13 Real People on What Actually Helped When They Were Grieving


Everyone responds to grief in a different way. And everyone finds their own way of dealing with grief. Here, 13 people share the strategies that helped them cope with loss.

I screamed

“When my mom died in 2013, I was 21 and it totally shattered my world. I felt so trapped and suffocated during the first days and weeks of my grief and I kept trying to think of a way to release the pain I was feeling. Eventually, I climbed into the passenger seat of my dad’s truck and just screamed. I yelled at God, swore a ton and really let it all out. I screamed until I didn’t have a voice anymore. In that moment I felt so exhausted and so full of pain but also so relieved because that pressure that had been building up inside of me finally was released.” —Shelby Forsythia, Chicago

I made a list of the good

“The way I found comfort after I lost my dad to leukemia 20 years ago is by making a list of all the good things that came out of his sickness and death. For the longest time, my memory of my father was of him in the ICU, feet swollen, unable to communicate, and me the day after his death sitting in my dark bedroom, crying. But by writing this list, I focused on the better memories. For example, when my dad was initially diagnosed, a family friend introduced us to a doctor. We went for dinner at his home and I met his daughter who was my age. She became my best friend, and introduced me to my now-husband! I truly believe my father has been with me every day and has provided this goodness and so much more.” —Aneela Idnani, Minneapolis

I wrote in my journal

“When I lost my father to murder, journaling gave me a way to express myself both to my father and to the man who murdered him. It gave me a way to put feelings into words privately so that I didn’t need to fear being judged by other for expressing things that were sometimes ugly, mean, and even self-destructive, the kind of thoughts I don’t often linger on and don’t like to share. At times, I’d begin writing when I felt sad and, by the time I finished, I discovered that what was really going on was anger, loneliness, or some other feeling that I needed to spend some time thinking about.” —Susan Fekete, Santa Rosa, California

I returned to triathlon training

“When my daughter died unexpectedly, exercising was the most tangible tool for processing my grief and it gave me a focus for my anxious energy. I had participated in sprint triathlons before she was born, and after she died, competing in another triathlon helped to reclaim a part of myself that felt like it had died, too. Having the goal of the triathlon gave me structure and intention to my training and the event itself was a celebration of all my hard work. It was proof to myself that I was still strong. Also, being in the fresh air exercising outside felt healing.” —Amie Lands, Windsor, California

I found strength in tai chi

“I went through a six-year period recently where my husband and I lost seven close family members. I started learning tai chi 13 years ago and as I go through the motions it helps me realize that life goes on and that I will find joy again even though I will always miss my loved ones dearly. I used to spend every Sunday morning on the phone calling all of my family members, but they’re all gone now, so going to the tai chi studio has made that time happy again for me.” —Paige Arnof-Fenn, Cambridge, Massachusetts

I gave myself permission to feel rotten

After the loss of my husband to ALS, I used to make a deal with myself every single day. Based upon my schedule for the day, I would actually tell myself, ‘Okay, I know you’re feeling pretty rotten right now, but you also have to (work, take my daughter to cheer practice, etc.) right now. However, you will get to feel absolutely, completely, 100 percent rotten at 9 p.m.’ I then made sure that I kept that appointment. I would soak in a tub, enjoy a cup of tea or glass of wine, read a grief book, listen to sad songs and cry my eyes out and nothing and no one distracted me from the very necessary activity of grieving. It is because I literally gave myself permission every single day to take the time to feel totally awful that I was also able to eventually heal and move forward.” —Carole Brody Fleet, Lake Forest, California

I gave thanks

“After my wife died at the age of 34, my thoughts often turned to darker questions like, ‘How can I go on with my life without her?’ Grief also brought up a feeling of emptiness, depression, and hopelessness. Once I started to be thankful for all that remained in my life—my daughter, my friends, my work—I got a glimpse of why I could go on living and fully enjoy life again. We usually don’t think about giving thanks when someone dies. Yet gratitude was one of the things that helped me deal with the loss because it helped me focus on the positive rather than on the negative.” —Allen Klein, San Francisco

I still talk to my dad

“When he was alive, I spoke to my father for about 30 minutes every Friday and I still talk to him today though he’s no longer with us. This became a kind of meditation session for me, once I had said what I had to say. The dialogue is one-sided now so I took advantage of that time for silence and personal reflection. Many people find themselves speaking to their deceased loved ones when things are bad, like they’re speaking to God, but I did it as a part of my normal routine. This has helped soften the blow, which a loss of this magnitude invariably is.” —Caleb Backe, Farmingdale, New Jersey

I found comfort in great books

“When I lost my grandfather in 2012, I found that reading books about others who went through difficult times and came out on the other side was of immense help. Two books that especially stand out are Man’s Search for Meaning by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. These kinds of books provide comfort and wisdom. It truly is cathartic to see in words feelings you are often unable to express.” —Amanda Austin, Erie, Pennsylvania

I focused on what I hadn’t lost

“My uncle, who was a minister, gave me a big piece of advice that stuck with me after my father died of cancer 10 years ago. He told me something to the effect of: ‘You haven’t lost your dad. People will say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ but you didn’t lose him. He’s still your dad.’ This helped me because it allowed me to more regularly reflect on the relationship we had and how it affected the person I am and the life I have. I have a dad. I have his influence on my life. He’s part of who I am. Nothing can ever change that—not even the ‘loss’ of his physical presence in my life.” —Cara Davis, Nashville, Tennessee

I visualized my parents happy

“Following the deaths of my parents (I had been their caregiver), I was overcome by a prolonged period of grief. The only thing that worked for me was to form new neural pathways—the goal is that when sad thoughts intrude, you force yourself to think about something else. For example, if an image came to mind of my mother’s cancer-ravaged face, I would shut out the image and tell myself to recall her in happier times. When I wanted a new image formed, I would think of her in heaven, regaling the other souls with her humor. It sounds simple but it really helped.”—Marlene Caroselli, Pittsford, New York         

I traced our roots

“My mother died recently and, while I was going through her things, I found a big box of old photos of family members. It was very helpful to research her roots using the names on the backs of the photos. It gave me a new view and respect for her long life. I’m proud to say I have traced her father’s family line back to the early 1600s. I truly feel that connecting to my past has helped me cope with this loss.” —Lee Recca, Denver

I designed my mother’s urn

“I had a woodworking artist who creates urn keepsake boxes design my mother’s and the process of choosing the images and quotes helped me reflect upon my mother’s legacy and how I will remember her. I found the process therapeutic and the results were breathtaking. It turned out so lovely that I wish I had ordered it before my mother had died so she could have seen it. I know that may sound morbid to some, but I think my mother would have approved. Getting my mother’s urn right helped me let go of some of the guilt I carried as a caregiver, too.” —Joy Johnston, Atlanta

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