One of the most stressful things in this life is death, and it’s usually more stressful for the people who didn’t die, but are left to grieve the loss of their loved one. This year, I have seen people grieve more than I ever have before, and not just over the death of people and pets, break-ups, divorce, old friendships, a job, their physical health, dreams they decided to stop pursuing, a business that went bankrupt, and just the general security and/or happiness they felt they had before something traumatic happened.
I’m definitely one of these people, and because I’ve experienced it and seen it, I’ve decided I wanted to write my own post on tips for how to grieve for a loved one, whether that be for a person or a pet. I know that someone who might have just lost a human loved one might feel like it’s rude to include pets in the same post, but trust me I mean no disrespect. I am simply trying to make a one stop post for all the knowledge I have, and I am separating things that I think are specific to pets. Your first tip is that people who are grieving over a person do not want to hear you compare your loss of their pet to their current grief, and that is not what I am trying to do. That said, the feelings of losing a pet are extremely real and valid, and I don’t think we have enough resources for how to cope with that type of loss. I honestly hope that all of these ideas can help you through your grieving process and inspire people who are helping others through their grieving process.
Before I jump in, I’d like to remind you that grief is real, deep, and complex. There are many stages that ping pong around. Your grief will look completely different than someone else’s, even if you are grieving over the same thing. Part of self-love is acceptance and being non-judgmental. Throughout all of this, I hope that you will treat yourself with compassion, and know that you are doing your very best with what you have, and everyone knows that.
Also, I know I listed a lot more ways you can grieve besides over death of a person or a pet, but that is what I’m going to focus on today. I’m going to go over tips if you are grieving, tips if you are supporting someone who is grieving, ways to celebrate any life, ways to celebrate a person’s life, ways to celebrate a pet’s life, sympathy gift ideas, and at the bottom I offer some esoteric (more witchy/woo/holistic) tips for grief if that’s something you’re interested in (if not, feel free to skip it). There is also a very amazing EFT/Tapping video on dealing with grief and loss, and additional resources (journaling prompts, scripts, and positive affirmations) available in my membership group. You are welcome to look through these tips for inspiration and ideas that you might tweak to serve your situation best. Ultimately, grief is grief, support is support, and love is love, no matter what the circumstance or how “severe” we might rate it on a scale. Let’s not compare tragedies, and instead embrace each other and ourselves. You are already doing a great job.
Tips If You Are Grieving
1. Acknowledge the stages of grief and the chaos of them – We are mostly familiar with five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance). But more recently a seven stage model has been introduced which looks like Shock & Denial, Pain & Guilt, Anger & Bargaining, Depression, An Upward Turn, Reconstruction/Working Through It, and Acceptance & Hope. The seven stage model is a little more complex and I feel like I identify with it a little more. Either way, familiarize yourself with the stages and recognize that you might not go through them in order, you might ping pong around, you might only be in one stage for five minutes, and one stage for two weeks. There is no right or wrong.
2. Ask for what you need – One of my pieces of advice to people who are trying to support people grieving is to offer help and anticipate needs, but not everyone is going to be great at that and it might take time to learn. You are realistically going to be in shock and not know how to handle everyday things, and asking for help might not even occur to you or it might seem weak. I’m here to remind you that it is not weak. You would be there for your loved ones who need your help, and they want to be there for you, too, so let them! And ask for what you need. Call, text, and DM people. Put a call out on Facebook. And be specific. Don’t just say, “I need help”. Do your best to say what you need so people can step up and take care of it for you. This is what friends are for, and if this isn’t a time to ask for help when is? Try to put out what you’re overwhelmed by, even if it sounds simple. People have been there before, and if it’s simple, they can probably take care of it easily!
3. Let yourself be the receiver – We often like to give help but feel weird about receiving it. It’s like a compliment. Why is it so easy to tell someone you love their outfit, but when someone tells you that you have a great smile it feels weird? Let yourself receive. This coincides with #2, but if people are offering you help or responding to what you’re asking for, don’t stop them in their tracks by saying, “No it’s okay, I don’t want to put you out, I’m actually okay”. Let People Help You. Let Them In. It’s okay.
4. Release your feelings – It might take a while for you to feel something, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People often feel guilt for not feeling “enough” at a funeral or “not having cried yet”. That’s okay! Our bodies tend to be in shock and go into defense mechanisms which can be to dissociate and go numb because it’s easier to turn off than feel how deeply you actually feel. But you will be ready at some point, and when that point comes, let it all go. Cry. Scream. Shout. Shake your body. Go until you can’t anymore. Also, if you feel like you need something to stimulate you crying, that’s also okay! I’ve done that. I was at a point where I felt so numb and had turned myself off for so long I didn’t know how to feel anymore, especially about that person. You are allowed to use other things you might find sad (like go to sad movies or songs) to get you going. It might be good to do this in a safe space and have someone there for aftercare.
5. Change your routine – When you have a regular schedule/routine and something or someone is missing from your life, it becomes very easy and clear to see where they used to or “should” be. This is an opportune time to mix up your routine. To change your working hours, move your furniture, take different routes to your job, etc. (50 Ways To Change Up Your Routine) Everyone has their own timeline with handling personal possessions, and how they do so, but the reality is that when you come home and see someone’s sweater on a chair or food bowl on the kitchen floor, you’re instantly reminded that they’re no longer with you. You don’t have to get rid of things, and physically touching these items can be extremely emotional (this is a great thing to ask for help with!), but doing a sweep in the main areas of your home for things that really trigger reminders of them for you is good for your mental health. Otherwise you are constantly reopening the scab so to speak. Remember that your loved one wants you to be happy, and as much as they loved that sweater, they can’t wear it now, and they’d rather you be happy than be sad by seeing it every day.
6. Express yourself – Whether you think you’re creative or not (hint: you are; we all are), this is a good time to express your grief through creativity, however that manifests for you. Can you paint a portrait of them? Write “I Love Nannie” in sidewalk chalk on your front stoop? Write a poem about them that you print out as a flyer and post on bulletin boards and street poles? Write your favorite memory of them and read it out loud at an open mic night? Write a song about them and perform it for your family? How do you play? How do you create? How can you channel your grief and celebration of this loved one into art?
7. Connect for support – More than just asking for what you need and accepting the help, you need to reach out for support. Is there someone else who is grieving who you are grieving or something similar? Is there a local support group you can attend? Is this a good time to start therapy? Can you set up a weekly dinner date with your best friend to check in and get out of the house? Is there a membership group you can join to have connection at your fingertips? We all need support always, but you need it when you’re grieving more than ever.
8. Do something positive for someone who is grieving – As much as you need support, it also makes us feel really good to shift our perspective and do good in the world! Often, when there is a death, we start thinking about how short life is and all the things we want to do or haven’t done. Life is short and talk is cheap, right? So on a day you have a little extra energy, use it to cheer up someone else. It may seem counter-intuitive, but doing random acts of kindness does just as much for the giver as it does for the receiver in most cases. Think about if you were having a bad day and your best friend called in a crisis. You would care about what they were going through and try to help them, and that might even take your mind off your problem for a second, right? Same kind of thing. You get to put beauty and kindness out into the world for someone else who needs it, and feel good in the process. (Check out this Pinwheel RAOK I did for my dad when my cat died.)
9. Celebrate who you lost – I have a whole section on ideas of how to do this, but really the idea is to think about all the amazing things that person did and was. How did they make you feel? What legacy did they leave? How did they want to be remembered/how do you remember them? How can you honor them and carry on the lessons they taught you, even now they aren’t on this earth anymore? (See below for more ideas.)
10. Rest – This means a lot of things. It means taking time off work and actually using your days off. It means knowing the world will keep spinning if you take a break. It means sleeping more and taking naps during the day. It means relaxing and practicing self-care. It means if you can take a trip, then go!
Tips For Showing Support To Someone Who Is Grieving
1. Tell them you love and support them and know it sucks – It’s that simple. You can not change death. You can only be here now. So tell them how much you love them, that you support them, and you know it sucks and they are allowed to say it sucks as much as they want. Also remind them they are doing a great job with handling it.
2. Don’t ask “How are you doing?” – I mean, we know how they’re doing. It sucks. They’re not doing well. Don’t make them answer this question. Practice your greeting before you see them if this is a compulsory phrase for you. Maybe ask if you can hug them. If so, hug them. Either way tell them you’re glad to see them today and you love them. That can be your greeting.
3. Offer specific services you can do for them instead of saying “anything you need” – When someone is grieving, they have so many people saying, “I’m sorry, I love you, I’m here if you need anything”. I know those intentions are good, but the person grieving is already overwhelmed and they can’t keep track of who said they could help, and are dealing with feeling weak, guilty, and overwhelmed. If you say, “Hey I can come over to change your cat’s litter, walk your dog, babysit your kids, cook you a meal, or drive you to get groceries”, they are more likely to remember that specific thing. If you tell them in person, follow it up with something written so they have it to reference. And here’s some bonus big ones that no one thinks to offer: Offer to go to sign the death certificate, pick up the ashes, or help them arrange the funeral.
4. Remember they might not be able to think to reach out – This coincides with #2, and even though one of my tips for people grieving is to ask for what they need, you also need to remember they aren’t doing well and you want to anticipate what they might need instead of expecting them to ask for what they need. Check in on them. If you don’t hear from them for a few days, go visit in person. And a huge bonus tip: mark important anniversaries (like when someone died) in your calendar as an alert the week/day before so you can plan to do something special or at least check in on them the next year.
5. Respect privacy and don’t push boundaries while holding space – Holding space is a term that basically just means being there while people are going through difficult shit. They might not need you to say or do anything, just be in the same room as them or hold them. Remember everyone is different and they might not be ready to talk about details yet or ever, and that’s their choice. Support doesn’t mean being nosy, it means holding someone up without judgment or expectations.
6. Don’t judge their process – Everyone’s grieving process is different. They don’t need to be told, “It’s time to move on” or “It’s been a long time” or “Get it together”. It’s like telling a depressed person to “Just be happy”. It’s rude and ineffective. Honestly, some people grieve the loss of someone their whole lives in their own way. It’s not your job to “fix” them to what you think is “functional”. All you can do is be supportive.
7. Be willing to go deep – Remember when I mentioned holding space? Sometimes they might not want to talk about details and need privacy, but sometimes that means letting them get everything out, letting them cry, scream, pace back and forth, and tell you things you didn’t know. Never say, “No, don’t cry!” They need to let that shit out! Remember that you are not a servant and you are allowed to create your own boundaries for anything. If something is a sensitive topic, you can tell them you need to stop talking about that. You can even leave if you need to. It’s important to communicate what your sensitive/hard no areas are before you get into something intense like that. But if you’re willing to be a sounding board for your friend who needs to let it all out, they would probably really appreciate that.
8. Don’t push your religious beliefs – In times of struggle of any kind, but specifically death, people look to spirituality for answers. We instantly want to imagine that our loved one is in a “better place” and that we will be too when we eventually die. But not only are some people not religious at all, the person grieving might not be your religion, might be struggling with their relationship to religion in such a vulnerable time, or just not want to hear things they feel are cliche at this time. Basically, unless they bring up religion and you’re comfortable talking about it, let it be. It can make people uncomfortable, and we don’t want to add that on top of grief.
9. Send something to their house – Random acts of kindness are really great restorations of faith at these times. It’s nice to know that someone is thinking of us. Sending things through the mail is a special treat. It can be as simple as a card. You could make sure they’re home and have their favorite meal delivered to their door. You could hire a unicorn to sing a telegram. I have a whole section below with ideas for gifts during times of grief. Use that as inspiration!
10. Create positive distractions – Grief can feel like it’s eating someone alive and they’re spiraling on this one thought over and over again, so it’s good to get distracted and out of their routine to mix things up! How can you create a positive distraction for your loved one? It could be as simple as sending a cute meme through a text or as complex as planning an entire day where you take them to all their favorite places for an amazing time. Also, don’t feel that everything has to be somber and on eggshells. You can make them laugh, I promise. (50 Ways To Cheer Someone Up)
Ways To Celebrate Anyone’s Life
1. Name a star after them
2. Plant a tree in their name (or with their remains)
3. Make a photo book or scrapbook full of memories of them
4. Every time you think of them, put a penny in a jar that you later donate to a charity that meant something to them
5. Wear a locket with their photo in it
6. Make an altar to honor them
7. Make wind chimes or pinwheels so every time the wind blows through them you remember they are with you
8. Print photos out and tie them to balloons with string and hand them in your house
9. Get a tattoo (this should probably be done later when you’re absolutely positive and not on impulse)
Ways To Celebrate A Person’s Life
1. Wear their clothing/accessories
2. Decorate your home with/wear their favorite color
3. Ask yourself what would they do?
4. Turn their clothes into a patch quilt blanket
5. Frame something special they did
6. Do their favorite things (listen to their favorite songs, read their favorite books, watch their favorite movies, share their favorite quotes)
7. Finish a project they were working on but didn’t get to finish
8. Carry out any special wishes or goals they had
9. Read The Rainbow Bridge poem (one of my tips is to not push spirituality/religion on people without their permission, so I want to give fair warning that this includes mention of heaven/afterlife, but it is generally regarded as a very beautiful reading for when a pet leaves us; I read it at my cat’s memorial and even though I’m not religious, it still felt good)
Ways To Celebrate A Pet’s Life
1. Buy a paw print stamp and ink pad (washable ink) to carry around with you, and every time you think of them while you’re out, stamp a paw print on the sidewalk to leave their mark and release your feelings (it will wash away with the rain)
2. Commission an illustration of them to be drawn
3. Buy a weighted blanket (it can feel like a pet is still laying on you)
4. Write an obituary for them (pets usually don’t get this)
5. Make a pet friendly garden
6. Go to visit their favorite outdoor spot and meditate, sit, or nap there
7. Volunteer at an animal shelter
Sympathy Gift Ideas
1. A service (house cleaning, pre-made meals, child care)
2. Coloring books and markers
3. Positive affirmation deck
4. Weighted blanket
5. Wind chimes
6. Journal and pen
7. DIY memorial (like a scrapbook or painting)
8. Gift card for a massage or other self-care/relaxation service
9. Glad No Matter What by SARK (a book about grief of many things, including her cat)
10. Handwritten letter sent through the mail with a memory you have of the loved one
11. Flowers and plants (see below in Esoteric Tips for good ideas)
Esoteric Grief Tips (If You’re Into That)
1. Crystals – Apache Tears, Amethyst, Pink Calcite, & Smokey Quartz
2. Tarot Cards – 3 Of Swords (this is about grief and sorrow) and The Star (this is about hope, renewal, and spirituality)
3. Essential Oils – Cedarwood (perseverance & courage), Neroli (restoring hope), & Chamomile (comfort & peace)
4. Apothecary – Bluebell (funerals/grief), Elm (love & light, death & rebirth), Hawthorn (gateway to the next world)
5. Candles – White (healing, blessings, peace, spirituality, repels negative energy) & Black (healing for support through loss and grief)
6. Flowers – Lily (innocence restored to the soul of the departed), Hyacinth (deep sorrow), Chrysanthemum (lament & grief), Gladiolus (strength of character & integrity), Forget-Me-Nots (continued remembrance), & Peace Lily Plants (transcending earthly life and being appreciated for your highest self)
Speaking of more holistic tips, this EFT/Tapping video really helped me get out a lot of my feelings and process them when my cat died, and I wanted to share it. If you’re unfamiliar with EFT, it’s basically positive psychology mixed with acupressure. You tap on points on your body that are connected to meridian points (channels for energy in the body) and organs in the body (so for example, when you tap underneath your collarbone, you’re connecting to your kidney meridian). The process is very simple. You just tap on different parts of your body and work through what you’re dealing with and follow it with positive affirmations. Just follow along with this video and do and say what he does!
Brad Yates is an amazing teacher and an awesome guy (he’s very friendly on Instagram, and I just love him), and honestly has a tapping video for absolutely any subject you can think of! Just type “Brad Yates + your issue” into YouTube and I’m 95% sure he already has a video waiting for you. I tap every morning, and it’s my favorite part of my Magical Daily Routine.
Warning: This brings up emotions you’ve been blocking! You may yawn, hiccup, burp, get chills, have your nose run, or bawl like a baby! Be prepared! But wow, after I processed my feelings that this video brought up I felt like 4 points better on the 10 point scale. It was that good.
Tip: It helps to make it as personal as you can. So if he says something like “loved one”, replace it with your person or pet’s name.
I hope these tips on grieving and supporting people through their grieving process were helpful for you. If you’re reading this, it’s probably relevant to you, and I’m sorry for your loss and that you’re hurting. I know I can’t be there to hold space for you, but I hope I’ve created some options for you to give yourself relief and support during this struggle.
I decided I didn’t want to stop at just this post, so in my Uncustomary Babes Membership Group, I created a list of Grief-Themed Positive Affirmations and Grief Journaling Prompts, both a list of 20 traditional prompts and a fill-in-the-blank script you can easily write in and have a beautiful letter in case you’re not feeling particularly expressive but still want to work through your feelings. I always offer additional resources like that in my group (including EFT videos), and it’s also a place for real support. When my cat died, I did a Mail Art Call for snail mail to be sent to my dad who was really grieving, and a lot of people showed up, especially the Uncustomary Babes. It’s an amazing support system and place to keep working on your personal development and self-love. I’d love to have you.
Remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself above all else right now. You’re doing the best you can with what you have, and I am proud of you.
Photos: Maura Housley