Good Grief: Five Steps for Acknowledging Loss

You longed for the day when your divorce would be final. Now that day has come, but you don’t feel like celebrating. Even when it is the healthiest resolution for all parties involved, divesting a relationship and all that entails will likely stir feelings of loss. Although it may be difficult, grief can be an important part of the healing process, says Dr. Karen Finn, life and divorce coach and author of On the Road from Heartbreak to Happiness.

“At its core, grief is a process of transformation,” says Finn. “It’s about accepting the full depth and breadth of all that comes with getting divorced. As you come to terms with what’s happened, you can work through the pain to make space for healing. This sets the stage for you to be able to create a new life for yourself.”

In her blog, How to Get Through Grief After Divorce, Finn suggests these steps for facing grief head on:

  1. Recognize the many shades of grief.
    Believe it or not, grief does not mean just crying or sadness. Shock, denial, fearfulness, emotional pain, anger, loathing, guilt, shame, indifference, and depression can also round out the spectrum of the emotional rainbow during times of loss. While you are in this emotionally turbulent and vulnerable place, give yourself a break. And don’t make any major life decisions (such as quitting or changing jobs, staring a new relationship, buying real estate or making other large purchases.)
  2. Prepare yourself.
    Once you acknowledge that you are mourning the end of your marriage, gather support from available resources. These may include books, blogs or websites by experts, divorce support groups, and/or a trusted therapist, life coach or spiritual advisor. Enlisting the ear of an unbiased third-party can shed perspective in a way that confiding in family and friends may not.
  3. Schedule time to process.
    When life is unpleasant or difficult, it may be easy to throw yourself into your work, your children, or other obligations, but setting aside time for yourself is essential to process your feelings of grief. “If you choose to instead ignore your thoughts and feelings, they’ll fester,” Finn says. “They’ll also continue appearing – sometimes at inopportune or inappropriate times – until you deal with them.” Schedule time for your grief work and make it a priority. This valuable “me time” may include spending 30 minutes a day journaling, seeing a therapist once a week, attending a divorce support group, or scheduling a weekend away by yourself or with your best friend. No matter how busy your life, put yourself (and your grief) at the top of your priority list.
  4. Nurture your body, too.
    While you are at it, schedule time to keep your body active and fit. Walking, Zumba, yoga, cycling or other physical exercise releases soothing endorphins in the brain and helps keep you calm. Exercise can also aid in restoring healthily sleep patterns. Not feeling particularly energetic? No problem. Finn recommends other ways to soothe yourself, such as spending time outside in nature, listening to music, meditating, getting a massage, watching a favorite movie, or reading a favorite book.
  5. Set reasonable goals.
    How long will it take you to feel “normal” again? Unfortunately, there is no set timeframe for getting over grief. Likewise, healing is a process that should not be hurried or ignored. To that end, Finn suggests setting simple but definitive intentions to help you keep moving forward with your new life and help you avoid getting stuck in negative emotions. “Set the intention of wanting to feel better and move on,” she writes. “You owe it to yourself to heal your broken heart and the only way to completely heal it is to work through your grief and discover a new happily ever after for yourself regardless of whether you ever marry again.”

Although everyone is different, it’s normal —even healthy— to experience the cycle through the classic stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) when you divorce. Taking time to acknowledge the loss, and working through the emotions that come with it, can help you on your way to starting the next chapter of your life.