Taming the Grief Monster: Moving Forward

Giving to others can help us heal from the loss of a loved one
December 6, 2019 Updated: December 6, 2019

Profound grief has no timetable. Moving forward is an individual thing—both in how it’s done and how long it takes. I would like to offer some suggestions to help make this difficult journey a little easier.

Although there is no such thing as “getting over” losing a child, it is possible to achieve a new normal. Of course, you will never forget or stop loving your child, but it is possible to achieve happiness again.

Life is a gift and every day is a blessing, even though it doesn’t always feel that way. There are others in your life that you love and who love you, maybe even need you. I am quite sure that our child on the other side would not want any of us to spend the rest of our lives grieving for them. It makes them happy to see us happy.

Holidays and Other Special Days

Special days like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, (or angel-versaries as I like to call them) are definitely challenging. Most of us dread and fear the looming day. There are ways to tame these days so they are not so overwhelming.

With holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, simplification is the key. You can even have a family meeting in advance to brainstorm what can be eliminated or minimized. Think of ways to scale down the decorations, cards and/or gift-giving. For instance, shop on-line instead of fighting the crowds. Possibly another family member could host the event. If you have younger children, of course, you still want to maintain holiday traditions, presents, etc. as much as you are able. Try making new traditions, like having family members mention a short memory of your child before the meal, or providing a journal where family and friends can share their funny or touching stories. Just remember to be kind to yourself, and trust that others close to you will understand.

Regarding special dates related to your child, like their angel-versary or birthday, keep in mind that the anticipation is always worse than the actual day. It helps to have a plan: you can give a party for friends and/or family, get out of town, host a “giving day” in their honor, or just go to a quiet place to give yourself the chance to be alone.

Personally, I hosted parties for my son’s first few birthdays. The planning and work involved helped to distract me before the dreaded day. His friends and family also appreciated a way to celebrate his life and share memories. It turned out to be a pleasant day, not nearly as bad as I’d feared. For his first angel-versary, I organized a beach clean up, (something dear to my son’s heart) and followed it with a barbeque at our house.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, but planning ahead can help.


Although we don’t have the ability to control many of the things that happen to us in our lives, we do have the ability to choose how we react towards them. There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”

I didn’t want to stay imprisoned by depression and I found positive affirmations helped me to refocus my thinking. I would type several affirmations on a piece of paper, cut them into strips and place them in conspicuous areas around the house. These included:

*I accept all of my feelings as part of my healing and will allow them to wash over me.

*I realize that letting go of this grief does not mean letting go of my love for Kevin.

*I am taking care of my health.

*I am getting a little stronger every day.

*I appreciate and celebrate the love from my family and friends.

*I will embrace today as the gift it is and notice the beauty around me.

Affirmations are personal and need to resonate with you as well as where you are in your grieving process. It is important to recognize each success, big or small and reward yourself accordingly. These would include passing the first anniversary as having gone through the year of “firsts.” Also, if you have joined a grief group, or made new and supportive friends, or even been able to laugh for the first time, congratulate yourself.  Ignore family or friends who try and put a timetable on your grief, let them know that you are doing the best you can through this difficult time.

The Benefits of Giving Back

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of those beautiful compensations of life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  I found that “getting out of my head” and giving to others went a long way towards my healing.

Practicing random acts of kindness can be a very good way to start. As Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” One bereaved family decided to do an act of kindness every day in honor of their daughter. They would put money in an expiring meter, or let someone get in front of them at a light or hold open a door for a stranger. They would silently say, “This is for you, Kelly.” I believe that every time you give of yourself to help others you get at least as much back in return.

I had no intention of staying depressed so I decided to find a volunteer activity. My unpredictable emotions within the first two years, however, did limit my choices. Eventually, I was able to find Canine Companions for Independence that used volunteers for the first phase of raising and training potential service dogs.  Since I had some experience in that area, and the dogs didn’t care if I cried, this was the perfect fit. I have thoroughly enjoyed raising four dogs, three of whom have graduated and are making a huge difference to people in need.  It has given me such a happy heart to see “my” dogs graduate and be part of a noble cause.

You have a choice: will you choose to be a prisoner of your depression or will you do your best to rise above it?

This is the last in a series of three segments by Linda Zelik, who lost her 24-year-old son in 2010. She is a U.S.C. graduate and retired occupational therapist.

This series was adapted from her book, “From Despair to Hope, Survival Guide for Bereaved Parents.” If you would like to read more the book can be found at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or BookBaby.com. Linda’s website at www.GriefHelp4Parents.weebly.com