Ways to Cope With The Loss Of A Loved One

27 November 2017 • Support advice

Ways to Cope With The Loss Of A Loved One

When a person close to us dies, we experience a plethora of emotions. We don’t experience grief the same way, but some of the most common emotions are denial, confusion, shock, anger, guilt, sadness, and despair. Thankfully, the complex process of grief isn’t entirely negative—it also makes you feel joy, gratitude, hope, inspiration, and awe for the strength of the human spirit.

At times, the feelings of sorrow and emptiness can be so overwhelming that the person feeling these emotions starts to doubt if this stage is ever going to end. But it most cases, it will. One study cited by Scientific American tracked widows and widowers for up to five years. What the study showed was 26 to 65% of these people had no symptoms of distress and depression after the first few years of their loss. While the death of a spouse can trigger depression, most of the patients start to improve after 6 months and become free from depression symptoms within 18 months or so. 

How to Recover From the Death of a Loved One

You respond to the death of a loved one with mourning and grieving. Research shows however that you need to do more than just grieving to cope with loss and recover from grief itself. That’s because dwelling on the negative feelings brought about by losing someone you love can put you at a higher risk for long-term depression. 

If grieving isn’t enough to recover from the death of a loved one, what else should you do? Psychologists suggest the following ways to cope with loss:

1. Practice adaptive coping. Psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema of Stanford University suggests practicing adaptive coping, which involves doing things that give you a sense of control and keeps your mind away from negative thoughts. The distraction that hobbies or traveling for example provides encourages you to do things that create positive feelings.

2. Engage in nostalgic reflections. Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director of the Laboratory for Cognitive and Affective Science at Assumption College Sarah Rose Cavanagh, Ph.D. suggests engaging in what she calls nostalgic reflections. A study by Alan Hirsch defines nostalgia as “a yearning for an idealized past” or a “sanitized impression of the past.”


When you engage in nostalgic reflections, this means you remember a combination of different memories and associate them with a complex set of both positive and negative emotions. Remembering meaningful events with a loved one makes you feel good and improves your mood, even if you feel sad while recalling these memories, because “it increases our sense of existential meaning,” according to Psychological Scientist Dr. Clay Routledge.

You can do nostalgic reflections by watching video clips of time spent with a loved one or by looking at photos or old messages, which you can compile in an online memorial website or book. You can also go to places that you and the deceased loved to visit.

3. Practice self-compassion. When Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead suddenly lost her husband to heart-related causes in 2015, she thought the pain and sadness would never go away. But since her husband’s death, she has learned that she can build resilience and find joy in grief. In her latest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, which she co-authored with Organization Psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant, she advises practicing self-compassion. 

Self-compassion is being kind to oneself. In the grieving process, it means being gentle with oneself and being less critical. It means not blaming yourself for the loss. It also means “remembering that we have been happy before and we can be happy again, even if it’s hard to imagine feeling that way,” explains the Center for Complicated Grief by the Columbia School of Social Work

Accept the pain and give yourself the freedom to express what you feel. Crying and allowing yourself to feel sadness and pain are not a sign of weakness, but of your humanity. Self-compassion here also means caring for oneself. Eat well and exercise to give you the physical endurance while grieving the death of a loved one. You will also need the physical  strength to continue living your own life. 

4. Delay major life decisions. During the mourning period, it is best to avoid making major life decisions such as moving to a new home, changing jobs, or selling properties. The intensity of grief can be burdensome and stressful, so making big life changes may only add unnecessary stress to your situation. When the grief is still fresh, you may also not be able to think clear enough to make the best decision for these major life matters.

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