Grief is a complicated process at the best of times—and we definitely aren’t in the best of times.
“Grief is the journey we go through after we lose someone or something that either shapes or shatters the way that we view the world, ourselves and others,” says Negar Amirfarhad, a Toronto-based psychotherapist who provides grief counselling. “The death of a loved one can be devastating, sometimes to the point where it’s difficult to function or catch our breath.”
While it’s an experience we might all go through, the grieving process is different for everyone: what works for one person might not work for someone else. Amirfarhad and Phoebe Chin, a psychotherapist who also provides grief counselling, share some of the coping mechanisms that have worked for their clients.
Keep a journal
Journaling can help you process your emotions in a space that’s only yours, says Amirfarhad. “In the beginning, writing or journaling can trigger strong emotions like panic, anger, anxiousness or yearning for someone we’ve lost,” she says. “But these feelings are all normal and part of the grieving process.”
Don’t feel pressured to share your journal with others or worry about things like spelling or grammar, says Amirfarhad. (It also doesn’t matter if you prefer to do your journaling online or in a notebook.) If you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write about, she recommends topics like writing about what you’ll miss most about a loved one, what you’d like to remember about them or how grief has changed your own thoughts on life and death.
Reach out to family and friends
Whether through in-person get-togethers or virtual gatherings, it’s important to connect with friends or family who are also grieving. Memorials—whether in-person or virtual—where people share their favourite memories of a loved one, recite prayers together or even share a meal can help build a sense of community and support for those who are grieving. Aside from events, we also shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to friends or family whenever we need to talk to someone, adds Amirfarhad. If you’re worried about burdening others with your grief, ask if they’re able to talk about what you’re going through rather than assuming that they are, says Chin.
Stay connected to those who died
A grief-continuing bond is when you do something to feel connected to a loved one who has died. This can be something as simple as listening to their favourite music or doing the things that they loved, says Amirfarhad. Something similar that Chin likes to do is dedicate a small area of her home to put up pictures and light candles in memory of friends and family who have died.
Be gentle with yourself
There is no right way to grieve and it’s important to let yourself feel any emotions like sadness or frustration without judgement, says Chin. “Be gentle with yourself,” she says. “Some people are able to access sadness more easily than others while some might not look like they’re grieving at all.” While we might have expectations of what grief should look like, everyone grieves in their own way. Not placing a timeline on your grief, accepting your thoughts and emotions for what they are in that moment and relying on others for support are some of the ways you can be more compassionate towards yourself.
It’s especially important to be gentle with yourself when grieving the loss of someone who was abusive or inflicted trauma on others. “The assumption is often that you’re grieving someone you loved or someone who loved you,” says Chin. “But that’s not always the case.” She recommends using coping mechanisms such as journaling or speaking with a therapist to work through emotions like anger or resentment, in the same way that you would with sadness.
Consider seeing a therapist
It can be helpful to see a therapist or a grief counsellor anytime during the grieving process, says Chin. A therapist can help you see things from a new perspective if you’re feeling stuck or simply offer a safe space for you to talk about what you’re going through. She recommends looking through the Psychology Today database to find a therapist based on your budget and preferences around gender or ethnicity. The Healing in Colour and Asian Canadian Therapist directories can also help you find a therapist of colour if that’s what you’re looking for, though both directories are limited to therapists in a handful of provinces. It’s important to take your time finding a therapist who you trust and feel comfortable speaking to because that will impact your healing journey, says Chin.
Some deaths are especially traumatic depending on how someone died or your relationship with that person, says Amirfarhad. Someone who is grieving a traumatic loss might experience post-traumatic stress, have severe panic attacks or difficulty sleeping. She adds that seeing a therapist can help you work through those difficult emotions or memories.
Originally published in 2021; updated in 2022.
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