In my years of practicing psychotherapy and providing grief and bereavement counseling in the Littleton and Denver areas, I continue to be struck by the uniqueness of the grief process for everyone. For so many, coping with the death of someone you care about can be more than merely painful, it can be debilitating emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I’ve also learned that, while there are some ways of coping which can aid in the healing process after a significant loss, there are also things not to do when grieving, which can both complicate and inadvertently intensify your despair.

5 Things Not to Do When Grieving

Based on my many years of experience with grief therapy, here are 5 Things Not to Do When Grieving:

  1. Do not try to self-medicate your emotional pain away. Trying to dull the pain you’re feeling with alcohol or drug use is a losing proposition. The “grieving process” is described as a process for a reason; it requires certain courses of action to achieve a result. One of these courses of action is feeling the pain of your loss, so that you may eventually adapt to life without the deceased, and regain emotional balance. While it is an understandable human desire to seek relief from pain, the use of alcohol or other substances, while perhaps providing momentary relief, can ultimately lead to increased depression, anxiety, and problems sleeping.
  2. Do not avoid the pain you feel. Trying to hide from your pain will also get you nowhere, and will only prolong your pain. Dealing with your loss in the moment is the best course of action, by far. It is the first step in the process described above, and is critical to your eventual healing.
  3. Do not hide yourself away from friends and family. The support of others will help you beyond measure. Allowing friends and family to “be there” for you, even though you may feel like seeing them is the last thing you want to do, will be the foundation of your recovery from your loss. It’s OK to let them help you. It’s also OK to have some alone time if it feels helpful but, be careful of isolation. Remember that connections and sharing help healing.
  4. Do not focus on regrets, choices you’ve made, or past actions you’ve taken. It’s very common to feel guilty about things we might have said, or things we might have done differently, when we lose a person we care for. Self-recrimination is extremely harmful, for there is nothing you can do about the past. Instead, move forward with your life and try to avoid the same “mistakes” with others you care about. It can also be helpful to remind yourself that whatever you did or didn’t do or say, you did the best you could at the that time with what you knew.
  5. Do not make major, life-changing decisions. The impulse to “make a change” when dealing with a significant loss is completely understandable, yet often leads to more problems. Choosing to sell your house and move to another town for example, may be the last thing you need to do while in the throes of emotional upheaval. In some cases, it may be another way to run away from your pain. Instead, work your way through the healing process first and then, if you still feel a major change would be a good idea, you can proceed with more clarity and confidence that you’re not running away from your feelings.

When you’re in the depths of the grieving process, you don’t necessarily realize the reasons for the decisions you’re making. While you may believe you’re thinking clearly, the pain of your loss will very likely be coloring your decision-making process. Therefore, it’s recommended to hold off, if possible, on making any major, life-changing or financial decisions when coping with a significant loss.

If you are tempted to reach for alcohol or drugs to cope with a loss, it’s useful to speak with your Physician who can recommend or prescribe safer alternatives.

If you live in the Littleton area, and are finding it difficult to cope with the pain of your grief and loss, contact us today for a consultation at our convenient therapy clinic.

9 Comments. Leave new

  • I really appreciated this list of things, especially that of not dwelling on regrets. This makes it easier for those who feel like they should have done certain things they never got to, to move on. My cousin has been considering grief counseling and I think that counseling plus these tips will help her heal.

  • Hi I lost my mom 2 weeks ago since Monday, she had stage 4 breast cancer hard to sleep any ideas? Thx rose

  • Regrets….so many. He worked so hard for 2 years to defeat a cancer. The treatment worked. We struggled day in and day out. I took care of him and took him to doctor appointments. In November we saw a doctor who prescribed a antibiotic for a pneumonia. The doctor said she was deciding between a hospitalization…but because she knew how much he disliked being hospitalized she would try the antibiotics. The next day after work he seemed groggy and I suggested that we go ER. I took a nap. I was awakened by him coming down the hallway. I jumped out of bed and met him in the hallway. He fell into my arms unconscious. I tried to revive him. Paramedics arrived and took over for me. They got a pulse. A few days later it was determined there was no chance of recovery. The breathing tube was removed. He was my partner for 16 years. I wish I could go back in time to that day in the doctors office to change the outcome. If only I had forced the hospitalization issue…he’d still be alive today. He had a cardiac arrest…nothing to do with the cancer. If only…if only. I took care of him all that time. I am so sad…I cry every night. It’s winter…..cold and dark. My light and love is gone. I just can’t believe he’s gone. I walk around the house and sit on the floor where he collapsed and beg him to forgive me. I truly wish it was me instead of him that day. He deserved to live because he tried so hard. I feel so empty. I can function at work…but feel so contemptible inside.

    • Try not to dwell on that! My husband spent 5 weeks in the hospital. I stayed with him every night. They decided to put him in a rehab facility. I could not stay there. The lady in room across from him said he called for me all night. I was there all day the next day but could not stay that night. He died! I think he was confused as to where I went. He was 87..,,.and anesthesia had made him a little confused. That was 10 wks ago. I celebrated our 64th anniversary alone. I decorated in an out for Christmas and my family of 28 were here. That helped! Spent today taking it all down.
      I feel his spirit, do you? I can do things I thought I could never do. We cannot accept that blame. We thought we were doing the right thing. I am getting ready to go to our winter place in FL next week. He loved it so much! I started out to help you……but ended up telling about myself! Grief is very selfish!

      • Hi Janet… I read your article. For what it is worth I do not think you are being selfish. Just my opinion

    • Hi and Thank you for posting your story. I know exactly how you feel as I am going through the exact same thing here. We were a couple for 25 years and as you I struggle every day. People say the know how I feel but unless you lose a your spouse, how can you understand. I am told constantly that it will get better but sometimes it hard to see that.

  • Good Morning, I just lost my wife 5 weeks ago to triple negative breast cancer she was only 69 years old. In February 2022 she had a growth on her back so she went to the doctor to get it checked out. Her doctor diagnosed it as a subasis cyst by April 2022 she had more lumps on her back so she returned to the doctors office. She was scheduled for various test and so we waited. Come June still no answer so she went off to Alberta for our nieces wedding. While in Calgary she was called and said she had lung cancer and an appointment was arranged to visit a lung oncologist. At that meeting she was asked a series of question and the doctor said she did not have any symptoms of a lung cancer patient so he ordered up a battery of more tests. The results came back confirming that she had triple negative breast cancer and in fact it had now spread to all her organs including her brain and she was declared terminal.
    The news was devastating but we decided to go through all of the treatments with the hope that somehow she would survive or at least increase her chances pf living longer. Well one thing led to another and one day I came home and she was jaundiced so I took her to the hospital where the ER doctor said her bile ducts were plugged with the cancer and she needed to have stents put in to drain the poisons. He then informed us that the chemo had done nothing and the cancer had grown to a point of no return. She was admitted to the hospital for recovery and while she was there she had a fall due to her right hip disintegrating and would need a hip replacement. Because of her weekend state they could not administer any further treatment and we were informed that there was nothing more that could be done for her. She was moved to a Hospice Home where she passed in 3 days. For the next few weeks I blamed myself for not asking one question… “why is it that an ER doctor discovered through his blood work that the chemo was not working and yet when my wife had her blood work before each chemo, that they could not see the treatments were doing nothing?” It was very hard for me to accept the fact that this was not my fault that I had done everything I possible could had with the knowledge available to me. I miss her terribly and wish she were here with me but it gives me a great feeling to know that she is still with me in the memories I have. My sister gave me a gift that has helped me a lot… it is a picture of words that says “LOVE NEVER DIES.” I look at that every day at least a dozen times where it hangs next to my door. It doesn’t get easier (at least not yet). I think my new goal is to try and be nicer to myself and forgive myself for my shortcomings. I know my wife would want me to be happy and that is my goal to try to reach that for her sometime soon.

  • I lost my mom on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know how to do this. I was so lucky to not have lost anyone until now – she was 90 and until last year healthier than me.

  • We lost my oldest sister unexpectedly last Sunday, 1/22, and still do not have answers. My middle sister and I feel so shattered. Our unit is forever broken. I will have support from my husband and lots of Framily. My sister is 7 hours away and takes care of our parents. Other than my parents, her adult kids, and two grandbabies, she doesn’t get out. I know I will have moments, but I worry about her. My older sister had adult children. One is married. But her daughter, like me and my sister are struggling. We set up a group text to reach out daily and have promised our niece that we will be at every first event. One last thing death sucks!


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