5 Tips for Grieving Someone Who Is Still Alive

There are lots of types of loss that don't follow a death, and it's important to be kind to yourself during this time.

Published March 22, 2024
Sad thoughtful woman sits on chair feels depressed

Grief follows no rules, and there are times we find ourselves grieving someone who is still alive. Death is not the only kind of loss we experience, after all. People are lost to us in many other ways, including dementia, serious illness and injury, life changes, long distances, and even break-ups. Knowing how to care for ourselves during this difficult time can help make the process of grieving easier.

Types of Grief We Feel for People Who Are Still Living

There are lots of reasons you may be grieving someone still alive, but this type of grief tends to fall into a couple of categories. Knowing the name of what you're experiencing can help you start to get your head around what kind of loss you're dealing with and what to expect.

  • Anticipatory grief - If you know you will be losing someone soon (such as a parent or grandparent with a terminal illness), you may find yourself experiencing grief before the loss has actually happened.
  • Ambiguous loss - When you experience a loss in your interactions with a person who is still alive, that's ambiguous loss. This type of loss might include dementia, mental illness, injury, addiction, and other situations.

Tips for Grieving in These Situations

Grief is a natural response to loss, but it's still hard to process sometimes. These tips can help you move through this time in your life.

1. Acknowledge and Accept Your Grief

For many of us, it's hard to allow ourselves to grieve when we know the person we love is still in the world, but fighting against your feelings can keep you from processing this change. Give yourself a chance to feel what you're feeling. Recognize your grief and allow it to be a part of your life right now. Some refer to this as "sitting with your grief," which is a good way to frame it. 

Quick Tip

It can help to have an affirmation or statement you say to yourself when you recognize that you're feeling grief. Saying something like, "I am sad right now, and that's okay," can help you note the feeling and allow yourself to experience it.

2. Recognize That Normal Is Different

A lot of the suffering that happens with a loss has to do with the difference between what we have and what we used to have. Even though the person isn't gone completely, they can still be gone in some important ways. Accepting the new version of your normal life can take time, but it's important. One good way to do that is to think about what you're grateful for in the current moment.

Related: Why Grief Comes in Waves & How to Control the Tides

3. Create New Routines for Yourself

People have a way of becoming part of our daily lives. Whether it's reaching for the phone to call a parent or thinking of your friend every time you drive past the coffee shop, the routines we have with our loved ones can make a loss more acute. Creating new routines can help. Think about things you can do instead of what you used to do. For instance, you might call a friend when you wish you could call your mom. It's not the same or a replacement, but it's a different routine that can end up feeling reassuring.

4. Redefine and Reconnect With Yourself

Part of how we define ourselves is in how we interact with our loved ones. When someone is gone (either physically, mentally, or emotionally), we don't get to be the version of ourselves we are with them. It's important to redefine who you are and connect with yourself when you're experiencing this kind of loss. Make time to write in a journal, take some time to reflect, or enjoy a hobby - anything that lets you be you.

Related: 40 Self-Care Products That Will Help You Through Any Rough Day

5. Lean in to Your Support System

While grief can be unpredictable in any situation, there are certain rituals and routines surrounding death. We have funerals and memorial services, and friends and family reach out. The loss is visible, and people want to help. This often isn't the case when you're grieving someone who hasn't died. Other people may not be aware of what you're experiencing, but you still need support.

Talk about your situation with people you trust and ask for help when you need it. This can be difficult to do, but it's important. Friends and family want to help, but they may not know that you need it.

Take Care of Yourself Right Now

Whether you're dealing with a break-up, your best friend has moved across the country, your dad has dementia, or you're experiencing any other kind of loss, the feeling is real. The person may still be there, but their role in your life has changed. Grieving someone who is still alive is normal and healthy, and it's important that you take care of yourself and allow all the feelings you have.

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5 Tips for Grieving Someone Who Is Still Alive