Working on the Tasks in the Early Times of Grief Without Self Destructing

Losing a loved one can be one of the most stressful and emotionally laborious times in your life.  Whether you lost a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a child, there are many logistical tasks that must be done.  Death certificates, dealing with credit card companies, banking items, and learning to do things that your person once took care of, are all items that must be learned.  Many times, in private practice, I see families attempt to put their emotionally grief on hold, until these items are completed.  However, grief cannot be paused.  These tasks take a lot of emotional energy.  It is important to address your emotional needs as you take care of those items.

Planning a funeral or memorial service is an important part of addressing your need to mourn.   Picking out music and prayer or poems that were meaningful to your loved one, creating picture boards and gathering with loved ones are essential to allowing the grief to be witnessed by others.  When express your love for the person that has died, and you are validated in your pain, you can move through those emotions of sadness and despair.  These are all difficult tasks, so it is critical to nurture yourself as much as possible during this time of acute grief.

Make sure to hydrate yourself.  Crying takes a lot of energy and dehydrates your body.  Grief tends to disrupt the circadian rhythm of your sleep, so try to rest as much as possible.  Even if you are not sleeping, allow yourself to relax and rest to rejuvenate your body.  This allows your body to restore itself.  Grief can also overturn your ability to understand hunger cues.  Many will forget to eat after the death of a loved one.  It is important to set timers as a reminder to eat, even if it is a little bit.  Pack your car or purse with nutritious snacks and have them readily available.  Having healthy snacks, drinking water, and creating time to rest will not “fix” your grief, but these are important items to assist you in feeling a little better during this time.

Closing a bank account, packing loved one’s items, or calling the social security office are all emotionally hard things to do.  When you have completed one of the items from your checklist, find a way to reward yourself.  These are items that tax our minds, our bodies, and our emotions.  Find ways to nurture your soul through this process.  That might be taking a walk in a beautiful park, listening to music, or treating yourself to your favorite ice cream.  Find small ways to nurture yourself through these difficult tasks.

Grief is a rollercoaster of emotions that do not start and stop depending upon the items that must get done after a loved one dies.  These items are important, but create a list, and do not try to tackle it all at once.  That list will seem overwhelming, so talk to others that have been through the process.  Enlist the help of others.  Delegate tasks if possible.  Crossing off items on the list also gives a sense of accomplishment and allows you to see your progress.  Be kind to yourself during this process.  Working through those tasks, while experiencing turbulent emotions, is exhausting.  Give yourself many breaks.  Learning to be kind to yourself in your grief will set you on a path that gives value to your emotions and your overall wellbeing.


Written by Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC

Kristen Ernst, MA, LPC is owner of the Center for Hope & Healing. Kristen has years of experience counseling hospice patients and their families. Her private practice concentrates on grief and traumatic loss.  She also contributes as a specialist in grief support as a group facilitator, writer, and educator in the community.