Lean on Me

Author: Jill Harrington-LaMorie

Building Your Support Network

Experiencing the death of a loved one can challenge us in many ways as we learn to adapt to the loss in our lives. Although there are no right or wrong ways to grieve, getting support and taking care of yourself can help you deal with your feelings of loss.

National Seminar Survivors

One of the single most important factors in healing from loss is having support. Sharing your loss can make the burden of grief easier to carry. Even if you are not comfortable reaching out to others for support under normal circumstances, it is important to garner support while you are grieving. In fact, connecting with others can be one of the most important steps in your process of healing. 

There are varying types of support after a loss, both practical and emotional, and all of them can help you on your journey. Here are some suggestions for how to build your network of support. 

Identify Your Needs

In the early months after the death of a loved one, it may be very difficult for your friends and family to see you in pain. They may want to rush you through the process, further reinforcing that you need to run away from or bury your feelings of grief. It's important for you to get to know yourself during this time and tune in to your needs. This will build your confidence in making the choices that help you heal. 

Grief can overwhelm you physically and emotionally. If you recognize this from the start, you may feel better about allowing others to help you. Overbooking your schedule and keeping overly busy to avoid feelings of grief will only delay you in coping with the loss. Pay attention to your feelings, allowing yourself the full range of emotions that come after the loss of a loved one: sadness, anger, guilt, fear, and loneliness. 

You may need to find time in your daily schedule for outlets that help you cope with your grief. This can be time and space for being alone with your feelings, crying, journaling, walking, exercising, creating art, or talking with friends. Take some quiet time for you, whether that is taking a nap, or just lying down. 

Rely on Others 

We often take pride in being independent, strong, and self-sufficient. Accepting help from others can make us feel fearful that we may become too dependent or a burden on others. But this is the time to lean on the people who care about you. It is said that death and grief cause us to re-write our address books. As you identify your needs, it may be a good time to weed out unhelpful friends and family, staying close to those who are truly supportive. As you discover those who will support you, accept the assistance that's offered. 

Oftentimes, people want to help but don't know how, so it might work well if you make a list of the things you need them to do to allow you to feel supported. When they call and offer to help, you can give them a choice from the items on your list-whether it's a shoulder to cry on or help with the laundry.

  • For practical support: Now is the time when you might need help with babysitting, cleaning, meals, car pools, walking the dog, cutting the grass, or grocery shopping. In the early weeks you might assign a family member or friend to act on your behalf to take phone calls and listen to voicemail messages. You might need assistance with funeral and memorial plans. Later you might want help writing and mailing thank you notes. Managing social media can be daunting when you are grieving, so you may want to suspend your posting activity for a time. On the other hand, you may also find these outlets healing and may want to ask others to help create memorial pages.
  • For Emotional Support: Try to identify friends and family you can talk to—those who can be empathetic, understanding, patient, and compassionate. Whether it is a family member or a friend who has also lost a child, spouse, sibling, or cousin, these are the people you know you can rely on to take your call at ten o’clock in the evening or seven o’clock in the morning.
  • Respite care: Even though it is valuable for your long-term healing to confront your feelings of grief early on, it is exhausting to be continually immersed in the feelings of pain, sorrow, sadness, anger, and anxiety. Some of your friends, family members, neighbors, or paid caregivers may be skilled at giving you respite so you can re-engage in activities that bring you emotional or physical relief. A surviving spouse with children may want to try and arrange a friend to babysit for a few hours. It may be for a simple trip to the hairdresser or a walk in the park. A surviving sibling or child may want to reach out to those friends and see a movie or go to the mall. A surviving mom and dad may need a walk on the beach with a local faith group or a close neighbor. Finding others who can provide you respite may give you the sanctuary you need for a time.

Build a Medical Support Team

Grieving is hard work and can take a toll on our bodies. If you are not already connected with a good primary care physician, contact your insurance company, friend, or family for a referral. Because the mind and body are connected, you'll also feel better emotionally when you feel good physically. Fight the stress and fatigue of grief by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Be careful about using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief. It is also good to know what to do when physical symptoms may lead to crisis. In these instances, a 24-hour or emergency care facility is always recommended. 

Seek Spiritual Support

If you follow a religious or spiritual tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you-such as praying, meditating, or going to church-can offer solace. If you're questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talking with a clergy member or others in your religious community may help. Just as grief is a highly unique and personal journey, so is your spiritual journey in the aftermath of loss. 

Talk to a Grief Counselor

As time moves forward, if you are feeling overwhelmed, constantly down, fearful, and anxious or depressed, you may want to seek professional support. An experienced grief counselor can help you work through intense emotions, and help companion you on a path of healing. TAPS can make the connection for you with a mental health professional who is experienced in working with grief and loss.

Join a Support Group

Grief can feel very isolating and lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. To find a bereavement support group in your area, contact TAPS for an individualized Community Resource Report. Many groups are offered at local hospitals, hospices, funeral homes, and counseling centers. In addition to helping you find local support options, TAPS offers other avenues of peer-based emotional support. Find out more about peer mentors, online chat groups, regional and national survivor seminars, suicide support seminars, retreats, and local care groups by calling 800-959-TAPS or visiting www.taps.org. 

To Sum It All Up

Realize that while others have "moved on," grief can be a long journey for those whose lives are directly affected by the loss. Having realistic expectations that it will take time to adjust to your loss will help you rethink your priorities and set realistic goals for yourself. In the meantime, don't hesitate to allow the people around you the chance to make a difference in your life.

Jill Harrington-LaMorieBy Jill Harrington-LaMorie, DSW, LCSW: Dr. Jill Harrington LaMorie is the surviving spouse of Navy Lieutenant Commander Andrew LaMorie and proud mother of their children, Madeline and Alexander. She served as the TAPS Director of Professional Education for three years, as well as being a peer mentor, group facilitator, and workshop presenter. Jill completed her doctorate in social work at The University of Pennsylvania and currently works as the Senior Field Researcher on the National Military Family Bereavement Study.