues, and professional advice has been the help I have been needing to go through a very difficult grievance process that I have been suffering from for a very long time."
"Sarah is a kind person that listens intently, focuses on issues, and then helps find successful strategies to deal with those issues. Never once did I feel that she was judging me or talking down to me. She was easy for me to open up too, she was professional, and she took me seriously. Together we discussed issues of loss and grief from the passing of my father, which had become more than I could handle alone. She not only validated my feelings of loss, but she also helped me find ways to mitigate those feelings, break them down into their roots and causes then address those. Coping with grief and loss is hard work, but Sarah helped me find the tools I needed within myself to do that hard work and ultimately find success. I am a stronger person now. I am happy and confident. I may not know what is around the next corner, but I know that whatever it is, I can handle it."
Getting through the loss of a loved one is a process. If you need to reach out for extra help, there is no shame in that. With some love and care, you can and will get through this. Take the first step.