Grief can be pretty complicated. We can fluctuate between feeling sad and overwhelmed to feeling like everything is okay, to feeling as though we did something to deserve the grief we’re experiencing. It’s an incredibly nuanced experience, and we all cope with it differently.
But then, sometimes life throws multiple losses at us at once. Whether you lose a group of people you love in one hit, or cumulatively in a short period of time, it’s safe to say that saying goodbye to more than one person at a time is the only thing harder than the death of one loved one.
We’ve compiled a list of our top tips for coping with multiple losses to help you through this hard time (or to help you help those going through a hard time).
Make time to grieve each loss, independently.
While it might feel ‘wrong’ to compartmentalise each loss, it’s important to consider making time to grieve each loss on its own. Grief can be incredibly overwhelming, so giving yourself time to acknowledge and think about each individual loss is important so you can properly process and come to terms with what has happened.
This isn’t to say you should set yourself a schedule to grieve each loss (that would be a bit weird, wouldn’t it?), but what we are saying is to allow yourself to really ‘feel the feels’ (as the Millennials say) when you start to feel down about one person in particular. Think about them, grieve over them, and try not to feel guilty about the fact that you’re focusing your grief on one person instead of all of them; you’re only human, afterall. There are more than enough opportunities to grieve over everyone. Let it happen over time, and when you feel ready.
Create a daily routine for yourself that is easy to stick to.
When we lose people we love, we can feel as though we have little to no control over our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Taking measures to make yourself feel a little more in control during a time where you feel as though you have none of it can be extremely impactful and beneficial. Start small and slowly (for example, setting an alarm at the same time each day, and heading out for a walk before starting your day), and make your new routine easy to accomplish.
Prioritise self care.
It’s easy to feel as though you need to spend every minute and every hour thinking about the people you’ve lost. But remember to make time for you. Re-discover the things you love doing – like yoga, reading, catching up with friends for coffee – and make time to actually do them. Self care is important, especially during a time where we’re likely to put ourselves last.
Know you’ll always feel better off for taking care of yourself. And chances are, your loved one would want you to be looking after you, too.
Expect to keep experiencing grief over time.
How good would it be if we could give ourselves a couple of months to grieve over the passing of loved ones… and then never have to experience grief ever again?! That would be handy, and way easier than experiencing grief over time.
Unfortunately this isn’t possible, though. Grief will reappear over time, and this is totally normal. It might arrive when you are sorting through their belongings, applying for a Grant of Probate because you’ve been nominated as their Executor or when you visit their favourite park.
So, don’t expect it to disappear overnight, and allow yourself to grieve when the sadness takes over. It’s important to allow your emotions to take their course at times that feel natural.
What to do if you’re supporting someone experiencing cumulative grief
Look out for risk factors
Life doesn’t progress according to a schedule. This means that bad things can happen at the worst possible times (although, isn’t all timing ‘bad timing’ when it comes to sad life events?), when we’re already struggling, overwhelmed, stressed, or exhausted. It’s important to recognise when your friend or family member might be resorting to substances – such as drugs or alcohol – to cope with their grief so you can help them find alternative coping mechanisms. And if you’re experiencing cumulative grief yourself, be weary of your coping mechanisms, and seek the assistance you need if things get out of hand.
Be sensitive to their needs
If you’re supporting someone experiencing cumulative grief, try your best to be sensitive to their needs. While you might think that being by their side 24/7, inviting them over for dinner every night, or calling them 32 times a day is beneficial? They might feel differently. Take their hints, try not to overwhelm them by being constantly present if they’ve asked for some time alone, and try to find ways to help them in practical ways, as well as emotional ways. For example, offer to take their dog for a walk, or drop dinner off at their house instead of inviting them over every night.
All grief is tough. But cumulative grief can be even tougher. Whether you’re trying to cope yourself, or you’re supporting someone who’s going through it all at the moment, remember that patience is key. Allow yourself (or the other person) to feel everything they need to, at times that feel natural and right to them. Grief doesn’t run on a schedule, so scrap your expectations and let your grief ride its wave.