If you’ve ever suffered the loss of a loved one, then you know that grief is hard work. Whether you’ve lost a sibling, friend, parent, or child, a loved one’s death can lead to a feeling of indescribable loss.
Everyone grieves in their own way. For some, talking to a deceased loved one at their grave feels comforting, while others may wish to post messages on someone’s Facebook page after they’ve died. If you’ve ever found yourself having a conversation with someone you love who’s no longer with us, don’t worry. Or, if you’ve ever wondered whether this is an unhealthy coping mechanism, take heart. Many experts would argue that it is an entirely valid and healthy expression of grief and a way to cope with loss.
“Speaking out loud to a loved one who has passed — whether at a grave site or out loud at home — is helpful for many people processing grief,” Dr. Alison Forti, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University, told Teen Vogue. “I will sometimes encourage my clients to speak to an empty chair in an effort to help them cope with grief. Many people will experience a sense of disbelief after they lose a loved one. By encouraging people to speak out loud to their loved one it helps them resolve that disbelief.”
It’s also common to see, hear, and/or sense the presence of a deceased loved one as well. According to The Conversation, detecting a person’s presence even though they have died is entirely natural. Frequently, this presence can be comforting. If that’s something that you’ve experienced, just know that it’s OK, and it is a good thing.
For example, as an exercise, licensed counselor Dr. Sherrie Campbell would sometimes ask her clients to write letters to their deceased loved ones as a way to air out any grievances or final thoughts, such as what the client wishes they could have said before their loved one passed away.
“When a relationship is ripped away from us through death, it takes the heart time to let go,” Dr. Campbell told Teen Vogue. “We still have things left unsaid, emotions and experiences we want to share, things to get closure on and a place to receive or feel a sense of connection and comfort. I tell my patients, young and old, that although our loved one’s may not be here in physical form, that they are right next door watching over us. We can find a sense of comfort in feeling that they are still close to us, conversations can still be had.”
In any case, remember that everyone goes through a unique grieving process at their own pace. For instance, if a close friend that you attended school with passes away, and your other friends seem to be moving on, it’s okay to feel sad and like you can’t quite move on yet.
“Many people have heard of the stages of grief and make a false assumption that grief is linear,” added Dr. Forti. “However, grief comes in waves and can hit people when they least expect it. People can actively grieve, move forward in life with their grief, years go by, and the simple smell of a perfume brings them back to an angry or sad moment of grieving.”