How We Learn to Cope With Grief

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

How We Learn to Cope With Grief

Death inevitably brings grief when the person who died is someone we love. Grief is never easy,
even when the death is one that comes in the natural order of life; a loss we were expecting.
We learn to cope with grief through experiencing it. Perhaps our first loss is the death of a pet.
We may mourn a cuddly friend who showed us unconditional love, but the rest of our world
stays more or less the same.

Later, if things go as they often do in families, you may experience the death of a grandparent.
Even when the relationship is close, we can often come to terms with such a loss because it is
considered usual to experience the death of the eldest family members.
Sometimes, we experience “out-of-order” deaths. An infant or child dies. A friend, a classmate,
a cousin or a sibling. Perhaps an aunt or uncle dies, or maybe even a parent. These deaths
teach us something different about grief and loss.

As we encounter death, we learn what it is to adapt to the absence of the one we cared about.
We figure out how to cope with feelings. We find ways to make sense of what has happened
and what is true in the aftermath of loss.

Each death we experience brings us new understanding. A different perspective is discovered
through the unique grief related to each special relationship. Because grief is an expression of
love, the appearance of grief after each loss is different according to the relationship.
Our development of a grieving style and rituals that serve us in the aftermath of a loss is also
created through these experiences. When we learn about death first-hand as a young child, and
receive comfort and guidance that allows us to move through grief at our own pace, we
gradually develop coping skills that prepare us and help us move through later encounters with
loss. If this is true for you, know that you have everything you need to carry your grief and come
to terms with death as a part of life.

Sometimes we have not experienced a gradual, gentle introduction to death in a manner that
teaches us how to manage grief. Instead, death arrives suddenly and harshly in an unexpected
order. If this is true for you, know that you can bear this grief. You have a deep well of strength
from which to draw, including coping skills that have seen you through other types of hard times.
Whether you’re experienced with grief, or new to this painful process of adapting to a world
without the physical presence of a loved one, do the things that bring you comfort. Cry when
you need to. Talk it out. Write it out. Make art. Sip your favourite hot beverage. Listen to your
favourite music. Stretch and gently move your body. Breathe; deep slow breaths will activate the
calming centre of your nervous system. Listen to your body and soul as you move through the
rhythms of grief at your own pace, in your own time.

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