How do you deal with loss when every emotion hits you extra hard?
As a funeral director and licensed mortician, I am surrounded by death.
And, for those of us who are empaths and highly sensitive people (HSPs), we tend to feel death in deeper ways than others, even though everyone handles and copes with it differently. Whether we go by what our religion tells us or what our upbringing has taught us — or both — various influences contribute to how we approach loss and mourning.
Recently, two celebrity deaths impacted me deeply. Even though some of us never get a chance to meet our idols, we still see them as human beings and sometimes get so attached to the point we feel as though we knew them like family.
I recently dealt with (and am still dealing with) the loss of a young man by the name of Bashar Jackson (Pop Smoke), an impactful rap artist from New York, as well as the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman, my hero.
People may think it’s irrational to be sad over losing someone I didn’t know and had no actual contact with, but with empaths, it doesn’t work that way. We feel the loss regardless of if we knew them personally or not. If the energy and admiration are strong, then we get attached.
The same can be said for casual acquaintances; maybe we only saw each other in the break room at work, but their death still hits us… hard.
Whether you’re mourning the death of someone close to you, an acquaintance, or a celebrity, here are nine steps that you can take to grieve — especially as an empath.
9 Ways for Empaths to Deal With Grief and Loss
1. Acknowledge that it’s healthy — even healing — to cry.
Just know it’s OK to cry. As empaths, we’re already used to experiencing intense emotions — sometimes even in public or unexpected places — and it’s no different when it comes to grieving. The person made an impact on you, so crying is a way to acknowledge your emotional pain and hurt from their passing.
You can think of crying as a release valve for your hurt. The more you cry, the more your built-up feelings come out; it’s like a weight slowly coming off your feelings and heart.
As a result, every day gets easier and easier as you continue to release more of that hurt from the passing of your loved one.
2. Start designing, or looking at, picture tributes of them.
We’ve probably all seen some type of mural or social media poster with someone’s face on it or a collage of pictures someone put together. By designing or looking at picture tributes of the person, it’s like looking at the person’s past and seeing precious artifacts that will help you keep them in your heart.
In the business I’m in, I’ve found that video tributes and PowerPoint slide shows help with the grieving process, too. They allow mourners to reminisce on the past and remember memories of their loved one.
3. Look at their legacy and what they left behind.
The best way to honor someone’s memory is to look at their accomplishments and what they left behind. What did they do for a living? What did they accomplish? What did they teach you? What is their legacy?
You can also ask yourself: What beliefs did you two have in common? Did they do philanthropy work that you admired or took part in, as well?
If you find yourself having things in common with them, it’s natural that you felt close to them. Now, you can keep their spirit alive by continuing to do your shared interest, by doing theirs, or something new in their honor.
4. Agree to disagree (and prepare for it) — everyone grieves differently.
People sometimes can only understand as far as their perception allows them to, and they may not understand the depth of your grief.
They may make you feel like you are “too sad” or grieving the person too much (especially if you did not know the deceased well or personally). But, no matter what, the person was a human, and the pain of their passing is still there.
My advice? Don’t allow anyone to get in the way of your grieving process.
For instance, a mother and daughter lost their husband and father, respectively; the mom wanted to go out of town immediately and the daughter wanted some time to rest. She ended up going with her mom anyway and didn’t have a good time because she was thinking about her father the whole time. She had tried to block her grief, but it didn’t work.
The fact of the matter is, grief is grief (and a very natural emotion), and research also shows that it’s not the same for everyone.
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5. Reach out to someone: Remember that you are not alone in your grief.
Sometimes it helps to remember that others are sharing your hurt and pain, too, even if it may feel you are the only one grieving.
Reaching out to others who knew the person, too — whether it’s over email, text, a phone call, or in person — can help you mourn together. What may start out as a somber call, for example, could turn out to be a healing one: recounting memories of the person and laughing together.
Plus, as empaths, we’re the perfect person for someone to speak to since we’re known for being good, attentive listeners.
6. Write a letter to the person you lost.
Research shows that writing your feelings can be very therapeutic; it’s a way of releasing your emotions and getting them out.
Writing to the one you lost is like writing to a friend (even though you won’t get a response back). It’s a chance to “talk” to them and get real about your thoughts. For example, you may want to write to them about what a legacy they left behind or how sudden and confusing their death was to you.
Whatever the case may be, writing to them gives you an opportunity to release everything you’re feeling, which is essential for empaths.
7. Learn to accept the manner of death and focus on how the person made you feel.
I deal with death all day, every day, whether it’s homicide, suicide, illness, or natural causes. In homicide situations, for example, it’s easy to be extremely upset because you feel as though it could have been prevented. (Plus, my empath nature absorbs it all.)
In suicide cases, it can leave you confused about why someone would do that, but we often forget that we don’t know everything about anybody.
Instead of focusing on how someone died, I recommend focusing on how that individual made you feel. Good memories will always outweigh any bad outcome.
8. Talk to someone, like a therapist or religious leader.
Because we empaths feel things so deeply, talking to a therapist or religious leader can help us manage our emotions. (Therapy reminds me of writing, except someone else is doing the writing for you.)
It’s sometimes helpful to talk to someone outside our usual social circles in order to get an objective, outside perspective. Plus, many therapists and religious leaders specialize in grief counseling to help people with emotional, mental, and behavioral issues they may be experiencing.
9. Join a bereavement support group.
Joining a bereavement support group can be helpful because you will be around other people who are going through what you are going through. Additionally, it’s a great way to find out other people’s coping strategies, as well as sharing your own. (For instance, you can share how much writing letters to the person has helped you.)
Being around other people who are familiar with your struggle might also make you more comfortable to talk about your feelings; you won’t feel like the odd one out.
We often suggest groups like this to families because sometimes they don’t have anyone to talk to or their own family and friends cannot relate.