How To Survive Grief and Loss

How To Survive Grief and Loss

From July 2009 onwards, I know I typed ‘How to Survive Grief and Loss’ into my search engine, numerous times. I had a countless number of people volunteering their answer to that question, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked it aloud.

You see my husband died of suicide that summer and part of me was desperate for a structure on how to survive my grief and loss. Like you, I turned to the internet for the answer because Google isn’t and wasn’t directly or emotionally affected by the loss I had experienced.

I wanted impartial advice.

I would have embraced a checklist of things to do and not do.

I would have loved a template or flowchart for managing expectations for that of myself, my children and everyone else in my life.

I would have taken projected timelines or duration ranges as the gospel truth, because I wanted to know that there was a finish line of some description for feeling the way it all felt.

In my searching for a how to survive grief and loss I wanted to validate that I was doing it-something-anything right and wanted to know that I was doing it-something-anything right for my girls.  If not, then how do I fix that!

Navigating grief often means trying to keep your head above water while being flooded by the impact of a major change. It often means having more questions than answers.

“Now what?”

“What do I do now?”

“What does this mean?”

“How do I do this?”

Heavy on your mind and heart

The words grief and loss are loaded with heavy emotions. Picture me moving around a party and stopping to chat with a group of people. After introductions, the next round of questions generally is, “So, what do you do?” to which I respond, “I am a Life and Grief Coach.”

You can practically hear the sound of tires screeching, metal crunching and feel people receding from you at the mention of the word grief.

Why? Because it generates discomfort without elaboration. Grief is a word that can suck the positive vibes out of a room faster than yelling “FIRE!”. The challenge of being a coach whose focus is to help someone resolve their grief, can feel and seem paradoxical. When you mention grief and loss, there is that grey area of wondering if this is “coaching” or “counselling”.

Grief Yesterday and Today

Many common attitudes in our world have shifted to opposite perspectives that only recently would have seemed or felt impossible. Our world and the people who make it up, have challenged the norms and have consciously created new normals. Yet, what has steadfastly remained the same, dated and stigmatized is our experience, perception and response to grief and loss.

We have endless teaching points on how to ‘be, do, get and have’ things, yet when we lose something the conversation is generic, limited or averted all together.

If you are grieving a loss you know, see and feel how it is affecting your life, and some ways are more evident than in others. It can be an omnipresent multi faceted experience, or it can roll into without notice, like the black clouds that gather before a summer storm. Other times it can be triggered by a comment, hearing, seeing or tasting something familiar.

Traditionally you may find yourself seeking a therapist or counsellor. The debate about coaching versus therapy is universal; when you want to make a change in your life, to feel lighter, different and feel supported in moving forward, coaching is an effective choice.

“Classic therapy is an archaeological dig that looks backward to help you understand how you got to this moment. Coaching is an architectural blueprint that looks to the future to help you create something new.” ~Jill Smolowe

Grief and loss can come from a multitude of life experiences. A common denominator is that “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern or behaviour.”

When you think of grief, most likely death is first and foremost in your mind because it is the most obvious and definitive loss experience equated to grief. Divorce may be the second life event that you think of yet, there are a multitude of other experiences that get overlooked.

Grief and Loss Events

Here is an incomplete list of experiences and events that may perpetuate grief.

  • Death of a loved one – which may include family, friend, celebrity, or any other person you have a significant connection to.
  • Death of a pet
  • Divorce – which extends beyond the couple and may include children, family and friends.
  • End of or significant change of a relationship – friendships, relationship with a colleague, business partner, family member, etc.

Pivotal moments in your life such as:

  • Marriage
  • Graduation
  • End of addictions
  • Major health changes – positive and negative
  • Career Changes – Loss of job and even becoming an entrepreneur or consultant,
  • Retirement
  • Financial changes – positive and negative
  • Legal Problems
  • Moving
  • Empty Nest

Intangibles that may cause us to grieve are:

  • Loss of normalcy
  • Loss of purpose
  • Loss of trust
  • Loss of safety
  • Loss of childhood
  • Loss of faith
  • Unfulfilled hopes, dreams, goals and expectations for your life

No one is immune to grief, and the prompts above can serve as a means to show you that grief and loss is broader and more diverse than what you may have known or considered. It is not a one time or one off experience, as there could be combinations and connections to multiple events and on more than one occasion in your life.

All of the above are either relationships to someone or to something. I don’t have to tell you that when your relationship to someone or to something changes dramatically or ends, grief is a normal and natural response, because the world as you knew it is no longer the same.

So how do you survive grief and loss?

Phone a Friend

I attribute my maintaining a semblance of sanity that July because my friend came and gave me the greatest gift of all – a safe place for me to: express my feelings, express my thoughts, to say nothing at all and to blurt everything out all at the same time.

Not everything that you are thinking or feeling is safe for public consumption. Not everything thing you are thinking or feeling makes sense. I’m not advocating hiding your feelings, but I am inviting you to advocate for yourself to be able to speak and feel without fear of judgment or retribution from others.

Connect to your breath

Grief and loss has a way of making one feel disjointed, disconnected or like everything is going too fast or even too slow. Focusing on your breath, even for a minute, can help reduce stress, lower your heart rate, clear your head and bring you back to the present.

Deeply inhale to the count of three or five feeling your lungs inflate and chest expand, pause for a beat, then steadily exhale to the count of three or greater, feeling the air flow. Repeat the process as often as you need to reconnect to yourself and feel more grounded.

All is Well

I completely get that right now nothing could be further from the truth, however adopting a mantra can have similar effects as the breath work, and may even be used in conjunction. All is well, is one that even though in this moment may feels far fetched, can feel soothing, prayer-like and help to alleviate heavy energy.

Choose a phrase, quote, or prayer, either your own or another’s, that resonates with you. Repeat it in your head which allows you to shift focus, which will help you interrupt the tidal wave of thoughts and feelings you may currently have going through your mind. 

All will be well

I will be well

I am loved

Ask for help

There is an old adage about ‘keeping busy’ and it’s true that may serve as a distraction temporarily but the antidote to busy-ness is asking for help from others. More than likely there are those around you who are eager to do something, to be helpful and take on tasks or errands that will alleviate your stressors. Allowing others to manage tasks that you do not have the energy for or possibly the present cognition that these things need doing means not adding more to your potentially overwhelmed mind.

Gracious Gratitude

Depending on the loss you are experiencing and who comes to support you, some may feel compelled to volunteer their advice and opinions, in addition to their love and support, (both in person and on social media.) You are going through a life experience that others may have experienced in their life, however not everything that people share with you will be applicable to you nor helpful.

It can be yet another challenge to be able to consume all that is being shared with you, so rather than adding even more for you to process, I invite you to simply say “Thank You”.

Thanking someone acknowledges that you heard them and if what they said strikes a wrong chord rather than debate the merits of their opinion you can let it go.

At a time where you may feel overwhelmed I urge you to remember that not everything that is offered to you is something you have to keep.

Grief is normal and natural

There are countless ways that we can learn or are taught about how to acquire things, but very little time is spent teaching how to lose something. Whatever your loss is please know that grief is a normal and natural response to loss, even if as you read this it couldn’t feel anymore abnormal and unnatural. It doesn’t matter what your loss is, grief is normal.

Your world is no longer the same as it was, and in today’s world we may have imposed (by yourself or others) expectations to flow through the experience without a blip. Surviving grief and loss is as personal and individual as you are; as is the unique and significant relationship to whomever or whatever you have lost.

Going Forward

Grief is an extension of all the other feelings you have ever had. Right now it may be dominating all of the others, but it won’t always be like that. It is possible to move beyond your grief.

It is possible.

I know that to be true.

Sherry Trentini is a Life and Grief Coach, who is committed to helping you answer your question, “How to survive grief and loss.” Schedule your free discovery call.

Owning What Feels Heavy

Owning What Feels Heavy

Based on the contents of the emotional backpack that you are carrying…who’s names are on those rocks or what would you call them? Are you naming them for an experience, for a person, for an overall theme or feeling?

When you think of the contents, if you were to categorize them or put them into different piles as to what the source is, what would that look like for you?

One of my big life influences has been Louise L. Hay, and her little blue book, Heal Your Body, has been a resource that I have used perpetually and have given multiple copies away to others. When I read her first book “You can Heal Your Life”, I fell deeply in love with the concept that I could be my own healer.

Through changing my language, both in my inner and outer dialogue I could change my life and be free of all that hindered me. What I have learned is that sometimes the very tool that we use for the greater good can also put us in a place of blame.

Blaming someone or something for our dis-ease or discord in our life may initially feel empowering but blame’s superpower is to dis-empower us and can put us in an If-Then mindset that decreases our efficacy of feeling, being or doing better.

Here are some examples:

IF he/she/they had or hadn’t done x/y/z THEN I would feel …

IF he/she/they had or hadn’t said x/y/z THEN I would feel …

There used to be a saying that when we point our finger at someone else we have three pointing back at ourselves, and when I recognized that I was looking outside of myself that where I needed to look was in the mirror.

Therein lies the contrast, when we take the tools we are using for our greater good and use them as a means to take us out of owing our feelings and potentially adding more weight to our load.

Grief on Vacation

Grief on Vacation

Grief doesn’t take vacations.  Even if you do.

After spending the first part of January on a beach vacation I met a lot of amazing people, and a lot of those people were grieving. 

There was grief over health, loss of a loved one, divorce and someone who was carrying a lot of heavy stuff from their job.

Vacations can help us heal in many ways. 



What even is that? 

  • Nothing is normal after you have lost someone you love. 
  • Nothing is normal after a relationship has ended. 
  • Nothing is normal when you or someone else is healing their physical body. 

Nothing looks, feels, seems, is, or feels like it will ever be normal again.

Taking yourself on vacation or retreating from the tangle of “not normal” can be a way to distract ourselves from feeling overwhelmed while  being literally removed from our home base, we can begin to breathe.

A few months after my husband died I went away.  I went far far away from my normal to a country where nothing was familiar and I didn’t speak the language.  Some may have perceived my ‘get away’ as ‘running away’, however I intended and experienced the opposite.

Sitting in a cafe drinking a coffee and people watching was profoundly liberating.  I could not eavesdrop on other table’s conversations, I could blur out my vision to observe the bustle of everyone else’s normal and best part I began to breathe.

It was quasi meditative in the sense that I quickly found the skill to block out the rest of the world, and rather than empty my mind of thoughts I could actually tune into the thoughts that I was having.  I began to reacquaint myself with what was running through my mind that I hadn’t been afforded the luxury of.

Being able to sift through what felt like a jumble was a game changer.  I was able to open up my mind and heart to all the feelings and thoughts I was having about my recent loss.  I was able to allow myself the space to feel.




So many well intended comments, adages, metaphors, advise and suggestions come after loss.  It is not uncommon for those who are on the receiving end to smile politely and nod. 

I am a firm believer in “take what you want and leave the rest”, and that can be hard to practice with so much coming at you.  All that had changed and all that had stayed the same gets flooded by all the other stuff other people are sharing with you.

I had summed up what I was feeling in a Feng Shui analogy:

It is good Feng Shui energy to have a fish in a bowl, it is another thing to feel like you are the fish in the bowl.

And that was my perspective.

It felt as if we were in a spotlight that relentlessly followed us during our zigs and zags as we moved forward.  Again whether real or not, that was my perspective on things.

Grief can dull our senses and feelings and it can heighten them to acute levels.  Its the yin and yang, dark and light, love and loss all the contrasts that we spinning amid.

Taking the trip, spending time with a friend, wandering around the sights, hacking my way through language exchanges brought to light a very important understanding.

I can not take a vacation from my grief, because whether I am home or away, grief is not a separate from who I am.



The significance of recognizing that grief was another part of me was a perspective shifter. 

Getting aligned with the understanding that it wasn’t neat and tidy as in — either you are grieving or you are not — and therefore that perspective that I was the fish in the bowl became less powerful, because I too understood that I was perpetuating that feeling onto myself to a great degree.

Feeling the Feels

Grief can make you guard yourself from feeling anything other than grief.   While in your home environment that energy is hard to shift, because of your literal surroundings.

Which is EXHAUSTING, in my opinion.

On vacation, surrounded by others who are there to also recharge from their lives, and in a different ecosystem you can be a part of something other than your grief. 

  • People are laughing and your laughter may come easier.
  • Smiles are natural and yours may not feel as forced.
  • Conversations with others can happen or not.

During a break, communing with other vacationers, we can go with and adapt to the ebb and flow at a resort, that isn’t as organically experienced at home. 

And that is the thing.

Everyone you meet on vacation is on vacation.  You don’t know what their story is and what they too may be taking a breather from.

That is the beauty and ease about taking yourself out of your normal, to broaden your perspective and to be in an environment that is safe for you to feel happy, to laugh, chat, nap, cry, really to do whatever your vacation looks like for you.

I remember feeling guilty for laughing, for genuinely being in the moment and having a laugh. 

I observed that in my daughters, during that time as well; it was like we weren’t supposed to feel anything but grief (which at times was self-imposed – hence being the fish). 

Navigating your new surroundings on vacation and new people requires you to engage in a different way.  You get to be, do and have your unique experience as is everyone else.

Returning Home

The positive effects of a vacation may feel as if they recede at lightning speed when its time to return home to real life.  As daunting as it may seem to plunge back into the day to day, I invite you to pause and consider the possibility that a re-calibration has taken place. 

Does that mean you have all the answers to the questions?  No.

Does that mean you have shed the heaviness of grief?  No.

What it does mean is that you have gifted yourself a temporary reprieve which may in fact convert into you feeling more grounded to take whatever next steps are in front of you.


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When the words are stuck

When the words are stuck

You know they want to say something.

You can sense they are hurting and that the words they want to say are hurting them by staying inside.

You want to say something.  You want to have the right words and say them with the right voice to invite them to say what they want to say.

You want them to feel what they are feelingl, while at the same time wanting to take away their pain.

Its a conundrum.

You would think that with my own personal experience that I would be able to do just that.  You would think that with my training in grief and loss, that I would be prepared to do just that.  Maybe you don’t think that, but I do.

I should know.  I should be able to.  I should be the one with the combination of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other language tools to unlock someone else’s stuck words.

Because I should know.

How Grief Feels

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss. It is marked by conflicting emotions that result from the change in a familiar pattern of behavior. But from the standpoint of the grieving person, this is how grief may feel. Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when we need them one more time, they are no longer there. Adapting to the absence of a loved one is difficult enough. But the first holiday season, with its constant reminders of holiday joy and tradition, can be especially painful.At the Grief Recovery Institute we’ve talked with thousands of people who’ve told us they wished they could jump from late October right to mid-January. We’ve heard the same sentiment from people enduring their first holiday season following a divorce. It’s normal to worry that you won’t be able to handle the pain of that first holiday season, whether the missing loved one is a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child. You may even think you’d rather skip holiday gatherings. Those feelings and fears are not illogical or irrational. They represent a normal, healthy range of emotions about painful loss and our society’s limited ability to talk openly and honestly about grief.

The Grief Recovery Method Blog, “Uh Oh Its that time again.  Grief and the Holidays”

Whether it is the first, second or the upteenth year without your loved one, the holidays can be a challenging and emotional time.

And I agree and concur that society has created normalcy around not talking about it, about not broaching the subject.  Those of us who have experienced loss may also perpetuate that taboo as well.

Because it may not feel safe to express the words that we are holding inside, or not feel safe to invite another to release the words they are holding within.

We may feel that by saying nothing is safer and that we are being kind and compassionate by not saying the words or hearing theirs.

The Impasse

It would be perfectly understandable, and socially acceptable to keep those words stuck.  To not ask or invite the person who you feel is holding those words inside to share.

Or you can take a deep breath and ask them, “Are you okay?”, and be ready and open to listen.

You get to choose.

And so do they.  They get to choose whether to share how they are feeling, they get to choose to decline.


Testimonial: Life Reclamation Project – Grief from previous marriage

There are times in your life when those around you can see what you need more clearly than you can.
I recently had one of those times and thankfully Sherry was my person. She saw the grief that I was still holding onto from my first marriage and knew that going through the grief process was what would allow me to experience life in a more vibrant and full way.
Although the process is not for the faint of heart, it is one that I believe is responsible for my life unfolding like the wings of a butterfly as she exits her cocoon. Without even realizing it, I had been protecting myself from past hurts. And still denying myself the fullness of the love in front of me.
With an overabundance of grace and compassion and love, Sherry held my hand as I looked at the truths of the past in a way that allowed me to forgive and to finally let go.
I am already seeing the effects of our work together. The self-confidence and worthiness that I was stripped of so long ago are being restored. And all because Sherry created a safe environment for me to process and ask questions and speak my truth in a way that I had not been able to before. 

What is the best thing you learned or gained from working with me?

The best thing I gained was seeing the patterns I was repeating from my parents, which I believe allowed me to heal my past as well as stop the patterns from being passed down to another generation.

How will you apply it or How will it change &/or improve your life?

Being able to process the grief and the pain is going to allow me to live my life in a much fuller and more vibrant way. It is going to allow me to love and nurture myself in the most beautiful of ways.

On a personal note, how did I as your coach make you feel during the process/our time together?

You made me feel safe and protected. Heard. Valued. Understood.

Testimonial: Grief Recovery Coaching

Describe how things were feeling and going for you before we started working together?

I was carrying a massive amount of grief from the death of 3 family members and a massive break-up with a long term boyfriend. I didn’t know where to go from there in an emotional sense which I found also affected my physical health and well-being as well. I dragged myself to and from work and School and found my motivation and usual zest for life was nowhere to be found. At the time, I didn’t know what kind of help I was seeking, but Sherry came into my life at coincidentally the most perfect time.

What happened for you during the process?

Sherry made me address things inside me I wasn’t even sure I had going on. She made me recognize my grief, not only from losing my family members but also the grief I was carrying after my breakup. But what is grief? I really had no idea either until Sherry shared with my her own experiences and made me recognize that this process and idea of grief is different for all us yet. Sometimes it takes someone else, another point of view, to open your eyes to exactly how those things are affecting you personally.

My intention is to help people feel lighter after doing the grief recovery work, does that describe you and your experience?

Absolutely. Although grief is emotional, I physically felt like I was carrying blocks of cement on my back and shoulders everyday. My body was physically falling apart as well, from the stress of these so called “weights”. Sherry really made me realize how the body and mind truly coincide; and once those feelings of grief are properly addressed, it’s truly miraculous how those heavy feelings start to slowly become less and less.

Why do you think this happened?

By facing grief and addressing that it is indeed what is weighing you down. I believe a large part of this is recognizing in the first place what exactly it is doing to the body and mind.

How would you describe how you feel now?

Although I feel my anxiety, grief and overall feelings of sadness and depression come in waves, I feel Sherry gave me the tools to deal with them first hand. And I always know she is there for me if I need a reminder of those things.

~Erin H.