During my junior year of high school, I was given the opportunity to intern at a local nonprofit organization, where I met a passionate individual who became a very dear friend and mentor to me. Although I didn’t know it when I initially met him, he was suffering from a terminal illness. He passed away suddenly only two months after I arrived at my university. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t shocked. It took me a while, but eventually I began learning to deal with death and this terrible loss.
We all cope with loss and grief differently. While there is no right or wrong answer, these are the things that helped me deal with the passing of a loved one.
1. Give Yourself Time and Space To Grieve.
My parents called me in the middle of a study session with the grim news that my mentor had passed; I initially ignored the call, thinking that it was a typical let’s-check-on-our-kid-and-see-how-she’s-surviving-midterm-season call, especially because they did not leave a message. The truth was that it was anything but.
My first reaction was to deny that he was gone. But once the initial dust settled, I had to face the reality that the world no longer had him in it. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Grieving privately, away from everyone else around me gave me the space to begin to process this reality. I briefly explained what happened to the rest of my roommates. The I got out of my tiny quad, which suddenly felt too small to contain my emotions after that phone call. I just wandered around campus to burn off some energy.
Grieving privately immediately after I was given the news helped me because I was able to feel what I was feeling. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone, answer questions, or face sympathetic looks. I was still shell-shocked when I woke up the next morning. But I felt marginally better for giving myself some time to grieve.
We all grieve in different ways because grief affects each of us differently. When you lose a loved one, regardless of whether or not that person was a friend or a family member, it is difficult to process. Give yourself as much time and space as you need to grieve. And do it in the way that works best for you.
[clickToTweet tweet=”When you experience loss, give yourself the time and space you need to grieve.” quote=”When you experience loss, give yourself the time and space you need to grieve.”]
2. Leaning On My Support System (And Distancing Myself From Those Who Did Not Support Me).
After I learned of this individual’s death, I called a loved one, hoping for some encouragement and support, which I did not receive.
I used that time that I would have otherwise spent arguing with this member of my family to contact my adviser and inform him of my current circumstances. This led me to inform my current employers and professors about my situation. As a result, my professors allowed me to reschedule my impending exams in order to give me the time to grieve. Like my instructors, my employers and the few friends I told were very understanding of my circumstances.
You are within your rights to refrain from informing the people around you about your loss. However, as I discovered, the people around you are often willing to help and support you during this difficult time if you open up a little and ask for it. It’s important to lean on the people who support you when you’re struggling. I know that reading and hearing comforting words from people who knew my mentor was a tremendous help as I went through the grieving process.
3. Getting Out Of My Immediate Environment.
The day after I was notified of my mentor’s death, I went downtown and walked around in an attempt to distance myself from my environment and get some fresh air. It was a welcome opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. I don’t remember how long I wandered around downtown, but I do remember feeling slightly better afterward.
Nothing could take away the pain of my mentor’s death. But I could do little things to make myself feel better, even if only marginally. Seeing life go on around me simultaneously enraged and comforted me. It didn’t feel fair that a vivacious, passionate young man like my mentor was no longer a part of this world. By the same token, seeing the life around me reassured me that life would continue.
Getting out of my immediate environment allowed me to distract myself and temporarily focus on something other than my mentor’s passing. The time I spent outside of my normal environment was just enough to allow me to focus on the things that required my immediate attention.
Changing something about your environment, even temporarily, can help you focus on something other than your present circumstances. I’m not saying that it will fix everything, but even little things can help you deal with a major loss.
4. Acknowledging My Feelings.
The loss of my mentor threw me for a loop; I didn’t feel like anyone around me understood what I was feeling. One member of my family was not very sympathetic. My friends were focusing on their own exam schedules. And the people who knew my mentor were over 1,000 miles away, preoccupied with their own lives.
I sought out my journal as my outlet and found an immediate sense of release and relief. Here, I could say what I wanted, when I wanted, without being talked back to. I could rage at the world for taking my mentor away from me and the many people he had loved. Nobody here told me to focus on other things.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Your feelings matter. You matter.” quote=”Your feelings matter. You matter.”]
Acknowledging my emotions in whatever way I could, regardless of whether or not that was crying or writing allowed me to validate my feelings without worrying about what other people were thinking or what they would say, which helped me control my mental health during this chaotic time.
Losing a loved one is never an easy thing, but it is possible to cope with the loss and continue living life in the best way we know how.