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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

How to Heal a Grieving Heart

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Mar 22, 2016 3:59:04 PM

kendal-how-to-grieve.jpgSinger/songwriter John Gorka tells us that, “If you have loved then you have cried.”

And if you have lived, you will experience grief.

Many of us, especially older adults, have walked this path, maybe more than once, where love and grief intersect. Everyone’s journey is unique, but there are common experiences to keep in mind as you travel the road to healing.

What is Grief?

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides a succinct definition:  “Grief is the normal and natural response to the loss of someone or something important to you. It is a natural part of life. Grief is a typical reaction to death, divorce, job loss, a move away from family and friends, or loss of good health due to illness.”

Symptoms or reactions can include tears, lack of appetite or energy, difficulty sleeping, anger and withdrawal from normal activities.

Just as reactions vary, so does the length of time a person grieves.  There is no “normal” time period that grief lasts.  Factors that affect how long a person grieves include personality, age, physical and mental health, and spiritual and family background.

How to Grieve?

From our personal experiences and those of loved ones, we know there are a myriad of ways to express loss and sadness. Some people want to talk about their loss, others turn to prayer, journaling, meditation, walking. Some surround themselves with reminders of their loved one, wearing their clothes and jewelry and displaying photographs. Others close the closet door, jewelry box and put away all the photographs.

Suggestions from the American Psychological Association include:

  • Talk about the death of your loved one with friends and colleagues in order to understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. Denying the death is an easy way to isolate yourself, and will frustrate your support system in the process.
  • Accept your feelings. People experience all kinds of emotions after the death of someone close. Sadness, anger, frustration and even exhaustion are all normal.
  • Take care of yourself and your family. Eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest help us get through each day and move forward.
  • Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has the added benefit of making you feel better as well. Sharing stories of the deceased can help everyone cope.
  • Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Possibilities include donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.

Who can Help?

Some men and women who are grieving find comfort being with others who are also dealing with loss. Ask your local hospice about bereavement support groups and individual counseling,

There are also specialized groups, such as Compassionate Friends, which provides help for those grieving the loss of a child, and summer camps for grieving children.

Your church may provide pastoral care or a Stephen Minister, a church member trained to be a caregiver to someone grieving or facing another life challenge.  

Many psychologists and other mental health experts are trained in grief counseling. Contact your insurance provider for guidance.

Other Resources

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of the ground-breaking book “On Death and Dying” reminds us: “There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.”

The New Yorker has compiled a list of books about grieving, including poetry and autobiographies.

Was there a book or activity that was helpful to you on your grief journey?  Please consider sharing your story, which might offer help and comfort to others who are grieving.

Download the Emotional Wellness Guide



Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.

Topics: Healthy Aging

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