Healthier Ways to Negotiate Past Grief


When my dad died (too young) I suddenly saw dragonflies everywhere – or so it seemed. He’d loved dragonflies, thinking they were miraculous creatures, so of course I took this as a sign. We often look for signs, totems, or messages of some sort to help us cope with negotiating the loss of a loved one.

In fairness to myself, one dragonfly, with iridescent blue wings the colour of my dad’s eyes, landed on the back of my hand and stayed there for an inordinate time, seemingly staring into my eyes. And yes, I confess, I started talking to it as if it was my dad’s spirit. You know the classic script:

“Is that you, Daddy? I feel kind of ridiculous talking to a dragonfly, but on the off chance that this is you …”

So trust me when I say there is no judgment here if you too seek signs or messages from a loved one who has passed on. But I thought it worthwhile to share some (perhaps) healthier ways to negotiate past the grief when you’ve lost someone important in your life.

You may balk at the use of the term ‘negotiate’ in this context, but all of life is a negotiation and negotiating our own mindset is perhaps our first and most important one. This is particularly important when navigating grief.

Here are a few tips on grieving and healthier ways to negotiate the process.


I Recognize that grieving is natural.

Don’t be embarrassed of your grief. Keeping a stiff upper lip is no longer de rigueur and more importantly it’s not good for your mental health.

Face, feel and express your feelings. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. In today’s world of championing positivity, it’s easy to get fooled into thinking that we ought not allow ourselves to feel or show sadness. It’s okay to feel sad. Allow yourself to feel the feelings. It’s a natural and necessary part of the process. Only then can you meaningfully seek coping mechanisms that will allow you to move on in more constructive ways.


II Recognize that your journey will be unique.

The grieving process will be unique to each of us. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. Don’t feel that you need to fit a Hollywood model, or to emulate others you’ve seen grieving. Leaving aside the obvious pitfalls of following a Hollywood model, remember that even the so-called real models you’ve no doubt seen only reflect a moment in time. There is much that goes on under the surface and behind closed doors.

Equally, if not more importantly, there is no one way to ‘be’ when grieving. Each of our experiences will be unique to us, both as individuals and vis-a-vis how we handle each isolated incidence of grief that arises in our lives. A host of factors (many of which will unconsciously impact us) influence how we react. And that’s okay.


III Don’t put a time limit on yourself

Tied to #2 above, don’t let others dictate how long the grieving process ought to take. This too is unique to each individual. Recognize that it takes time. Putting artificial expectations on yourself about the perceived acceptable timeframe for grieving will only cause you unnecessary angst and stress, further hindering the recovery process.


IV No one event has a monopoly on grieving.

Death typically first comes to mind when we speak of grieving. But recognize that there are a host of circumstances that can give rise to grief. Don’t let others discount your right to grieve in circumstances other than death. It is perfectly reasonable to expect grieving in other losses, whether loss of a romantic relationship, friendship, job or beyond.

When my son was diagnosed with a serious lifelong mental health issue, it took me awhile to recognize that I was grieving the loss of my expectations of what his life would look like. It was only in recognizing the grief for what it was that I was able to start healing it and finding productive approaches.


V Coping strategies

Let’s talk about a few coping strategies to allow you to find healthier ways to negotiate past grief.

  • Start by ensuring you take care of yourself – both emotionally and physically. Be intentional about eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep. None of these are likely to come naturally during the grieving process so you’ll need to be mindful to prioritize these practices.


  • Ensure you have supports in place. Don’t ‘go it alone’. Don’t be shy to ask for help. Make sure you have a network of people and resources in place that you can lean on.


  • Try writing a letter to the person you lost. Don’t hold back. Dig deep. This can be a very cathartic process that brings buried issues (the good, the bad and the ugly) to the surface to better allow you to face and redress them.


  • Journal about the experience. Whether you’re a Pulitzer prize winning author or someone who struggles to put pen to paper at all, there is hidden gold in journaling. It allows us to uncover and process aspects of our grief that we weren’t consciously aware of.


  • Many people find it healing to preserve memories. Put together a scrap book, memory quilt, memory box of items that will keep alive memories of the person (or circumstance) you’re grieving.


  • Rituals are another way that some find solace. Finding order in seeming chaos can aid in the healing process and soothe the anxiety and pain. Rituals involve intention and can aid in transformation (of feelings, meaning we attach, etc.)


Hopefully some aspect of these thoughts around negotiating grief has resonated with you and will assist on your path to navigating the journey away from perilous toward healthy healing.



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