Our Guide to Grief and Forgetfulness

October 9, 2022

When you are grieving, you may have a tendency to forget things and easily lose your train of thought. Whilst this can feel very confusing and worrying, it is important to know that is relatively common.

This article explores the connection between grief and forgetfulness, and we share some ideas that may help. It is important to note that although a degree of forgetfulness can go hand in hand with grief, any worrying symptoms should be discussed with your doctor, especially if you notice the following:

  • Your forgetfulness is prolonged and getting worse
  • Forgetting names of close family and friends
  • Forgetting large periods of time or whole conversations

Whilst grief forgetfulness can be challenging, it should get better over time. Here are some tips that hopefully will help.

Keep a calendar

It’s a very simple thing but many people don’t keep their calendars up to date and this can help exacerbate the forgetfulness and end up with double bookings or missed appointments. Whilst many people use their phone, you could try opting for a paper version. You may prefer having a physical copy which is more tangible.

Set alarms

Sometimes you may need reminders to do something. Your phone is ideal for this as you can set alarms or create notifications on your calendar to make sure you stay on time and don’t miss anything important. Make sure you label your alarms, so you know exactly what they are for

Make lists

Lists can be your best friends at times when your head feels like it is full to bursting and you have tasks to do but don’t know where to start. There are a lot of jobs to get done, especially soon after the death of a loved one, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Making a list means you can keep adding to it and work your way systematically through, rather than trying to remember everything in your head. Make sure you keep your lists in one place. Have a dedicated notebook or have a notes section on your phone.

Break down tasks

Make your to-do list even more manageable by breaking down tasks into sub tasks. It can help make large projects seem less overwhelming

Ensure you are eating a nutritious diet

When you are grieving, maintaining a good diet can be the last thing on your mind and many people end up turning to convenient foods or not eating at all. It is important to stick to a healthy diet as it is good for the brain and some studies have suggested that high saturated fat diets can impact your ability to focus.

Ensure you sleep

REM sleep is especially important for memory and so you should try and get a decent amount of sleep. This can be challenging for a lot of people who are grieving but try to stick to a routine, try and not use electrical devices such as your phone or TV straight before you sleep, have a relaxing bath with essential oils such as lavender and try sleep apps which are designed to play relaxing music and stories to encourage sleep.

Stay active

Exercise is not only great for the body, but also for the mind. You don’t need to start off with anything rigourous, you can simply go for a walk or at least get up and walk around the house for a bit. Physical activity helps stimulate blood flow around your whole body, including the brain.

Keep your mind active

It is not just about keeping your body active; you need to keep your mind active too. Try crossword puzzles, reading a book, or learning a new skill. These activities can all help improve your focus and memory by keeping your brain in good shape.

Stay on top of your medication

Remembering to take your medication can be a significant worry to people suffering with forgetfulness. Try using a mediciation weekly dispenser which has the days written on the different compartments to help you take medication at the right time.

Avoid multitasking

Whilst we may like to think we are great multitaskers, the truth is that we are not, especially when our mind is preoccupied about something else. Focus on one task at a time and try not to overload yourself. If there are jobs that others can help you with, ask them to help you. Your close friends and family will probably be more than willing to help.

Reduce caffeine and alcohol

Both of these are stimulants which may impact the quality of your sleep and large quantities of alcohol can make your forgetfulness worse.

Keep a journal

Not only can a journal help you remember the events of the day and your exact feelings at certain times, but it can also be a therapeutic task and something you may look back on in the future and find moving and helpful.

Structure work meetings to reduce forgetfulness

Going back to work can be tough after a bereavement and it is inevitable that you will forget certain things whilst you are still grieving. When in meetings, make sure you start with an overview of the previous meeting to help trigger your memory and always end the meeting with specific actions and write these down. If possible, have someone minute the meetings.

Stick to a routine

Remembering something is easier when repetitive is involved, so sticking to a routine is vital. Doing things the same time everyday can help you forget less.

Don’t put off things

It is natural for a task to come to mind and you immediately think “I will do this later” but there is a greater chance that you will forget to do it. So, if it is an important task, try and complete it as soon as you have thought about it. Alternatively, add it to your list so at least it is written down.

Automate tasks where possible

Thanks to improvements in technology, there are more and more things that can be automated and reduce your workload. Ensure your bills are set to be paid automatically for example, so you don’t have another thing to worry about.

Don’t attempt complicated tasks too soon

It is important to not be too hard on yourself. Forgetting things can be frustrating and you may be annoyed at yourself for not being able to do as much as you want to, but you need to give yourself a break and take things step by step. Don’t attempt really complicated tasks until you feel up to it.

Get Duplicates

Keys are a common example of things people often lose or forget where they have put. Get duplicates and put in a safe place (that you will remember) in case of emergencies.

Take Pictures

If you are worried you are going to forget something, take a photo or screenshot on your phone for easy reference.

Talk to your doctor

You understand how you are feeling the best and if you are still struggling with forgetfulness and grief, you may want to visit your doctor. Talk to them about how you are feeling and any specific symptoms. It is important that you rule out any other factors that could be the cause of your forgetfulness.

Admit when you have forgotten something

It is important to not hide the fact you are currently suffering from forgetfulness. People will understand that you are grieving and know that this is common. If you have forgotten someone’s name, for example, just explain to them politely rather than bottling your feelings up and getting stressed about not being able to remember their name.

The ideas in this list are only suggestions and some of them may not work for you. However, it is worth giving them a go and seeing which tips can help you. Over time you should notice your memory improving as you go through your grief journey. Remember this process is different for everyone so you need to take your time.