Finding your soulmate

When you lose someone you love

October 1, 2021
Posted by Karen Strang Allen

When I became a widow at 22, I didn’t know how to grieve.

I didn’t know what to do with the feelings of sadness, or the shock and disbelief that the man I loved and had just married only 6 weeks earlier was now gone. I knew when we got married that he was dying, but I naively thought that somehow, he’d beat cancer and our love story wouldn’t have a tragic ending.

I didn’t know how to cope with feeling overwhelmed at all the funeral arrangements and estate matters that needed to be dealt with. I didn’t know how to handle his angry ex or his grieving daughter. I didn’t know how to respond to people who told me I was young and would remarry. And I didn’t know where to find a sense of purpose after dropping out of university to care for him.

So I did what people told me to do. I took off my ring and emptied the closets (too soon). I took the depression medication I was prescribed because the medical professionals I talked to didn’t seem to know that you can’t just medicate your way out of sadness (medication may, at times, be needed, but in my case it was prescribed way too soon). I kept myself busy so I wouldn’t feel the pain. I listened to people’s advice to “move on” and “let it go” and “suck it up.” I believed the adage that “time heals all wounds.”

What I didn’t know then was that much of the advice you’re given after you lose someone you love is misguided (even if it’s well-intentioned). That it’s more about their discomfort with seeing you in pain, and them wanting you to feel better (so they can feel better). That in North American culture, people are generally uncomfortable talking about death and divorce and grief, and so we’re encouraged to ignore our feelings, to push them aside and pretend everything is ok…even when it’s not.

Since my husband’s death 24 years ago, I’ve learned a lot about loss and grief. I’ve gone through a divorce and multiple break-ups. I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father to cancer and my brother to cancer. I’ve sat with friends and clients who have lost partners, pets, friends, siblings, parents and children. And I grieve collectively with those who mourn the loss of innocent children to residential schools, gang violence and police brutality.

The two years of depression I experienced after my husband died were preventable. I didn’t need drugs to numb my pain…I needed someone to talk to. I think it’s important that, as a society, we become more comfortable having conversations about death and loss and learn to hold space for people experiencing grief and sadness. (Note: There is no shame in taking medication if it’s needed…but I think it’s often overprescribed because our culture would rather suppress than talk about emotions.)

Death and loss are a part of life. Sometimes an expected part; sometimes very unexpected (and unfair). No matter how it happens, it happens to us all. So why are we so bloody uncomfortable talking about it?

5 things that help when grieving

Everyone’s experience of grief is different. There are stages we all eventually go through, but those stages don’t always happen consecutively or in the same timeframe.

Grief is not a straight line. It comes in waves…just when you think you’ve moved through your sadness, you reach an anniversary/holiday, hear a song or see your loved one’s handwriting and another wave crashes over you.

So I want to acknowledge that everyone’s way of processing will look different. And I also want to share some of the things that helped me to process my feelings of sadness and grief (and sometimes anger) after losing people I loved…things I wish I had known when I was 22.

1. Take the time you need to grieve and heal. Don’t try to push through your feelings and keep up with everyday life. Don’t try to pretend everything is ok/normal. Take time off and create space for yourself to grieve, feel your feelings and move through them. You’ve lost someone special to you! Allow yourself to acknowledge and validate how you’re feeling – and don’t let anyone push you into “getting back to normal” faster than you’re ready for.

2. Practice extra self-care. Your body and spirit need extra care when you are grieving. Be sure to nourish your body with healthy food (like pre-made salads and soups if you don’t have the energy to cook). Get lots of rest (you may need to sleep longer and/or take naps). Go for long, restorative walks in nature. Drink warm drinks, wrap yourself in fuzzy clothes and blankets. Listen to comforting music. Sit in the sun. Snuggle a child or pet. Hug a friend. Allow yourself to do anything that soothes your soul and brings you comfort.

3. Validate and process your feelings. When an emotion like sadness or anger comes up, don’t judge it or push it away. Instead, sit down, put your hand on your heart, name the feeling, and notice where it is in your body. Allow it to be there, and breathe through it. It also helps to write about how you’re feeling…getting those thoughts and feelings out of your body and onto paper can help you to release them. Emotions will pass through us if we stop judging or avoiding them. The reason we get stuck in grief is we resist our feelings or try to suppress them (by avoiding, distracting, numbing). So let yourself feel your emotions without shaming yourself for having them or telling yourself you should feel differently.

4. Get help if you’re overwhelmed. If you find you can’t cope with your feelings, find a compassionate witness like a grief coach, therapist or supportive friend / family member to help you process your emotions. If you can’t function or are are feeling suicidal, contact your doctor, local distress line or 911. It’s ok if you need extra help to get through this period.

5. Re-focus on what is good in your life. As you process your grief, it’s important to also take breaks. Grief can feel overwhelming and exhausting…you can’t process emotions 24/7. To help you shift back into a better feeling place, focus on simple pleasures and what is still good in your life. Writing in a journal about who and what you’re grateful for can help you emerge from the dark cloud over you and remind you that elsewhere in your life, the sun is still shining. Gratitude journaling was the #1 thing that helped me to move through depression after my husband died.

Honouring your loved one’s memory

Something that really helped me after my Mom died was finding a way to commemorate her. Mom was an avid flower gardener, and I wanted a visual way to celebrate her life and memory. So the kids and I planted a lilac bush in our front yard (one of her favourite plants and mine). Now every spring when the lilacs bloom, I look at the beautiful purple colour, smell their lovely fragrance, and remember my mother (she died in March and her birthday is in June, so the timing of the blooms is perfect).

You can also journal, post on social media, light a candle, hold a memorial, or do any of these 100+ great ideas for celebrating a loved one’s memory.

More help if you need it

In my personal and professional experience, it isn’t true that time heals all wounds. Yes, we do need time in order to heal, but when we don’t know how to process our emotions, our wounds can fester and never properly heal. I know many people who, decades later, still haven’t healed from loss.

If you are struggling to move through sadness and grief after a death or break-up, I encourage you to reach out for professional help.

Sending you love, light and healing energy.

xo Karen

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About the author

Karen Strang Allen

Karen is a love and empowerment coach for single women. Widowed at 22 and separated at 35, Karen’s mission is to help single women feel great about who they are and create a life they love so they attract their dream partner. 

Learn More about Karen