Today is National Grief Awareness Day in the U.S.
While nearly everyone experiences grief, very few people seem to talk about it publicly. This is one reason why grief can feel so isolating. But talking about it openly shines a bit of light in the dark corners of your heart where the sadness lingers, and those flickers of light, over time, may help you heal a little.
Whether you are grieving a human or animal loss, and whether it was recently or a while ago, I hope these tips and reminders bring you a little comfort — today and any day you might need it.
If you’re hurting, give yourself permission to grieve. That probably sounds silly, but hear me out: Many people judge themselves for grieving. They throw “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” around, talking themselves out of grieving. They try to avoid grieving because, well, grieving isn’t what anybody wants to do. But giving yourself the time and headspace to grieve and truly feel is far healthier than bottling up and denying your feelings.
There’s no one way to grieve. Everyone’s grief journey is different, and the same person can grieve multiple loved ones differently as well.
Avoid comparing how you’re grieving to how someone else is — or is perceived to be — grieving. Even if a person who shares a loss with you seems to be handling life really well while you feel like you’re ready to break into a million pieces, resist the temptation to compare yourself to them.
Similarly, there’s no one timetable for grief. That, too, is different for everyone. Be aware of how you’re talking to yourself. If your self-talk sounds something like “I should just be over this by now!”, it’s time to change the way you speak to you.
If you catch yourself falling into this kind of negative self-talk, stop and ask yourself whether you’d talk to a close friend like that. If you wouldn’t talk to them like that, think about what you would say to them — and then give yourself that same level of kindness.
And on the topic of “just getting over it…” The truth is, you may never be over it — and that’s okay. Time may make the loss sting less after a while, but it’s likely that you’ll always feel some level of pain. There’s a silver lining to the sadness: The reason the loss is painful is a testament to the bond and love between you and the person or animal you’re grieving.
Do what feels right for you. If you think it would help you to talk about your loved one, talk about them to your friends or post about them on social media. Sometimes people assume you don’t want to talk about your loved one and that it would make you sad — so you may need to tell people that you want to talk about them.
Not ready to talk about it to people you know? Consider joining an online grief and loss forum to connect with others and find support, or releasing your feelings through journaling.
When you’re ready, consider doing something to honor your loved one. There are so many options — privately or publicly, recurring or just once — to consider.
If you have any of their ashes, you could commission a piece of memorial jewelry, or scatter some ashes at a beach you know they loved.
You could write a poem about how much they meant to you, have an artist create a watercolor painting based on a favorite photo of the two of you, donate to their favorite charitable organization in their honor, post a tribute to them on social media, light a candle on the anniversary of their passing, or recall joyful memories of them on their birthday — just to name a few.
If your loved one was a beloved pet, you could get a personalized memorial stone to put outside in their favorite spot, beautiful windchimes whose sounds are uplifting, or create a little treasure box for their collar and favorite toys. If you have a copy of their paw print or nose print, you could order custom memorial jewelry, like a necklace that you can wear to keep the memory of your pet close to your heart.
No matter what ways you decide to honor your loved one, avoid pressuring yourself into doing it before you’re ready. It may take a good deal of time before you’re ready, and that’s okay.
If your grief grows bigger than you can handle on your own, seek help. Grief can feel incredibly isolating and you may be riding a roller coaster of emotions — feeling better one day, and really down the next day.
When grief causes persistent health and mental health issues like depression, it may be time to speak to a professional such as a licensed counselor. It isn’t weak to realize that you need help — in fact, seeking help is a sign of strength.
Wherever you are in your grieving journey, I wish you peace and strength, and I hope that you remember that — even on the most challenging days — you are not alone.
This article was written in honor of my dear friend Joan Larson.
For more pep talks and insights about pets, social media, and being good to yourself, visit me at Cat Lady Academy.