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How to Deal With Grief When You Can't Say Goodbye

Gabrielle Applebury
Young Woman Crying

Not being able to say goodbye to a loved one can feel incredibly painful and can make the grieving process that much harder. Finding healthy ways to process your emotions can provide some comfort as you cope with this difficult moment.

Understanding Grief

Grief is a complex process that looks different for everyone. Some may experience ups and downs, while others may hover around a similar feeling or thought unable to shake it. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and being thrust into this process can feel very jarring.

Processing Not Being Able to Say Goodbye

Losing someone special to you may already feel unbearable, but not being able to say goodbye can make it feel even worse. As you move through this process, take time to understand why not being able to say goodbye feels so painful. You may find an unconscious negative belief about yourself floating around. Understanding your unconscious thoughts can give you some insight into the slew of emotions you may be experiencing. Common negative thoughts may include:

  • Because I didn't say goodbye, I'm a bad person.
  • Because I didn't say goodbye, I'm a failure or I'm worthless.
  • Their passing is my fault.
  • Because of their passing, I feel like the world is unsafe.
  • Because of their passing, I feel like I lose all the ones I love.

If any of these statements ring true, know that it's super common for many people to hold unconscious negative core beliefs about themselves or the world and that they tend to pop up in a heightened way during times of stress. It's important to spend some time examining these negative beliefs and coming up with healthier, less black and white notions when it comes to this particular circumstance. For example, instead of "I'm a bad person", the healthier notion would be "I'm a good person and/or I'm only human." Moving deeper into understanding the automatic thoughts and emotions that come up because of your inability to say goodbye may be a significant aspect of your grieving process.

Grieving During a Pandemic

During a pandemic such as Covid-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, you may have to abide by certain rules that impact your ability to say goodbye to a loved one. This can feel incredibly unfair and make the passing of this person feel even more painful. This can feel like a loss of closure to some and can make it feel harder to process. Saying goodbye also makes the loss feel more real to some, so not having the ability to do so can make the situation feel surreal. If you are grieving from a distance or during a pandemic, you can hold a virtual ceremony or setup a video chat to honor this person and connect with those who were also close to them.

man coping with grieve

Grieving From a Distance

You may be unable to say goodbye because of physical distance. If you are unable to travel, you may experience heightened feelings of guilt and sadness when you can't say goodbye to someone who you love and care about. If you are grieving from a distance or during a pandemic, you can create an email thread and share your favorite stories about the deceased individual.

Complicated Circumstances

You may not be able to say goodbye to a loved one due to complicated relationships with family members or friends who may be visiting the individual or attending the memorial after they've passed. Know that there are ways to honor your loved one without putting yourself in an unsafe or uncomfortable position. If you are grieving and have complicated circumstances, you can reach out to trusted others and ask if you can process your feelings with them during a video chat. You can also write a letter to the individual who passed and keep it as a reminder of how much they mean to you.

Finding Healthy Ways to Cope

Everyone copes with grief in different ways. Not being able to say goodbye can complicate your grieving process as you may experience additional emotions such as guilt and regret that coincide with the loss of closure. It's important to address not only the primary grief of your loss, but also your feelings around not being able to say goodbye and what that means to you. Finding your own way to honor your loved one may be an important aspect of your grieving process. Be sure to try out several different coping techniques to see which ones feel the best for you. Coping methods may include:

  • During a pandemic, complicated circumstances, or from a distance you can make a donation in the deceased's name to honor their memory and support a cause close to their heart.
  • Use tele-health to speak with a licensed counselor or therapist who specializes in grief.
  • Join online grief support groups.
  • Use art or drawing as a way to release some of your emotions when you don't feel like connecting with others.
  • Journal and keep track of your emotions on a scale of zero to 10.
  • Come up with your own list of 10 or more activities you can do that help ground you when you are feeling very low.
  • Practice mindfulness, breathing relaxation techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation if you feel overwhelmed in a given moment.
  • Spend time with animals or watch animal videos if you don't have access to any.
  • Call or text a trusted friend or family member who you can speak with.

Schedule Time to Grieve

If you have a hard time releasing your emotions or feel on edge, schedule time to grieve- this allows for a more controlled release of emotions. Be sure to mark the beginning and end of this time by creating a sort of ritual around it, for example lighting a candle then blowing it out at the end. Use one of your grounding exercises to re-center yourself at the end as well to help create a distinction.

Be Patient During the Process

The most important thing you can do is be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel what you need to feel. Keep in mind that emotions may ebb and flow and there is no right or wrong way to feel during this time. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, reach out for help immediately. Grief can feel overpowering, so it's important to keep track of your emotional process so you can keep yourself safe.

Being Kind to Yourself

Whether you are grieving during a pandemic, have complicated circumstances that prevent you from seeing a loved one, live too far away, or have other extenuating circumstances that don't allow for you to say goodbye, there are many ways you can begin to process your emotions in healthy ways, while honoring the deceased individual. Be kind and gentle to yourself during this time and understand that your own emotional process will be unique.

How to Deal With Grief When You Can't Say Goodbye