How I Kept My Head Above Water While Grieving
October 24, 2018
Grief is like being lost at sea without a life jacket or rescue boat in sight. It’s as if you’re drowning—constantly trying to stay afloat without knowing how to.
That’s how I felt when I lost my mother to cancer three months ago. Nothing could have prepared me for the wave of emotions that ensued after my mother’s death. Losing her didn’t just hurt—it crushed my soul.
She had a difficult fight with cancer. From her diagnosis to death, I had to watch her go through intensive surgeries, strong medication, and countless hospital visits that eventually led to a hospice stay in our home.
As her daughter, I was proud to see her strength in battling this disease. Yet, I was equally as sad to see her health inevitably diminish over time. When the day came when she could no longer fight and we had to say goodbye, I was shoved into the deep end with no instruction manual on how to survive.
I still have a long way to go in my emotional journey. Grief is a lifelong process and everyone experiences it differently. However, I’ve learned a lot in the first few months since my mother’s death. Especially on how to manage the beginning stages.
If you’ve recently lost someone or know someone that has, these learnings might help you keep your head above water as you cope with the loss. I know they've helped me.
Feel It, Don’t Fight It
Grief comes in waves. Some days you feel fine. Other days, an influx of painful emotions take over your mind suddenly. Confusion, sadness, and regret overwhelm you.
I felt regret. I replayed memories with my mother throughout my life and wished I would have handled things differently. I was also extremely confused. My selfless, loving, and beautiful mother passed away in my 20s. How could I accept that? There was so much more left to experience together. She deserved more life.
I couldn’t rationalize why this was happening. When I picked up my mother’s ashes and lived through her funeral, everything intensified too.
Dealing with these painful emotions is difficult. Your first instinct may be to avoid and suppress. However, don’t. You may not be able to see an end in sight at first, but let yourself feel every emotion, however difficult it may be. Cry, break down, fall apart. Do it all.
It’s OK to not feel OK.
It’s OK to not have an immediate solution to your pain.
Knowing that you won’t be OK for a while will and does help. In the moment, you might not be aware of this but powering through these painful emotions will help you build strength and resilience within yourself.
Embrace Your Support System
As you mourn, you might feel an outpouring of love and support from family and friends. Sometimes, it might not feel like enough. Because, in the end, it’s hard for anyone to truly understand what you’re going through unless they’ve lived through it themselves.
This doesn’t mean you’re alone, though. Let your family, friends, loved ones, or even a professional you seek out comfort you in the best way they can. You’ll also encounter not-so-genuine experiences from others and that’s OK, too.
Any signs of genuine support, even if it’s a simple gesture, will bring you some relief during this process. Don’t fixate on what others can’t understand. Instead, focus on the love you see reflected from those that truly care. Don’t run from it. Embrace it more than ever.
Realize & Appreciate Your Newfound Strength
After my mother died, I found myself taking care of a lot of her funeral and burial arrangements. Looking back now, I had no idea how I was able to manage everything.
Even before she died, being one of her caregivers was second-nature to me. My siblings, father, and I carried the position seriously and never missed a beat in my mother’s care.
This showed me something special. Through these actions, I was able to unveil a newfound strength. Something that my mom had given me: the ability to be strong during difficult life moments. To rise above with courage. The Finnish coin this feeling as sisu, a courageous mindset that embraces challenges; your inner strength.
Knowing that I was strong enough to handle her death gave me a coat of armor to handle life moving forward. If I could survive this, I realized, I could survive anything.
No matter how you handle grief, one thing is universal: It will never end. It’s the price we pay for love. But it will slowly shift over time and become a part of yourself that makes you feel more whole instead of broken.
Read next: How to Be Mindful of Someone Else's Grief