The grief, shock, and sorrow you feel after losing someone you love can seem unbearable. These ideas on how to heal the pain won’t magically make life better, but they will help you see that you’re not alone.
“I was and am still overwhelmed with grief, anger and resentment after my husband’s death,” writes Holly on 8 Signs He’s Not in Love With You. “It all happened so fast; we were married for 54 years and I find out he was having multiple affairs. He contracted hepatitis C and then liver cancer, and died three months ago. It seemed my husband got what he deserved for being a cheater and not thinking of himself or me. He was such a selfish person, even the doctors were shocked. Now I live with resentment, anger, and grief. I will never trust a man again, it’s horrible to live like this, and I don’t know how to heal the pain after losing someone I loved and lived with for that long.”
One of the most difficult – and most important – things to heal the pain after losing someone you love is to work through the grief. Don’t bottle it up, suppress, or avoid it. Walking through the valley of the shadow of death is about finding ways to accept that this sad loss has happened, whether it was a betrayal, an unexpected death, or even a long-anticipated divorce. There is a world of difference between holding on to resentment, grief, and anger versus actively processing the pain and finding hope for your future.
These tips on how to heal after losing someone you love are about grieving the pain, and holding on to the light and hope you have left.
Ideas for Healing the Pain After Losing Someone You Love
In 5 Healthy Habits to Help You Cope With Losing Someone You Love, I offer practical tips for recovering after a breakup or loss due to death. In this article, I share more emotional and spiritual ideas for healing, as well as a few suggestions from Susan David’s book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.
Name the most powerful emotion you feel (resentment, anger, guilt?)
When my grandma died, my number one emotion was shock. My first response when my sister told me was “I can’t live anymore, I feel like I’m going to die.” My sister very matter-of-factly said I would not die and life would go on.
But I honestly thought I could not live a day on this earth without my Baba. If shock is an emotion, then my primary emotion was definitely shock. And exhaustion. All I wanted to do was sleep. What I went back to work after the funeral, all I could do for the first week was stare out the window. My grandma’s death was surreal, and I had no idea how to even begin healing after losing someone I loved so much.
It did help to take a step back from the middle of it all, to look a bit more objectively at how I was responding to her death. I knew I was in deep shock and that I needed to give myself time to get used to life without her. So that’s what I did. I just went through the motions used for four or five months without questioning myself. Slowly, slowly I begin to feel normal again. I felt guilt and sadness for the mistakes I made in my relationship with her, but I learned how to let it go.
What is your primary emotion? Take a step back from the pain of losing someone you love. Sometimes learning how to heal involves looking at yourself from a distance. What is the number one emotion you feel?
Unbottle, uncork, unleash the painful emotions
Did you actually identify the primary emotion you feel about losing someone you love? Can you put a name to it…or are you avoiding it?
“The problem with bottling it up is that ignoring troubling emotions doesn’t get at the root of whatever is causing them,” writes Susan David, PhD in Emotional Agility – Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. “The deeper issues remain. More than once, I’ve met people who find themselves, years later, in the same miserable job, relationship, or circumstance. They’ve been so focused on pushing forward and being a good person that they haven’t been in touch with the real emotion in years, which precludes any sort of real change for growth.”
She adds that another aspect of bottling up emotions – and thus preventing yourself from healing after losing someone you love – is trying too hard to think positively. If you push the negative thoughts out of your head, you will only keep them alive and well. Unfortunately, says David, trying to avoid upsetting emotions and thoughts takes a surprising amount of mental and emotional energy. The more you attempt to minimize or ignore your uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, the energy you waste.
Let go of painful past thoughts and emotions so you can heal now
How are your past relationships – and the endings of those relationships – affecting your current desire to heal the pain after losing someone you love? Sometimes our past is actually more present than we realize.
“Kevin desperately wanted to be in a serious relationship,” writes David in Emotional Agility. “On the surface he was fun and frivolous. But deep down he was closed and distrustful, and kept women at arm’s length. Predictably, all of his relationships fizzled. Kevin told me his father had been an abusive alcoholic who would mock and beat him for his shortcomings, sometimes in front of his friends. As a child, Kevin learned not to show sadness or share vulnerabilities because his father would use them against him. The lesson was, if even the people your closest to will turn on you, it’s better to remain detached from your feelings and from everyone around you. Kevin’s behavior was completely functional when he was a small child; they protected him emotionally, and it kept him safe physically. But that was then.”
David adds that 20 years later, Kevin’s distrust was constricting and preventing him from falling in love and giving himself to a relationship. He behaved as if he was still living his childhood trauma every day.
“What he needed was the emotional agility to adapt to the very different, much more positive circumstances of his adult life,” she writes. “His old uncomfortable thought processes simply did not serve him anymore.”
Embrace the seasons of pain and healing
If I were speaking to Holly – the widow at the beginning of this article who spoke of her grief, anger and resentment – I would congratulate her on identifying her emotions. She knows exactly how she feels, and she’s not bottling her pain up.
However, she is also not going further into her grief and hurt. Nor is she seeking healing. She is not searching for tips on how to heal after losing someone you love. Rather, she is focused on her anger and hurt, and she’s deciding not to trust anyone ever again.
There is nothing wrong with Holly being in this season of grief and resentment. It’s how she feels, it’s where she is, and it’s how she’s responding. This is the season of life she is in.
Are you in a season of grief and sorrow, or anger and resentment? Maybe you can’t pinpoint how how you feel. Maybe you’re experiencing too many emotions to name, much less actually experience or work through. Whatever season you are in, allow it to unfold. It is important, it is you, and it is now. Give yourself time to adapt, grow, and learn more about yourself.
Allow every season to end
Here’s my favorite tip on how to heal the pain after losing someone you love: let go, accept, and surrender to the transience of life.
Everything we have – every person, relationship, possession, pet, anything – is transient. A blessing, and then poof! Gone.
Your season with the person you loved and lost is over. Holly’s season of 54 years with her husband is finished. Now is the season of grief, weeping, sadness…and surrendering to what is. It’s the season of walking through the valley of the shadow of death – but it is not death for you. Unless, of course, you let it be the death of you.
If you’re still in the grieving season, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken.
Learn how others healed after losing someone they loved
Often, actively working through grief involves taking some sort of action. Sleeping – which is how I healed after losing my beloved grandma – is an action. So is staring out the window and remembering what my grandmother was like, how her apartment smelled, what she fed me, and why I loved her so much.
Here are 3 examples of how people heal after losing someone they love…
1. “Betroffenheit is a word that means a state of shock, trauma, and bewilderment,” writes Stephanie Convery in In Betroffenheit review – trauma and grief shape a startling, disturbing performance. “This stage performance began with co-creator Jonathan Young’s own experience of trauma and grief, after his daughter, niece and nephew died in a cabin fire while the family was on holiday in 2009. Yet while those very specific circumstances form the basis of the piece, they are not its focus: what Betroffenheit seeks to explore instead is the internal process that follows after the event itself – the ‘coming to terms.’
How does the mind respond to a traumatic event? What do you say to yourself to process what’s happened? What thought patterns help you manage the unthinkable? are the questions at the heart of this stage performance. It’s a contemporary dance and theatre fusion created by the renowned Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite and writer and performer Jonathan Young – and it’s also a journey through the healing process after losing a loved one.
2. In Yoga and Grief- A Compassionate Journey Toward Healing, Gloria Drayer and Kathleen Doherty say that after a great loss, the journey toward healing can be a tempestuous one – a fragile balance of light and dark, hope and despair.
For many people the practices of yoga can provide a focus on the present moment, which can help us learn how to heal the pain after losing someone we love. Yoga helps restore the balance and energy that we need so urgently in times of stress and sadness. This book teaches gentle yoga techniques and suggestions about breathing, meditation and ritual, all designed to promote calm and comfort.
“One of the most powerful lessons yoga teaches us is the art of surrender – the art of letting go,” writes Ivey DeJesus in Surrendering to Grief and Loss Through Yoga. “Using yoga to practice surrendering – whether it be to physical sensations or psychological challenges—can manifest powerfully beyond our mats. Knowing how to let go into the present moment can imbue our lives with transformative power, especially during times of grief or deep emotional turmoil.”
3. In Benefits of Grief Support Groups, Patti Cox says that grief support groups offer companionship and understanding from others who have experienced a similar loss, and who are experiencing the similar challenges that living with grief brings.
Grief support groups can offer:
- Emotional and physical support in a safe and non-judgmental environment.
- Support and understanding from others who have experienced a similar loss, who are learning how to heal the pain after losing someone they love.
- The opportunity to begin the healing process through sharing your own story and hearing the stories of others.
- Practical tips on how to heal the pain after losing someone you love, and coping skills to help you through the most difficult days.
- The opportunity to discover new traditions and ideas to keep loved ones present in your heart and memory.
- Permission to grieve and permission to live a happy productive life.
“In a culture that often avoids talking about loss, support groups give you the opportunity to share your story openly and guilt-free,” writes Patti. “You also have the opportunity to hear the stories of others and talk about coping day-to-day, as well as on the most difficult days of our grief journeys.”
Our culture also doesn’t talk a lot about faith and grief. For me, healing a broken heart is about finding God in the valleys, the shadows, the deaths.
How are you feeling now? If you have any thoughts on how to heal after losing someone you love, please feel free to share below. I don’t give advice, but I read every comment.
Help for Healing the Pain After Losing Someone You Love
In Progressing Through Grief: Guided Exercises to Understand Your Emotions and Recover from Loss, therapist and grief expert, Stephanie Jose, offers an interactive resource to gently meet you wherever you are today and help you move through your grief and towards healing.
Stephanie has spent countless hours working with grieving clients, and she saw the need for a resource that would address the various feelings of grief that occur at any stage of the grieving process.
May you find hope and healing, acceptance and surrender, love and grace. May you connect to the source of life and light, and may you be filled with a peace and joy that surpasses all understanding.
Need encouragement? Sign up for my weekly "Echoes of Joy" email - it's free, short, and energizing. Like me! Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.