Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought

It happens most often when things are very quiet or I’m trying to drift off to sleep.  

My mind will rehearse the moment the doorbell rang, or the phone calls I had to make, or-worse yet-imagining what, exactly, Dominic experienced when he left the road and plowed through bushes until he was thrown from his motorcycle and died.

Once my thoughts begin to follow that track, it’s so hard to derail them.

It used to be absolutely impossible.

But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.

I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems.  Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.

I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.

And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.

But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.

I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment: 

  • If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else.  Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
  • I focus on a non-triggering detail.  Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
  • If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
  • If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud.  Breaking the silence can break the cycle.

Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.

I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.

Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence is no longer all I see.

Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.





Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

8 thoughts on “Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought”

  1. Somethings that help me are: Recognizing when thoughts don’t align with God’s truth and then speaking out loud, “Father God I ask you to take these thoughts captive”.
    He is faithful EVERY time to redirect my thoughts to what is pure, good & lovely.
    2 Corith. 10:4-5 and Phil. 4:8 are my go-toos for these times. I’m 5 yrs out and it’s still an active choice every day to renew my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am only a 2-year survivor from my son’s choice to end his life. At best, I cry every day. At worst, I sob until I’m physically ill. I’ve learned to show one face while I’m working and getting through the day…..but the face I see when I’m alone is of a woman tired, sad, aging, & overcome by grief. I follow your posts every day- and your words give me hope. Thank you for sharing the reality of a mother’s pain at living after the death of a child.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this post. It had heartfelt thoughts that we all must have in common, coupled with practical ideas, many of which I do to survive. The last couple of lines sums up our lives now, and made me weep. Because I am home alone , I am free to cry. It’s been 3 years since my daughter’s suicide, and I don’t think I would’ve beeb ready to accept this during the first year. Maybe not ’til the 3rd year……I thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes I do the same after watching Amanda die in ICU. It’s called cognitive therapy. In the beginning, it was impossible for me to push that movie of horror aside. I changed the name to happy memories. Any kind of memory works for me. I would think of books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, my childhood, Amanda’s childhood or just something else. Even now after 3 years, sometimes nothing helps. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes Melanie. This is also true for me. I was sharing this same concept at our WWW meeting on Saturday. Thanks for sharing such relevant topics and helpful suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing.
      My son, Ryan, died 24 years ago at age 16 due to a drowning.
      My daughter, Amanda, died 4 years ago at age 38 from metastatic breast cancer.
      I, too, have learned how to control the negative mind set.
      Sometimes I can only delay it and sometimes I can ” push” it from my mind.
      I have buried both of my children and I am still learning how to live again.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

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