Therapy advice to put in your pocket and take with you.

If tragedy happens and you don’t want to deal with it, you don’t have to. Not now anyway. But if you think avoiding it will make it go away, you’re wrong. Grief waits. It’s like parking a broken down car in your back yard and thinking when you come back to it it will be fixed. It won’t. And as a matter of fact, if you leave it there long enough it will rust, and the tires will go flat. It will be even harder to fix than when you parked it there. In grief, you have to go through it to get beyond it. If you wait, it won’t be easier.

People grieve in different ways and at different paces. Hundreds of years ago there was a ‘grieving period’. If your spouse died, you wore black for six months, and after that you could start dating again. Except it’s not that cut and dry. So many people ask when they will get over it, when they will feel better. But it doesn’t work that way, it’s not that simple or predictable.

Most agree, the first year is the hardest because there are so many firsts. When someone is gone from your life there is a void where they were. Where they were in your schedule, in your thoughts, in your routine. It is not unusual to want to pick up the phone and call them. It takes time to get out of the habit. And the grief can come in waves, triggered by a song or a site and memories wash over you. In time, these occurences happen less often and less intensely.

The first year you have the first birthday, holiday, anniversary without them. Many people dread these dates. But I say plan for them, embrace them. Often the build to the day is worse than the day itself. Instead of dreading it, find a way to honor or memorialize that person. Remember how they lived, not just how they died.

Years ago I met some kids whose dad had died. Their dad loved the Rolling Stones and Steak N Shake. So on important dates they would eat Steak N Shake and listen to the Rolling Stones. Another person I met lost her daughter at a young age. Her daughter loved to play the piano. So her mom started collecting miniature piano figurines. And she also started a scholarship for kids who wanted to learn to play piano. This was her way to honor her daughter, and the kids’ way to include and honor their dad.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Just know that you won’t go crazy, and even though it doesn’t feel like it, it gets better eventually. It is normal and common to experience disbelief, sadness, anger, wishes about how it might have been avoided. “Acceptance”does not mean you like it or are fine that it happened. It means you are no longer in denial, and are finding a way to move forward in your life with this event being a part of it. Pretending it didn’t happen will delay necessary healing. Instead, include the person’s spirit of living in your own daily life so that others may know them as you have.

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