How to Grieve a Sudden Death [A Letter For Millennials]

How to Grieve a Sudden Death [A Letter For Millennials]

This is a letter about grief from a millenial, to a millenial. Use this as a tool to help millennials in the journey of grief, or share it with them if they need it. We hope this is a useful resource for your client families, friends, family or anyone in between!


Dear millennial,

I’m assuming you’re here because you’ve just lost someone suddenly.

They’re gone.

And it’s so real. SO real.

Maybe it brings you back down to this Earth plane, reminding you of the human condition: that everything in this world cannot last forever.

This element of humanity – no matter how hard we try to avoid it – is free of illusion.

And our utter humanity can bring up a pain so unbearable in the deepest parts of ourselves, that it could feel like the weight of it is pinning you down.

Like you can’t squirm away from it. It’s there. The cold, hard reality of it all.

Maybe you feel anger. Maybe you want to gain the strength to throw this pain as far away as you can. Or maybe the only thing you know how to do is throw your hands up in despair and cry. Maybe the only thing you can do is cry.

And I know that we aren’t taught how to healthily grieve in school, or by our parents, or in society.

And that it’s hard to find an outlet. Or someone who truly understands. Or someone who will even go deeper with you than saying “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I lost my uncle last summer suddenly to heroin.

I got the call on a Wednesday afternoon. When I watched the words streaming from my mother’s lips, as she dropped the phone, and fell to the ground screaming, I let out such sheer, primal terror that I imagined it echoing miles and miles away from my house that day, shattering everything in its way.

I just want to be real with you, and tell you that I know the depths of your pain. In fact, I feel them too. Even a year later, they are a part of me now.

And I’ve learned so much from this pain. It’s been my greatest teacher. That’s why I’m here – to share with you what I’ve learned, so that hopefully it offers you some perspective; or at least the feeling that you’re not alone.

From my experience, I’ve drawn some healthy ways to grieve, and to heal. And they did something for me in a big way. I hope they help you on your journey:

1. Feel ALL the feels… all of them.

“If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it,” my psychotherapist friend told me last year when I shared the news with him. I didn’t believe him at the time. But as the weeks passed after my uncle’s death, I started to become aware of the weight I was carrying around because I didn’t give myself permission to feel.

And the only times I released it, was when I found myself up in the middle of the night, screaming into my pillow, SO MAD at my uncle, for messing up and overdosing that night. Being SO ANGRY that I punched my bed for an hour. Kicking, screaming. Asking WHY. And everytime I was finished wearing myself out on bouts of anger, I felt SO much better.

And I realized how important it is to let it out, which brings me to my next point…

2. Know that it’s not your job to hold on to the grief.

I remember being told a story about ducks. How when they’re stressed, they go away from their duck gang, flap their wings like crazy, and come back to the clan feeling perfectly fine again.

I loved hearing this because it gave me permission to let go. To know that it’s not my job to hold on to that pain. And that it doesn’t do anyone good for me to hold on to it.

So let it out in whatever way you know how to. Exaggerate it. Give it all the energy it wants right now, so you can let it out. And when you’re done…

3. Get into your body.

I know that you’re busy, but damn if I could offer you the best freaking way to work through emotions, it’s to get in your body, everyday. Emotion IS motion. Run, dance, skip, yoga, stretch, breathe, workout… whatever you can do, do it.

Get in your body, because the stories running in your head certainly aren’t going anywhere unless you put an end to them by bringing your awareness down to this beautiful human body you have.

4. Breathe.

And once you’re done moving, BREATHE. Breathe in, and let out the biggest sigh on your outbreath. Let your breath be your form of acceptance. Surrender to the cycle of your breath and watch how you feel more relaxed. Allow your outbreath to get longer and longer with each breath cycle. Elongating your outbreath causes your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, which essentially means, your body begins to relax. Breathe 3 times when you feel your feels. And then…

5. Ask your pain: “what do you want to show me today?”

So many times we’re told that pain is bad. But pain has the capacity to be our biggest teacher. The pain of losing someone has been the hardest form of pain to sit with.

But if we can just lean into a little, and be able to sit WITH it (not just push it away), maybe we could find out what our pain has to say. Because it always comes with a message. In fact, I’d argue that you can’t let pain go without gaining understanding.

6. Ask your heart: “How can I love myself right now?”

Be fiercely unapologetic in giving your heart what it needs. It is the very essence of your being. Be your heart’s own healer by listening to it. It knows all, and is always guiding you.

7. Remember (and celebrate) that person.

When my uncle passed, I channeled most of my pain into remembering him in various ways that I’d love to share with you because they were tremendously helpful:

  • I organized a family meeting the day of his death where we each shared our favorite memory of my uncle, and spent the afternoon holding each other in our own unique expressions of mourning.
  • I made a playlist of his favorite songs and play it whenever I miss him.
  • I allowed the Earth to hold me as I took the playlist to a park and lied down in the sun, crying my heart out until a quiet acceptance begun to sink in.
  • I made a collage of him for my family, and not for anyone else. I used photos, quotes, and things that reminded me of him. Creating this was my therapy.
  • I lit a candle for him everyday. For me, it was a symbol of honor, respect & love.
  • I kept my favorite picture of him on my nightstand and sent his spirit love every time I saw his face. I would also talk to him sometimes, and tell him how mad I was at him. Or how much I missed him. Or asked him what he would do in certain situations. It was incredibly cathartic.


8. Seek out support.

I accepted that support is a beautiful way to let people in and allow myself to be seen in my grief and in my pain. To expose myself in this way instead of playing it off or faking it was one of the most incredible forms of empowerment I’ve ever felt.

If you can help it, try and not shy away from this step, no matter how hard it might feel. Reach out to a friend, a relative, a therapist, a coach, or someone who you can sense understands what you’re going through in that moment.

The reflections and guidance in support are imperative to moving forward.

And finally, you do have to move forward.

You have to move forward because by doing so, you’re respecting the sacred connection between ourselves and the Earth.

That we are of Earth, and we will all return to Earth one day.

It is the cycle of life.

It is the only thing we truly know that is. That we live, and we die.

And accepting this connection, this universal truth, instead of resisting it, is the most liberating form of self realization I’ve ever held in my being.

You, my fellow millennial, have a beautiful journey of healing in front of you.

Now move forward. Step-by-step. With compassion. And humility.

Don’t forget to keep your gaze on the sun. Breathe in what is when the wind blows your way. Let the Earth hold you when you need it most.

And as always, enjoy this wild, wild ride.


With all my love,

Krystal Penrose

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