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There Is No Vaccine for Grief

“Because they run into the storm, they minimize the time they are in the discomfort. We live in a society that minimizes grief. Unlike the buffalo, we try to stay a mile ahead of it, but it’s just always there, chasing behind us,” he said. Consider, instead, being willing to run into the rain.

Maureen Keeley, a professor of interpersonal communication at Texas State University, has been studying the final conversations between family members for nearly 20 years. In that time, one theme has emerged over and over again: “We need to tell those we love that we love them,” she said.

This advice sounds so simple. And yet, when I tested it out by calling my best college friend to tell her how grateful I was for her friendship, the gears gummed up. (Instead, I asked about her new cat.) To which, Dr. Keeley gave me this advice: “Grow up.” Telling someone how much they mean to you may feel a bit awkward. Go on and reveal the mushy bits of your soul. Most people enjoy hearing how much they matter, and saying it now saves you from having regrets later.

“We are not meant to be islands of grief,” Mr. Kessler said. Everyone grieves differently, and even within your grief there may be periods when you wish to be alone and periods when you really need a friend. When the latter happens, having a sturdy network to lean on is so important. “We need to know our loved one’s life mattered, our loved one’s death mattered. It brings us meaning to see our pain witnessed in someone else’s eyes,” he said. Now is the time to make time for friends.

Some people need something to look forward to. Others find thinking about the future overwhelming, said Ms. Upchurch. If you’re currently planning what to serve at your post-vaccine dinner party, you’re likely in the first group. Knowing that can help you put things on your schedule that will bring you joy in a dark time. If, however, you’ve been getting through the past year of social distancing by not thinking too far into the future, you may be better served by just allowing yourself to stay in the moment, taking each day as it comes.

Even if you’re generally not the outdoorsy type, a tiny slice of nature can be helpful in navigating grief, said Sonya Jakubec, a professor in the school of nursing and midwifery at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. Dr. Jakubec studies the impact of natural spaces and parks on patients and caregivers. As she reported in a chapter she wrote on grieving in nature for the book “Health in the Anthropocene: Living Well on a Finite Planet,” she took palliative care patients and caregivers out for a walk near where they worked.

“Many of them had never considered the idea of going for a 20-minute walk break,” she said. After the field trips outdoors, 93 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that natural spaces provide emotional comfort. Dr. Jakubec has seen similar results with grief groups that meet outside. “Parks and nature feel like a container that is large enough to hold our grief,” she said.

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