This is an excerpt from The 4 Facets of Grief: Heal Your Heart, Rebuild Your World, and Find New Pathways To Joy, which is available at


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Our brains crave information and order. It’s natural to long for as much detail as possible about your particular situation, its effects, and how you’re coping. What specifics do you know about what happened? Who might be responsible? How will you go on? Could it have been avoided or prevented? If so, how?

These are hard questions to ponder, and they come up whether we want them to or not. Just know this is part of the grief process. We typically begin to draw conclusions based on limited information. After all, any answer feels better than no answer, even if we have to guess or make something up. If something seems out of order, we tend to mull it over in our minds until it makes sense.

What conclusions have you reached that result from your craving for order? What information do you still need to make sense of your situation? It’s typical to alternate between focusing on the details of the loss and pondering how to go on. But make no mistake: going on means creating a new order out of chaos and sorrow. Anything that brings even a minute sense of tidiness to your life will help you with adapting.

Research how other people cope with similar circumstances. Identify an appropriate use of distraction without going into denial. Read books; visit online resources; access support organizations. Learn something new … it jump-starts your thinking and creativity which, in turn, increases your sense of stability.


Death forces us to re-examine who we are. Adapting to our dear one’s death means figuring out who we are now, without them. We have to re-define our family roles and how we relate to others in our environment. We also need to discover our strengths, limitations, and ways of functioning through new eyes and with a new perspective.

Take a Grief Break

Sometimes facing the anguish of loss can make you feel like you’re losing your mind. It can be hard to concentrate or do everyday tasks, and you may feel heartbroken.

It’s okay to have a respite from misery.

I am not advocating living in denial. It is important to acknowledge reality and to face feelings. What I know from experience is that taking occasional breaks from unrelenting pain can actually help us tolerate it better over time.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers several strategies for distracting ourselves from distress, using the acronym DISTRACT. I have adapted these skills for those who are grieving. Try as many as you can, and note which ones work for you (these are very individual so remember there is no right or wrong). Regular practice will make your favorites become second nature and available whenever you need them.

  • Do something else, to feel something different. Watch a movie, go for a walk, play a game or sport, garden go shopping, do a hobby. Volunteer your time at an organization meaningful to you, help a friend with a project or childcare, do something nice for someone. Do anything you enjoy that you can really get involved in.
  • Images of something different can create different feelings. Imagine something else that Doesn’t remind you of your pain. Bring comforting and soothing images to mind. What you think about, remember, and imagine causes you to feel it in the moment, so focus on something that makes you feel good. Think about what can go right and is pleasant. Remember that what fills our minds fuels our emotions.
  • Sensations can distract you from your current pain. Use your five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling. Some people add laughing and loving. Look for and create situations in which you can engage your senses to feel differently. For example, look at the most beautiful painting or photo you can find, listen to your favorite uplifting music, taste delicious flavors, use an ice pack to feel intense cold or take a hot bath, and inhale the fragrance of your favorite perfume or cookies baking in the oven.
  • Think of something else that creates other feelings. You can do this through reading, watching videos, or just thinking about something that takes you away from your loss. Try something funny, fascinating or creatively engrossing like crossword puzzles, Words with Friends, or writing a poem.
  • Remember other memories than those that cause your current pain. Call up your favorite happy memories and revel in the joy they bring. I found it comforting to remember pleasant times before my son was born. It reminded me that I am capable of joy even without his physical presence.
  • Accept that pain is a part of life; you can take it. None of us gets through life without loss. I wondered how other people have coped with losing their children, and I began researching their stories. I realized I’m a member of a large club no one wants to join, and that belonging to this group is neither exclusive nor special. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and somehow we all find ways of going on.
  • Take an alternative approach; behave differently than how your feelings tell you to behave. Even though you feel like lying on the couch, take you Many typical activities seem daunting through the agony of loss; allowing yourself a little of these can be healing.

Distracting yourself from the discomfort of grief is meant to be a temporary respite. Use the strategies that work for you, always returning to the undeniable reality of what is. And ask for help when you need it.

Ruth Field

Ruth Field

Ruth E. Field has always wanted to help people. Inspired by her well-respected and beloved physician father, she grew up valuing service to others. Through the years Ruth experienced the untimely deaths of many close family members and dear friends. She accompanied them through illnesses that ravaged body and mind, and she shared the trauma of sudden devastating accidents. All the while she pondered why such painful loss seemed to swirl around her. In 1999 Ruth joined with other parents to co-found the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (now the Balanced Mind Parent Network, part of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance). It was the first internet-based not-for-profit organization, and reflected her passion to help families fight the stigma and isolation of mental health diagnoses. As the founding CABF board president, she spoke at area conferences and workshops on the family impact of early-onset mood disorders. One of her most memorable presentations was Witness to Grief: Experiencing Loss in Parenting Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder. Ruth’s calling to teach resilience crystallized after the accidental death of her young adult son. Having transformed her own sorrow into a personal mission to foster post traumatic growth, she is dedicated to helping others navigate all types of adversity. Honoring her son’s legacy of hope, she blends her personal and professional wisdom to guide others from heartbreak to healing. Ruth holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago. She also is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Illinois. At her private psychotherapy practice in Northfield, IL, she is honored to work with adolescents, adults, and families. In addition to writing, Ruth enjoys nature hikes, movies, and laughing with her husband Alan. She also loves sharing meals with friends and family. Her greatest joy is spending time with her grandchildren and delighting in their growth.

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