64 Tips for Coping With Forgetfulness in Grief

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

We've said it once, and we'll say it a million times: You're not losing your mind, you're just grieving. Yes, I know, your brain feels as dull as a butter knife these days. You lose your train of thought mid-sentence, and you've misplaced your car keys more times than you care to admit. But as disorienting as these experiences may be, such forgetfulness in grief is normal.

Feeling forgetful, confused, or unable to focus are typical grief responses, but you don't have to take our word for it. It never hurts to discuss symptoms that feel out of the ordinary with your doctor. Especially if your forgetfulness: 

  • Is ongoing
  • Disrupts routine daily activities
  • Involves frequent memory lapses
  • Causes you to forget whole conversations 
  • Causes you to forget the names of family members or close friends
  • You find yourself frequently repeating yourself or asking the same questions in the same conversation
  • Is getting worse over time

If you do speak to your doctor, make sure to discuss any medications you are taking, as some can contribute to forgetfulness.  

Grief forgetfulness is annoying, but it should get better in time. Until then, we've put together a list of 64 Tips for Coping with Forgetfulness in Grief. Some of these tips are just helpful life-hacks in general, while others are specific to grief and remembering your loved one.

Take a few minutes to read through and see if you think any of these ideas could be helpful to you. And then share your own tips in the comments section for future article readers!

64 Tips for Coping With Forgetfulness in Grief

1. Keep a calendar. Not only can it be difficult to keep important appointments straight when you're grieving, but you may also find you're constantly unsure of what day it even is! Keeping a calendar, whether it's an appointment calendar, wall calendar, or electronic calendar, is a good way to keep yourself on track.

2. Use technology. This is a general suggestion to utilize the technology that's available to you. No matter what assistance you need, there's likely an app for it.  

3. Set alerts/alarms. Need to remember to call the vet tomorrow? Set an alarm to remind you.

4. Ask someone to remind you. Full disclosure, this isn't a reliable system because it requires someone else to remember.

5. Make lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, lists of home improvements, bills you have to pay, daily gratitudes ... This list of lists could be endless! Lists are one of the best ways to keep yourself on track and, really interesting tidbit, research actually shows that making lists eases anxiety and quiets those nagging thoughts about all you have to do. 

  • Pro-Tip: Have you ever felt like you have lists in 100 different places? For example, you may have lists in different notebooks, slips of paper, mobile apps, etc. We suggest trying to keep your lists in one place. You could carry a small notebook with you, use the notes app on your phone, or use a method like the Bullet Journal Method. If you have to make lists in separate places, make sure to sit down and combine your lists at the end of each day.  

6.  Get better sleep. REM sleep is especially important for memory consolidation.

7. Talk to your doctor or therapist about your mental health. Underlying psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD can impact your ability to concentrate, focus, and remember.

8. Focus on nutrition. A healthy diet is good for the brain. For example, research has linked diets high in saturated fats from foods like red meat and butter with poorer performance on memory tests.

9. Stay active. I'll stop short of telling you to exercise. Just remember that physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. So when you get the chance, get up and move around at whatever intensity works for you.  

10. Reduce your use of alcohol and other substances.

11. Ask your doctor if any of your prescription medications interfere with memory.

12. Keep your brain active. In the same way that physical activity keeps your body in shape, mental activity keeps your brain in shape. Stimulate those brain muscles with things like crossword puzzles, brain games, reading, or learning a new skill.

13. Reduce stress. Though acute stress may sharpen memory, chronic stress can have destructive effects.

14. Pay attention! In order to encode information into memory, you must first pay attention to it. If you've been feeling excessively distracted since your loss, you may want to try exercises and activities that increase your present moment awareness, like meditation.  

15. Reduce your social media use. Social media reduces downtime and distracts you from paying attention to what's going on around you, which reduces your ability to create and encode memory. Also, it's a barrier for other reasons that are too complicated for me to summarize.

16. Use medication reminder boxes. These can help you keep track of your medications and vitamins.

17. Find ways to process and cope with your grief. Avoiding the more distressing and painful parts of grief will not make them go away. Instead, they will continue to cause anxiety, stress, and distraction.

18. Face grief triggers rather than avoid them. Especially when those grief triggers are connected with positive reminders and memories of your loved one.

19. Read our post about grief and concentration.

20. Establish a daily routine and stick to it.

21. Get organized and create systems.

22. Record the day's events in a journal/diary.

23. Do things the same way every time. Stick to the same morning routine while getting the kids ready for school, park in the same section of the parking lot every time, etc.

24. Do things when you think of them instead of putting them off for later. Take inspiration from David Allen's 2-Minute Rule: If something can be done in less than 2 minutes, do it now. Not only does this cut back on procrastination, but it keeps you from forgetting to do it at all.

25. Automate tasks. If you often forget to pay your bills, set them on autopay (if your banking account allows for it).

26. Don't try and multi-task. Multi-tasking is a myth. What you're actually doing is switching your attention back and forth between multiple tasks, which can be distracting and reduces the amount of attention you're giving to each thing.

27. Strategically place triggers/reminders around the house. For example, if you want to remember to walk the dog, leave the leash sitting by the back door. If you want to remember to buy milk tomorrow, leave the empty carton sitting on the counter.

28. Allow your support system to take tasks off your plate.

29. Use a mnemonic device. A mnemonic device is any technique a person uses to help improve their ability to remember something. It often involves encoding information through multiple pathways or coming up with ways to trigger the information. A fun and effective example is the memory palace.

30. Allow yourself to take breaks from your stress and grief. Consider engaging in activities that help increase well-being.

31. Give yourself a break.Try not to feel too embarrassed when you forget your good friend's son's first name or even an important date like a birthday or anniversary. Be open and honest with others about your forgetfulness. You can always say, "Sorry, I have grief-brain!"

grief brain

32. Having a hard time remembering names? Ask a friend to stand close to you and remind you, admit you don't remember the person's name and blame it on you grief brain, or just avoid using names in conversation.

33. Use sticky notes as reminders.

34. Take it easy on days when you feel "off".

35. Take advantage of days when you feel "on".

36. Have a designated spot for important things like keys. I, for one, have multiple designated spots for chapstick because I'm lost without it.

37. Don't try and take on difficult or complicated tasks before you're ready. Don't set yourself up for failure or disappointment. So, if you've just experienced a loss, maybe hold off on that 'Intro to Astro Physics' class.

38. Make tasks more manageable by breaking them down into smaller steps/subgoals.

39. If you do lose something, try not to freak out. I know, easier said than done when the Target cashier is impatiently waiting for you to find your wallet, but freaking out isn't going to help. 

40. Get duplicates of items that are often misplaced. For example, make a few extra house keys or buy a duplicate of your daughter's favorite stuffed animal. 

41. Talk to yourself. If you're worried about losing something, talk to yourself about it. For example say, "This is my credit card, I'm putting it in my coat pocket. When I get home and take my coat off in the coat closet, I need to remember to remove my credit card."

42. Hit rewind. Do you ever find yourself standing in the kitchen and you can't remember why? Ever call a friend only to forget what you wanted to say? Do you pick up your phone to do something, get distracted by social media, and then can't remember what it was? Of course, you do!  Whenever you've wound up somewhere and can't remember why, picture what you were doing/thinking about just prior. 

43. Take a picture. For example, if you're worried you won't remember where you parked your car, take a picture of the parking lot section. 

44. Take a screenshot. I use screenshots to help me remember things all the time. If I stumble upon a recipe I want to make, I take a screenshot of the ingredients. If I read an article about the best new shows of the season and I want to watch 3 of them, I take a screenshot of the show titles in the article.  If you don't know how to take a screenshot on your phone, it's really easy... Just Google how to take a screenshot and the type of phone you use.

45. Take a notebook everywhere. If you're a pen and paper person, carry a small notebook with you for notes and reminders.

46. Try to give yourself more than enough time/don't rush. I've locked my keys in my car more times than I care to admit but every time it's because I'm rushing or late (which only made me later). I'm willing to bet rushing is the cause of most forgotten lunches. Sad 🙁

47. Shop online. If you're having trouble completing errands and/or grocery shopping without forgetting a number of items, make use of your online shopping options.

48. If you lose your train of thought while speaking, pause and breathe. Amongst friends, this is no big deal. But losing your train of thought while in a meeting, presentation, interview, etc. can be significantly more stressful. Try not to panic. Instead, simply take a moment to refocus. Also, try not to be too embarrassed... It happens to everyone!

49. Reduce distractions. For example, when reading, working, studying...

50. Rehearse information. Information only lasts in short term memory for about 20 seconds without rehearsal. So when you're trying to remember something like an address, phone number, or directions, keep repeating it until you can write it down or commit it to memory. 

51. Don't worry about memorizing things you can look up.

"Never memorize what you can look up in books." - Albert Einstein

52. Simplify the information you're trying to remember or ask others to simplify it for you. For example, ask doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, etc. to break things down into layperson language.

53. Ask people to email or text you with information. If your friend calls you up to invite you to dinner at a specific place and time, at the end of the conversation ask: "Can you send me a text message with the location and time as soon as we hang up?" If you don't feel comfortable asking them to do it, text yourself the information instead.

54. Ask people to remind you of previous conversations. It's okay to ask for a refresher, whether you've forgotten a name, relation, or entire story.

55. Start work meetings with a recap of the previous meeting. Make it a general rule that you start all meeting with a recap of the prior meeting. If you don't have the authority to make general rules or to ask for a recap, keep meeting notes and review them on your own.  

56. Summarize the most important points at the end of meetings/classes. You aren't going to remember every single detail of a meeting or class (nor should you). So instead, summarize the most important points that you want to remember. 

57. Have a sense of humor about your forgetfulness.

"Life would be tragic if it weren't funny." - Stephen Hawking

58. If you're worried about forgetting things about your loved one, make a project of writing memories down and gathering pictures.  

59. Explore different pathways for remembering. Memory can be accessed by many different routes. For example, when you return to an old place, you may be flooded with memories. Also, sensory pathways like smells and sounds can trigger certain memories. 

60. Share memories with others. For starters, social connection is beneficial to your mental and physical well-being. Additionally, talking to others about memories, theirs and yours, can help make your memories three-dimensional with details you may never have known or forgotten.

61. Watch old home videos.

"So when you need her touch
And loving gaze
Gone but not forgotten
Is the perfect phrase
Smiling from a star
That she makes glow
Trust she's always there
Watching as you grow
Find her in the place
Where the lost things go."

62. Keep photographs everywhere. On your walls, on your phone, on your desk at work, etc.

63. Bookmark this page so you don't forget these tips.

64. Subscribe to WYG to receive posts straight to your email inbox.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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10 Comments on "64 Tips for Coping With Forgetfulness in Grief"

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  1. Valerie Huckoby Roy  February 22, 2020 at 11:26 pm Reply

    I’m so happy to hear that most of what I am experiencing is a normal stage of grief. It’s been a little over a year since I lost my husband and brother within 62 days of one another. Both of them were considered to be my best friends.

  2. Doreise  November 7, 2019 at 2:05 am Reply

    I came across this website and was reading about grief. I lost my daughter who was 30 years of age on September 4-2019. I miss her everyday and I love her so much. When she passed away I was the one who found her deceased. I feel to the ground and I remember just letting out this cry that was very difficult to explain. I find myself wondering will this get better am I going crazy. I never thought my child would be gone before me. It’s hard everyday and I cry a lot. I hope someday I will get better.

    • Ralph E Manning  January 4, 2020 at 8:03 pm Reply

      I also lost my wife of over 35 years of togetherness. What I found to be of the most use was because of all I have read and seen over the years that claim and prove that God is real. That that place that Jesus is building a room has to be real. Look at the Near Death Experiences and try then to deny that there is a hereafter. Can history and personal claims all be wrong? I don’t think so but still in the beginning I was lost. It started very slowly that my grief was really me feeling sorry for me not feeling sorry for my wife. I knew she was in a better place. I believe that she thinks she has been there all along and has no awareness of us or her life of joy and sadness of living. Life goes on and we don’t have to forget or made to feel better just because someone expects it.

  3. Cindi Lager  September 27, 2019 at 3:41 pm Reply

    Your ideas were great and intend to use them. I lost my husband 6 weeks ago and I have an uncontrollable sense of something bad is going to happen all the time. It’s a pit in my stomach that just aches most of the time. Reading a book helps me for a while and doing all the financial work involved makes me always feel scare. I have never experienced anything like this. I have never been a person who looks at the cup half empty but half full. This is so hard for me and I cannot wait till it subsides with these negative feelings. God bless anyone suffering like me.

  4. Ruth  September 23, 2019 at 2:07 pm Reply

    My grief councellor recommended this site. I like all the suggestions and most of them I’ve already employed likely 50
    of them but…I still am very concerned about this forgetfulness. I do not take any medication so can’t blame it on that. My spouse of 36 years passed into eternity just 6 weeks ago. My Dr. says it’s stress. His words don’t help me to feel better. I just hope it stops soon because it’s awful.

  5. Gwendolyn Sewell  September 18, 2019 at 1:57 pm Reply

    Thank you for the tips. I like the one about the notebook to help with remembering. I don’t want forget special memories.

  6. Gwendolyn Sewell  September 18, 2019 at 1:55 pm Reply

    Thank you for the tips. I like the one about the notebook to help with remembering. I don’t want to ever forget my son.

  7. Efrain Agosto Jr  September 18, 2019 at 8:20 am Reply

    I have to echo the last sentiment from Brenda. It is scary at times, but this helps make sense of it a bit more.

  8. Levi's Mom  September 17, 2019 at 7:48 pm Reply

    I know social media is bad in so many ways, but the parents like me in FB groups have made me feel much less alone in my journey. Family has withdrawn, most friends do not understand. One suggestion that I didn’t see in the list: put a dry-erase marker on your bathroom counter. Write yourself notes on the mirror. I used to do this to leave love notes for my daughter. Now I use the mirror for reminders especially when there is a break in routine first thing in the morning.

  9. Brenda Speer  September 17, 2019 at 3:45 pm Reply

    Thanks for letting me know I am not crazy


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