Have you ever lost a loved one

Coping with grief: what to do when everything seems pointless

When a close person dies, words are often missing. To ourselves because we can hardly bear the grief. Our environment because it doesn't know how to help us. But also all the other people you meet in this difficult time. It's like falling completely out of everyday life, society, general thinking and feeling, into the abyss.

This falling out of the world is very real to someone who has lost a loved one. Pain, anger, sadness, incomprehension and strife with fate: all of this prevents one from turning to earthly things. Everything seems pointless in the face of loss.

Grief: what can the environment do?

Grief is arguably the hardest thing we have to endure in life. The loss is irrecoverable and that is what makes it so difficult to understand. It doesn't get through to your head, even if you know it. In a certain way, when you grieve, you get very own. You isolate yourself, react unexpectedly, are often listless and absent. Ultimately, all thoughts revolve around the deceased.

"Grief is not a mechanical process", explains Godi Hitschler, pastor and life coach who offers courses in which she accompanies grieving people. "It doesn't go according to the pattern F. Feelings of sadness often come inappropriately, suddenly and are therefore so overwhelming."

One thing above all is required from our environment: Understanding. That you can endure being rough and often very emotional. That one cannot and does not like to function. To be considerate and keep everything unimportant away from the mourner - that, as small as it may sound, is the best thing you can do.

Many offers of help are well-intentioned, but therefore not helpful and often not even bearable. Grief is so individual and the pain so different for everyone that the ways out of the dark are very individual. And only the mourner alone can decide what is good for him during this time.

Coping with grief: will it get better at some point?

At first you are sure: the pain will not subside. The gap that has arisen in our lives is too painful. Nevertheless, I can say from my own experience: You learn to deal with the gap and the loss. But it takes time.

At the time, I also asked other people whether it would stop hurting so incredibly at some point, whether it would get better one day. The answer given by people close to me: it will never stop hurting and the loss will always be felt. But after about a year it gets better.

And that's exactly how I experienced it. The gap remains, but at some point you return to the circle of people around you. But: It really takes a year. And it makes sense to take this time to grieve, to let go, to find a new way of dealing with the deceased. Nobody has to be the same again after a few weeks. Grief takes time.

It was not without reason that there used to be the so-called year of mourning. The widow or widower wore black for a year, and so society could see: someone is in mourning here. Please be considerate.

Today, black clothing no longer shows us that someone is going through a difficult time. The hint to society to be prudent is missing. He's so important in that.

The first year in particular is difficult for those who mourn. Because the time when everything was still good seems so close. There is this continuous loop thought: We were here exactly a year ago. A year ago the deceased was still with us. The first birthday without him. The first anniversary.

Often you grieve yourself as a mourner because you blame yourself. That you didn't do something. That something could have been prevented or at least mitigated. All of these thoughts are omnipresent in the first year of mourning.

The secret of a good life is love. Not what we get, but what we give.

Everyone grieves differently

Nevertheless, there may also be people who do not need a whole year for their grief. And here too, of course, it should be clear: the length of the mourning period has nothing to do with how much we loved someone and how great the pain is. It's a very individual thing.

A friend's boyfriend died as a teenager. Back then, we met at the weekend so as not to be alone, to be able to stand by each other. Our parents were horrified because they thought we were just going to party like every weekend. That was very hurtful back then. One should not allow oneself to judge how someone should grieve, what is right or wrong. Whether you distract yourself or not, whether you get drunk or prefer to bury yourself, whether you deal directly with the grief or not for the time being: all of this must be decided by the mourner.

Also read:The taboo subject of death: what actually happens when you die?

6 Tips: What Can Help In Grief?

1. Allow the grief
Even if it sounds strange: You have to allow the grief. Because to suppress it only means that it continues to smolder in us unprocessed. Pain, anger, frustration - all of this has to get out, has to find an outlet, because otherwise we will become poisoned by it. Therefore allow the tears, the thoughts of the past. If it says so nicely when separating that you shouldn't bathe yourself in your lovesickness, but throw away everything that reminds you of your ex, then that's exactly wrong here.

Looking at photos, other objects or places with other mourners that remind you of the time you spent with the deceased is good for you. Because this is how we keep the loved one alive in our hearts and he continues to have a part in our life.

2. Take your time
Everyone has their own pace in life. This also applies to mourning. Nobody can tell you how long something should take. When to function again. Therefore, take the time that you need. If you don't do that, it will take revenge, because you can't just think away from grief, just to function "normally" again in your job or family. Because what does "normal" mean? Grief is part of us and our life. It is not something that should be taboo or suppressed.

3. Death as part of life
Other cultures deal with death much more naturally. They show us how to keep the memory of the deceased alive as part of everyday life. So those who have passed away are still with us. Albeit in a different form of presence and communication with them. This is a very comforting thought to acquire.

For example, if you put a photo of your loved one or a souvenir in your home, you can develop rituals and habits that can have a comforting effect. Be it that we look at it every day and think of it briefly or that we talk about it or possibly with it in this place in the middle of our everyday life. In this way death does not become an irretrievable partition, but the loved one remains part of one's own life.

If you are looking for me then look for me in your heart. Once I've found a place there, I'll always be with you. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

4. Deep conversations are good
Talking about the experience, about the pain, is often very helpful. Especially conversations with people who are or have been in the same situation. They can usually react very empathically, they know how you feel and what is important now.

Conversations about the deceased and the happy times together help in the grief. They are a way out of the dark because we recognize that the life of the deceased had meaning. That he left something - in us. Because whoever lives on in the heart of his fellow man is never really completely gone.

5. Distraction is absolutely OK
Don't be ashamed of being distracted. Nobody has to chastise themselves to prove their love. Rather, one should ask oneself: What would I wish for my bereaved loved ones to do? Still suffering or finding a way back to life?

6. Realize that grief is love too
Often we perceive grief as something terrible and terrifying that pulls the rug out from under our feet. But we should also see grief for what it really is: a declaration of love to a person, to what we were able to share with them and experience through them.

The funeral speaker Carl Achleitner said about it: "The secret of a good life is love. Not what we get, but what we give." So when we grieve, we know that the life of the deceased had meaning. And that he lives on in us because we think of him with love. This approach can be very comforting.

Read too on our sister portal onmeda.de: Dying process: When life comes to an end

The Course of Grief: Different Scientific Models

Grief is inconsistent and stagnant. Unless it becomes morbid. Normally, however, different basic patterns of grief can be identified. These are different phases that are not strictly chronological, but can appear again and again.

There are different approaches here. Some scientists recognize four stages of grief, others five or seven. What they all have in common, however, is that in the end the mourner is usually able to reconnect with life. It is different with morbid grief. Those affected do not succeed here, they persist in their grief.

The best known is the 5-phase model by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the 4-phase model by Verena Kast (more on this in a moment). The five phases of grief according to Kübler-Ross are: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance.

There is another 4-phase model from the evangelical theologian Yorick Spiegel. He divided the grief phases into the following: 1. shock phase (confronting phase), 2. controlled phase, 3. regression phase and 4. adaptation phase (adaptive phase).

Model 1: The four phases of mourning according to Verena Kast

We want to present the theory of the Swiss psychologist Verena Kast in more detail here as an example. Kast is professor of psychology at the University of Zurich and lecturer and training analyst at the C. G. Jung Institute. She thinks she can recognize the following four phases of grief:

1. Mourning phase: not wanting to believe
At first you don't want to admit the loss. You are still in shock, you feel numb and you don't understand what has happened. Accepting what happened is still difficult here.

2. Mourning phase: breaking emotions
Of course, at some point the emotions break out. The pain, the anger, the fear of how things should go on without the close person, all of this is now coming to the surface, be it through tears or aggression or whatever.

3. Mourning phase: searching and separating
In this phase, all thoughts revolve around the loved one. We feel when we miss him, in which moments he was there and feel the gap that he has left. You look for him in everyday life, so to speak. We look at pictures, listen to music, go to places that bring the memory of him to life. At the same time we try to build an inner relationship with the deceased. Be it that we have internal conversations with him or that we work through old conflicts with him. Since this phase is more introverted, it is difficult for those around you to know how to deal with the bereaved. Sometimes a word about the deceased is comforting and good, sometimes it opens all wounds again.

4. Mourning phase: New self and world reference
In the last phase, the bereaved tries to find their way back to life. Without the loved one. You are able to participate in everyday life again, to meet people without everything revolving around the loss. But you are changed inside because you have the experience of loss. This can sometimes lead to a new way of life, different perspectives, etc. But even now, the grief can of course break out again at any time. A word, a photo, a scene in a film and you burst into tears again. But that is quite normal and can be better accepted in this phase. The loss was accepted. Nevertheless, tears and sad phases are possible at any time.

Also read: If words are missing: funeral sayings for the condolence card

VIDEO: Tips for relatives of depressed people

Video by Aischa Butt

Model 2: The wave model of grief

There are also scientists who disagree with this phase model. For example, a long-term study with older people, carried out by psychologist George Bonanno from Columbia University in New York, showed that almost 90 percent of those who mourn grief develop completely differently from the phase model.

Bonanno sees grief more as a wave-like model. According to him, there are always good phases in which we get along in everyday life. But also phases of intense grief. That is why Bonanno recommends that those affected openly show those around them how they are feeling at the moment, so that they can react better.

The scientists Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut from the University of Utrecht also see a wave-like course in coping with grief that oscillates back and forth between two poles. On the one hand, everything revolves around the deceased and the loss. On the other hand, you also live in the here and now and also have thoughts of a future without the deceased.

So there are always moments in which despair arises in waves and again and again phases in which we look ahead. At first one pole dominates. The more you process the grief, the more the second pole comes into play, which revolves around what is to come.

Resilience: The inner strength that helps us out of grief

However, there is one point that science agrees: In grief, resilience is extremely important. The word is derived from the Latin "resilire", which means to jump back, bounce off. It is, so to speak, about our strength to survive difficult phases in life and to return to life. Not to remain in the negative, but to regain optimism. And this resilience, this spiritual strength, differs from person to person, as the psychologist and trauma researcher George A. Bonanno discovered.

Many people lack this strength. You won't find your way out of grief - even after years. According to studies by George A. Bonanno, around ten percent of us do that. You torment yourself much longer and never really get over the loss. Twenty percent are working again, at least outwardly, and appear to be back in life. But even with them, the grief has taken on permanent traits.

Also read: How do you explain to children that the pet is dying?

If you don't find your way out of the grief yourself

Anyone who feels that they cannot deal with the loss on their own should not be afraid to seek help. No situation is more difficult than the loss of a loved one. So it is completely understandable to get help.

We have a few options here that those affected can look for. Be it a mourning seminar that is supportive and accompanying in the beginning or a therapist or psychologist. Internet forums in which bereaved relatives can exchange ideas can also help. Only everyone can decide for themselves what exactly suits which case.

1. Grief counseling

Federal Association for Grief Counseling e.V.
Those affected can also find important help, recommendations and contact persons for professional bereavement support here: Bundesverband Trauerbegleitung e.V. The bereavement counselors named there have completed a qualification according to the guidelines of the Federal Association for Bereavement Support.

German mourning institute
Grief counselor, specialist author and lecturer Chris Paul heads the German Mourning Institute in Bonn and trains certified grief counselors. On their website, those affected can find contact persons for bereavement support, the kaleidoscope of mourning, reading tips and more. https://www.chrispaul.de/trauerinstitut/

Internet forums for those affected
For example the internet forum verwitwet.de. Here survivors can exchange ideas and support each other in their grief. Mutual understanding is often very helpful. The forum was founded in 1999 by a victim and has since helped many widowed people.

Expecto Godi: Grief Management Program
If you don't want to go through the time of grief alone, you can also choose a suitable professional program. For example the "Expecto Godi Grief Counseling" program. In this program, the mourners are accompanied in their grief for a year. Body, mind and soul are involved in the healing process.

The program created by pastor Godi Hitschler consists of five parts: On the one hand, a digital grief counseling (every 14 days a chapter topic in video, audio and each with 3-4 exercises). Then there are dialogue groups in which the participants meet once a month to exchange ideas in a protected environment.

There are also monthly live videos from the grief counselor Godi on YouTube on specific topics and a closed Facebook group in which the participants can share their thoughts, pictures and impulses. In addition, there are joint mourning walks or yoga courses especially for mourners. All of this assistance accompanies those affected on their way back to life.
You can find all information at: https://godi-hitschler.com/ and on Facebook.

2. Emergency telephone assistance:

Emergency counseling (free of charge, 24 hours a day), she can also provide information about local emergency services.
0800 - 111 0 111 and 0800 - 111 0 222, there is also a number for children and young people at
0800 - 111 0 333.
Contact is also possible on the telephone counseling website. Here you can exchange ideas with trained volunteers free of charge via chat or email.

The Telephone help for the bereaved can be reached at 0700 - 70 40 04 00.

3. Book tips:

Book tip: Carl Achtleitner: The secret of a good life, insights from a funeral speaker, edition a, -> Now here on Amazon.

What does a funeral orator know about life after 2,500 funerals, for which he has summarized 2,500 fates in a few sentences? Carl Achleitner, known to many as an actor, has also been working at the Vienna Central Cemetery for eight years. Now he is presenting a book about it. In it he tells entertainingly what he has experienced in his life as a funeral orator about grief and loss, but also about conciliatory moments.

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Book tip: Angela Fournes: You have to live death: An undertaker helps: those who leave and those who stay, Ludwig, bound, around 20 euros. -> View now here on Amazon.

-> Angela Fournes is a dying companion and undertaker. She wants to take away people's fear of the subject of death by dealing naturally with the subject, talking about it, giving death a place in life. She spent part of her childhood in Mexico and knows how naturally people deal with death in other cultures. Here funerals are not memorial services, but life and farewell celebrations. That is why she co-initiated the 'Café Tod' in Berlin, which is precisely the theme: death.