What does coping look like? Why I think we’ve got it all wrong.


“So… how are you coping… really?” she whispers and looks around, as if this whole thing is some kind of secret. As if I haven’t been writing about it all over the internet. 


I laugh nervously and reply “ok… I guess?”.  


My mind feels foggy. I try to think back over the last few days and remember what we’ve been doing. Have I been coping? There was that morning I just wanted to stay in bed, but I eventually got up, when the cries of ‘I’m starving…’ became too much to continue ignoring. I even went to a social thing last night, though I felt like I was underwater the whole time, not quite connecting with anyone. And there was a couple of days last week when I was so busy that I forgot to be sad.


I don’t know… what does coping look like? 


This got me thinking. Is there some way I’ll know when I am or when I’m not? Coping, I mean.


I’m breathing.

I’m ‘doing life’ exactly as I did before with only a few exceptions (I’ve taken a break from teaching pregnancy yoga for a couple of weeks as I’m sure you’ll understand)

I can (mostly) pull it together for the stuff that’s expected of me.

I’m back teaching, writing, doing all of the other things I normally do…

We go to playgroup. the shops, the park.

We made small-talk at Christmas parties and pretended to not be mentally counting all of the ‘should-bes’.


I’ve made this judgement myself before, probably too many times to count.  Said in a way that was filled with concern and love, but one that missed the point entirely.


‘She seems to be coping well’  – I’ve said when judging how someone seemed to be coping with whatever particular breed of heartbreak they were going through at the time.


It made sense to me then. They had returned to regular life. They seemed to be living just as before. Their grief was kept tucked neatly in their pocket, rather than shared awkwardly with others.


But is this coping or is this pretending? Comfortable make-believe?


I’ve also made judgements about who ‘don’t seem to be coping very well.’  Usually about those who wear their hearts bravely on their sleeve, showing the world all the emotions – even the ‘ugly’ ones.


I’ve judged that ‘even after all this time they still don’t seem any better’ as if grief and pain have an acceptable use-by dates that we should all be adhering to.


But what I’ve learned is that coping just is.


There is no grading to this word. No scales or degrees that can be applied to it. There is no ‘coping well’ or ‘not coping’.


If you’ve experienced loss, heartbreak, loneliness, death of any kind; and you’re still breathing, still moving, still participating in life (to whatever degree); then you’re coping, you’re doing it.


Some days it will look like life has gone unchanged and you’ll be fighting feelings of guilt about that. (Yes if it’s not one thing it’s another.)


Other days you’ll be bawling over a glass of milk, spilt carelessly on the floor.


Some days it will mean numbing with whatever you can to take the edge off the pain.


Other days it will mean allowing yourself to just sit with it and feel all of its jagged edges.


Some days coping is social, seeking the comfort and conversations of other.


Other days coping will mean retreating into yourself, looking for places to hide.


All are equal.  Neither good nor bad.


None are signs of ‘coping well’ or ‘coping badly’.  They just are. 


Isn’t the ‘end goal’ of it all the same anyway?


Eventually, (I hope) we can find our way to a place where the grief doesn’t sting quite so much.  Where the hot rush of grief that comes up when you remember the date doesn’t knock you over anymore.  When it all becomes a part of who you are, a part of your story. 


I’d like to guess (although this is purely my own judgement coming up yet again) that those who are better actors, those who slip seamlessly back into their lives and bury their grief down deep to ‘carry on’ might take longer to get to that place.  Surely those who allow themselves to feel all of it and just be without pretending would process it all faster?


Me personally, I find I alternate between the two.


Some days I let myself feel.  I crack and cry and mope about.


Other days I play the game. I am fine. Life goes on.


Grief has taught me that trying to judge how someone is coping is as useless as asking me how I’m coping (though I appreciate the caring thoughts that comes behind these words, don’t get me wrong).


The fact that I am there to ask is your answer, yes?


I am coping, yes.


Some days, it looks pretty, all tied up with a bow and focused on the learnings and the lessons.


Other days it’s messy and full of ugly crying, but I thank you for not looking away.


I’d love to know have a convo with you about this. Sometimes it gets lonely when it’s just me sharing the thoughts that rattle around in my head. Share your thoughts in the comments here or on Facebook or Instagram.


Just a little FYI, I plan to release a book mid-2017 on healing from loss. If you’d like to be the first to know when this book is available or if you’d like to contribute your story, please add your details here.


If this post resonated with you, can I ask that you share it with your friends. Privately via email if you prefer, or publicly if that feels good for you.

Comments are closed.