When is my grief going to be over?
People say that grief is a journey, but that's not quite right. Journey implies an end, that we will reach a final destination where we will no longer feel grief. Anyone who has lost someone they love knows that's not how grief works. It's true that the intensity of grief diminishes over time and we learn (willingly or not) how to incorporate the loss of our person into our lives as we heal... but that's not the same thing as reaching the end of grief.
Grief is a process we go through when we lose someone or something that was special to us. In my work with clients who are grieving, I often use J. William Worden's model of the grieving process called the 4 tasks of mourning. His model explains how our experience and expression of grief shifts, changes, and morphs over time as we go through the process of grief — accepting the loss, working through the depth of our feelings about the loss, beginning to adjust to life after the loss (I call this "adjusting to a new normal"), and finding ways to develop a new type of relationship with the person we lost.
As you come to the 4th task of mourning, you'll likely find that the waves of sadness have softened, the flow of tears has subsided, and life is starting to feel familiar again. This doesn't mean you don't miss your person anymore. It means you're progressing through your grief. You might also feel a desire to do things to honor your loved one.... to honor their memory, honor their life, and honor the love you still have for them.
Here are 12 simple things you can do to continue to honor someone you've lost.
Light a candle for them: Many secular and non-secular cultures include the lighting of candles for someone in their rituals. In the Jewish religion, a yahrzeit candle is lit on the anniversary of their passing. In Catholicism, you can go into any church and light a candle for them. This article has several special religious and non-religious ways to use candles to honor love ones who have passed.
Make their favorite dinner: Whether you enjoy it by yourself or with others who know and loved them, eating their favorite foods is an easy way to feel connected to your loved one.
Donate to a charity in their name: Many organizations actually have something called In Memoriam donations in honor of someone who has passed.
Continue to celebrate special occasions: Special days like their birthday or anniversary are still meaningful to you and can be celebrated annually in honor of your loved one.
Support their favorite sports team: If sports were important to your loved one, watching their favorite team play can help you feel closer to them. You can even talk to your loved one as you would if they were sitting right next to you during the game.
Take a trip to their favorite city: Did your loved one have a trip they always talked about fondly? Or maybe they loved visiting a city within driving distance... plan a trip to visit a place that was special to them.
Include them in the holidays: Whether you add their favorite side dish to the menu, light a candle on the table for them, or play their favorite music, there are several ways you can incorporate their memory in your holiday festivities.
Make a small alter: Designate a specific space your home to their memory. You can put pictures of them, flowers, trinkets that remind you of them, and even memory candles in this space.
Create a memory box: Put some of their special things and other items that remind you of them in a box. Then put the box somewhere you can easily access it so you can get it out when you want it, whether it's to add new items to it or to pull out the things that remind you of them when you want to.
Write them a letter: Maybe there are things you didn't get to say before they passed. Or maybe you just want to tell them how much you miss them. You can write it all down on paper and even put it on the alter or in your memory box.
Share your favorite memories of them: One thing I hear often from clients who are grieving is that people stop talking about their loved one. Just because time has passed doesn't mean you have to stop talking about your loved one. Make it a point to talk about the memories you have of them... the things that made you laugh, the things that brought a smile to your face, and the things that capture the essence of who they were.
Visit them: This doesn't have to mean visiting their gravesite (if they have one). This can also mean visiting a special place you shared with them or someplace that makes you think of them. When you visit them, you can talk to them, share your feelings with them, and tell them how much you miss them.
All of these ideas can be done once or can be rituals that help you honor your loved one time and time again over the years. If you recently lost a loved one or are struggling with your own grief after some time, please reach out and see if therapy might be a helpful source of support. You don't have to face your grief alone... we're here to help.
Photo by Wix.
About the Author
Christine Tomasello is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of Beachside Counseling in San Diego, CA, where she helps clients work through grief and loss, major life changes, and challenging relationship patterns. Christine identifies as a helper, healer, and highly sensitive person (HSP), and specializes in working with other therapists, helpers, healers, and HSPs.