Making Time to Grieve as an Executor

Aug 6, 2020 | Probate

Remember that your mental and physical health are important, too.

Serving as the executor of a deceased’s estate can be a heavy responsibility. You now must deal with piles of paperwork and trips to probate court while simultaneously carving out the time to process the loss of a loved one. It’s a lot to deal with at once, and many executors run the risk of burning out and exacerbating their pain rather than focusing on healing.

Every executor deserves a healthy balance between their grief and their obligations. How they establish and maintain the balance may vary from individual to individual. The main thing to keep in mind, though, is that your mental and physical health remains paramount. We hope some of the following strategies can help you maintain focus and find comfort during your time of mourning.

Grief is Important

One of the biggest myths that still manages to cloud the experience of grief is that it has an expiration date by which you need to “get over it.” In reality, grief takes as long as you need it to heal. Some bereaved find comfort in returning back to their routines as quickly as possible. Others fare better when easing back into the day-to-day, taking small, incremental steps as they adjust to a new normal. Both of these responses are healthy. Your grief may even be delayed. Sometimes it takes trying to return to life to realize that there’s still some mourning left to do, in which case it’s okay to take a step back to adjust and create a healing space for yourself.

We understand the impulse to ignore negative feelings, but suppressing the complex emotions associated with the loss of a loved one serves only to amplify them over time. Failing to confront your emotions can lead to a heightened risk of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other serious physical and mental health conditions.

It’s integral to your health to make space for your grief. You must acknowledge its presence and how it impacts you before finding closure. Recognize that no universal solution exists, and quiet the internal and external pressure to “move on” until you feel ready. You will heal in your own time.

The Stages of Grief

Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ stages of grief model originally focused on the most typical emotions felt by terminal illness patients as they came to terms with their fate; it was only later that her fellow mental health professionals began to apply her findings to the grieving process. Typically, the stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; shock and testing are sometimes added for a modified version of Kübler Ross’ original model.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what each stage may entail:

  • Denial: You may not accept the reality that your loved one is gone. A common manifestation of denial happens at wakes and open-casket funerals, where loved ones tell themselves the deceased will miraculously wake up and be fine.
  • Anger: You may feel hostile toward the circumstances leading up to your loved one’s passing. Anger can be generalized and nebulous without a target, or narrowed in on something or someone specific, such as a doctor whom you didn’t feel paid enough attention.
  • Bargaining: You may blame yourself and wish to go back in time to change circumstances or even swap places with the deceased with the hope that they will live. Survivor’s guilt in the event of an accident can also count as bargaining.
  • Depression: You may feel hopeless, numb, and despairing, as if you’re emptily going through the motions of life without the one you love. Changes in appetite and energy levels may occur. If you struggle to wake up every morning and face the reality of your loss, you are probably experiencing the depression stage.
  • Acceptance: You make peace with the passing. You recognize that death can’t be helped, and look for ways to honor the deceased’s memory in a comforting way, bringing closure. Some people like to donate to or volunteer with their loved ones’ favorite charities, while others memorialize them through the arts.

More information on what each stage involves can be found here.

“Stages” here is something of a misnomer, implying that you’ll pass through each emotion in a linear, clearly-defined fashion. Grief often bounces between the different feelings, even acceptance, and some bereaved people skip some of the stages entirely. There is rarely anything neat or tidy in mourning someone you loved, and the Kübler Ross model only serves as a framework that may help you make sense of the swirling emotions inside you.

Ask for Help

Nobody should have to grieve alone. The probate process can be overwhelming, especially the moments when it sparks memories of the deceased. A support structure of trusted family and friends is crucial during this time. Don’t hesitate to ask them for help.

Sometimes, the days leading up to your probate court appearances may compound stress rather than bring peace or closure. These are the moments when you may need to reach out to your circle the most. Ask for rides if you’re too shaky to drive. Ask for food. Ask for help with chores. Ask for someone to listen. While grief is a deeply personal, internal experience, there’s also a social element to it as well. We’re never truly alone in our times of loss.

Give yourself permission to take breaks when you need them, or indulge in small luxuries that provide welcome distractions. Making time to rest is as crucial to the healing process as making time to process your emotions.

You may also consider attending grief counseling, either one-on-one or as part of a group. If you’re struggling, mental health professionals have the training and experience needed to help you learn how to ask for help, rest and relax, set boundaries, and parse complex feelings.

We’re Here for You, too

Georgia Probate Resources exists to guide you through the probate process. We hope our advice will ease some of the stress and strain that often comes with the paperwork and court visits so you can focus on yourself and your needs for a while. You are not alone.