3 Ways to Cope with Grief and Uncertainty (from Someone Who’s Been There)


It was an ordinary Friday afternoon and my phone vibrated quietly in its plastic case. My mom’s photo showed on the screen and I excitedly answered. That excitement quickly turned to dread as Mom asked if I was sitting down. She shakily delivered news that would rip a staggering tear through the tapestry that is me. My father had passed away unexpectedly, just a few hours prior. 

I believe in the image of life as a tapestry, one made up of our dreams, our relationships, and our daily efforts. The fibers we weave represent the stories of our beautifully ordinary day-to-day lives. Here’s the thing, though: Have you ever held a spool of thread in your palm? Rolled the delicate embroidery floss through your fingers? Standing on their own, the materials used to create the bigger picture are incredibly fragile. Cut a thread or snag a stitch and your tapestry can start to unravel.

I experienced significant unraveling in my story when my father passed away in March. He was seemingly healthy one day, taken by a heart attack the next, and my heart was stunned at the swift removal of one of the key players in my life. The hole is still gaping, fibers fraying, and I am unsure of how to repair the damage.

Then, just four weeks after the most shocking loss of my life, my husband called on his way home from work. “Honey,” he said with trepidation in his voice, “I was laid off today. But we are going to be ok.” Snip, snip. Another rearrangement of the threads that had woven a sense of stability into our current chapter of life.

Then again, a month later, the challenging new job I had started at the beginning of the year came to an end. At my employee review I heard the words, “We do not think you are the best long-term fit for this position.” Another snag in the threads of this year.

Three significant losses in the course of three months. Three unsettling situations that were ultimately outside of my control. Three events that brought my family into a season of grief and uncertainty. I am still asking questions of next steps, career goals, and how to heal.

Should you encounter your own version of unraveling, here are three coping mechanisms I’ve found helpful in the process of rearranging the finely spun threads of life:

1. Find Comfort in the Grieving Process
In the weeks after my father died, I began writing letters to another woman who lost her dad three years prior. She wrote on torn-out journal paper, “What is probably worst about grief is that it’s yours alone. Your mom and your brother and your friends who’ve lost fathers, and anyone who’s lost anyone, will walk their own road both because we’re different as individuals and because we lost someone with a unique role in our life—even when it’s the same person.”

The unfortunate reality here is that no one can do this process of grief for you. At the end of the day, or the middle of the afternoon, it is you and your emotions, your tears, and your own thoughts that are going to bring you through to the other side.#2

This truth means that you alone need to find ways to bring comfort to the process. You cannot escape the grief and the associated uncertainty. Instead you have to embrace the complexity and find ways to make yourself feel just a little bit better through the tears. For me, this means baking banana bread, filling in coloring books, drinking vanilla lattes, and engaging in brave conversations with a few trusted loved ones. I have to continue to choose to say “hello” to the little grief gremlins that gnaw at my heart, chewing away the pain, bringing myself to a clearer place.

2. Be Aware of Time Spent on Social Media
Social media may be a way to stay connected to those you love. In my experience, however, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of triggering reminders that spin my self-talk toward the negative. Friend got a new job? It can be painful to congratulate her when mine was just taken away. Co-worker going to lunch with her father from out of town? Too hard to remember that I will never again share a burger with my own dad. This is not to say we can not appreciate and support one another on the internet. Rather, stay aware of how much time you are spending on scrolling feeds as you try to process the complexity of loss. Do the images and stories fill you up or leave you feeling less than before? Take care of yourself in this space.

3. Remember Loss Is Part of Being Human 
It may sound trite to say that people die every day, but it is true. With war, senseless violence, disease, and shootings bombarding us in the media, it’s easy to feel suffering seep into our everyday lives. 

Embracing this pervasiveness, however, has been a tool for me. I find it helpful to rest in the very human truth that I am not alone in experiencing loss. No one can forever evade the feelings of grief that come from unexpected shattering of any scale. Keeping a compassionate heart and awareness of others’ losses makes me feel more human.

I encourage you to stop and reflect on the things you have lost … and the things you have gained from the new beginnings the loss provided. In that between space between loss and gain, hope can flourish and healing can be found.

I have heard that people never fully get over the loss of a loved one, and frankly, this scares me. I am slowly learning to integrate the loss and heal my oozing scars, with hope for better things ahead. I will trust in others’ stories of survival as they have come through to the other side of grief. When things fall apart, hope begins to tie our threads together again.

How do you care for yourself when things seemingly unravel? How do you reconnect your threads and begin again?

Photos by Kyle Broad and Benjamin Combs, via Unsplash 

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