Five Tips for Living With a Grief Monster

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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So, you've recently acquired a brand new grief monster. Not on purpose, of course. No one willingly invites a grief monster into their lives. They just show up--like a fly that snuck in through a crack in an open window--and no matter how much you flail and swat, you can't seem to make it go away. Except unlike a fly, grief monsters are more than just annoying. They're downright destructive as they drag their too-long limbs and massive tail through your life, destroying everything in their wake. 

Anyway, I'm guessing you're here because you've tried everything you can think of to make your grief monster go away.You shut it in triple-locked closets. You opened all the windows and all the doors and tried shooing it away. You ignored it--figuring if you didn't give it attention, it would get bored and find someone else to torment. But none of it worked; every time you turn a corner, the monster is still there.

So now you're resigned to the fact that your grief monster is a permanent resident in your life. I'm sorry for the pain and distress you've already had to experience just to get to this place. I know it isn't easy because I have a grief monster myself. He came to me the day my mother died, and for a long time, I tried to keep him locked away. When I finally realized that he wasn't going anywhere, I decided to let him in and, this is what I learned.

What you need to know about grief monsters:

Grief monsters are always scary at first:

A big part of why grief monsters are frightening is their mystery. No colorfully told bedtime story or painstakingly written character description could have helped you understand what it would really feel like to be in a grief monster's presence. As a result, most people panic when they meet one because they don't know what the beast is capable of, and they aren't sure how to survive the encounter. Heck, even those who have met grief monsters feel unprepared.

What are grief monsters, really?

Grief monsters come from the loss, but don't mistake them for the loss itself. They didn't cause the hole left in your life, and they don't relish in your pain. They're simply what happens when the chaotic jumble of thoughts, emotions, and memories about the past, present, and future come together. 

They don't mean you harm:

Grief monsters think and feel the same way you do - love, sorrow, guilt, anxiety, hope - but they are big and intense. And they live in a world 1/20th their size that plays by rules they don't understand, so they inevitably cause a little destruction.

They don't want to harm you, but sometimes they remind you of something sad at the worst possible time. Or they point out how your life is different when you're already feeling down. Maybe they say your darkest, deepest fears out loud. Or they bring on a storm of emotion much too intense for any tiny human to easily handle. So, in this way, they may cause you pain. 

tips for living with grief monster

Five Tips for Living With a Grief Monster

Your grief monster has moved in and he isn't leaving, we've established that. Now, you have to figure out how to live with him.

Tip #1: Try not to panic.

Contrary to grief monster mythology, they cannot make you lose your mind, and they cannot cause you physical harm. Nor do they want to. When people panic, however, they sometimes react in ways that can cause harm. For example, someone might use harmful substances to try and numb their pain. (Note: If you're experiencing stress and anxiety to a degree that makes you feel extreme physical discomfort, it may be helpful to speak to someone like a mental health counselor or your doctor.)

Tip #2: Stop running.

As mentioned above, it's common to try and avoid your grief monster any way you can. When something seems scary and ugly on the outside, of course, your first instinct is to run. But with grief monsters, you have to ignore your first instinct and, instead, turn around and look them in the eye. 

Hear this one truth if nothing else, grief monsters are scariest when forced to live in the darkness. It isn't until you finally stand face-to-face with your grief monster that you learn you can tolerate being in it's presence. And when you let them into the light of day, you find that they aren't as terrifying as you thought. They have some rough edges, yes, but they also have some good qualities. 

It takes many people a long time to realize the more you avoid your grief monster, the worse it gets. It wants your attention, and it needs your help figuring out how to exist in this world in a way that doesn't cause you constant and intense pain. Though it may feel like your grief monster was sent to terrorize your life, with a little attention and guidance, he can actually become a tolerable member of your household.

Tip #3: Teach your grief monster:

Your grief monster can take feedback and instruction. For example, if he's always bringing up memories of your loved one at the worst times, like when you're at school or work, tell him that. Say, "I will take time to think about my loved one when I get home from school, but I have to focus on my work right now." Or, if you're worried he's going to share your private thought or emotion, say, "I understand you feel the need to share, but I'd like to keep this between us and my journal, therapist, or close friend."

Tip #4: Find coping tools to help you tolerate the things your monster can't change:

Though your grief monster means well, he is a monster after all. Some things about him can't be changed or tamed. For example, a rainstorm of emotion to him may feel like a hurricane to you. So you'll need coping tools to help you deal with your grief monsters trickier moments. For example, knowing who you can call for support, learning ways to calm yourself down, or having creative outlets can be helpful.

Tip #5: Notice what's good about your grief monster:

As we mentioned, your grief monster feels a lot of the same things you do. For example, after a little while with my grief monster, I learned he just wanted to think about my mom and remember her. At first, it was hard for me to do these, but it became really comforting to remember her in time. After living with my monster for many years, he's actually a welcome companion. He's a place that I turn to when I want to connect with my mother. And sometimes, I even go to him for comfort when I feel sad.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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:

Let’s be grief friends.

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12 Comments on "Five Tips for Living With a Grief Monster"

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  1. Julie L  February 27, 2024 at 1:22 pm Reply

    I just read thus for the first time. I love it! Thank you so much. My mom died 9/15/23 of chemo-related pneumonia from treatment for metastatic breast cancer. I was by her side for her last two weeks, as her caregiver, supporter, comforter, and baby girl. I know my mom would get a kick out of the idea of a “grief monster”. ❤️

  2. Georgia K  May 20, 2023 at 12:22 am Reply

    I LOVE my Mummy…… She died 10 days ago now. Diagnosed with Terminal Cancer. I am 17, gonna be 18 next month, and she wanted to see me turn 18. I already created a drawing of my ‘grief monster,’ before I knew grief monsters existed. Mine was green, ugly and angry with big teeth and a cute little smiley rabbit in it’s mouth. When I posted it online randoms had no idea that I was the grief monster. The little bunny inside is me pretending to be okay and carry on like usual 🙂

  3. Jamie Jones  January 17, 2022 at 11:31 am Reply

    I lost my mom last March I knew the holidays would be hard she always did thanksgiving well got they that day just fine am so thankful that I paid attention to how she cooked the dinner. Then came Christmas we got thru that ok. Still hard….the 1st year and all the 1sts with out her my birthday was hard she always sang happy birthday to me and I have taken that tradition with me and sing to my kids and grandkids. But this coming Saturday is her birthday and I’m feeling really sad about that day and keep thinking about her last birthday we spent together. My husband doesn’t understand you see his dad has been gone now going on 5 years now. He says it gets easier but I don’t think he has any empathy towards my feelings. I had to remind him that his dads birthday was just the other day. I will try to think of all the good things this Saturday we shared together. Miss her a lot. ❤️

  4. Chris  August 18, 2021 at 8:07 am Reply

    Thank you for this article – I was able to relate to the analogy and enjoyed reading.

    My dad passed three months ago. Doing daily life without dad is insurmountable. I’ve been struggling with my perceived expectation (false or true) from others to “be ok”, “move on”, “get better”, etc. I prefer solitude.

    When I’m with family, friends, co-workers, I fake “normal” to mask the real me – angry, sad, confused, lost, etc. Exhausting! That effort is not required in solitude, with strangers, in public, etc.

    The practical advice on how to do life with my ‘grief monster’ is very much appreciated! I especially like “…if you’re worried he’s going to share your private thoughts or emotions, say, “I understand you feel the need to share, but I’d like to keep this between us and my journal, therapist, or close friend.”

    And, the real trick for me … “It wants your attention, and it needs your help figuring out how to exist in this world in a way that doesn’t cause you constant and intense pain.”


    • Val H  August 18, 2021 at 2:26 pm Reply

      Thank you for replying today Chris. It helps me to know I’m not alone in my grief.

  5. Jojo  August 16, 2021 at 9:11 pm Reply

    My mother just died the 26th of last month two days before her birthday one day before my sisters I’m trying to learn how to grieve I’m so sad and I’m glad I came upon this site and I don’t know what else to say thank you

  6. Val H  August 16, 2021 at 1:30 pm Reply

    Thank you for this article. Reading it made me feel a little less alone. Today I’m going to my grandmas to start cleaning up my Dad’s room. I’m scared but I’m going to try and work on it for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

  7. Karen  August 14, 2021 at 5:07 pm Reply

    My Grief Monster is my S.O. of 30 years. He comes to me between 3 and 4 AM. He tells me not to not cry but how can I not. I’m all alone. HIs family does not even contact me. I went back to work so, take that Grief Monster!! I’m moving on although extremely painful

  8. David Hommel  August 14, 2021 at 10:53 am Reply

    Such a great article. I have had several griefs come into my life: my mother, then my father, but the truly massive one was my only son who died at home in our arms from Marfan complications. I continue to learn these truths. I continue to learn not to ignore grief, but to welcome it and embrace the discomfort and feel it.

    The Guest House
    By Rumi
    This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    As an unexpected visitor.

    Welcome and entertain them all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.

    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.

    Be grateful for whoever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.

  9. Laura  August 13, 2021 at 10:42 pm Reply

    Dealing with grief. My 28 year old son took his life on 3/21/21. He was my youngest of three sons. I can’t help but think that I should have seen his distress. He had a MA in Psychology counseling. It didn’t even occur to me that he needed help. Hindsight I see all the clues. I have chronic illness and was so wrapped up in taking care of myself, I missed the clues. 😭

  10. Bob W.  August 13, 2021 at 2:25 pm Reply

    I just turned 60 a couple of weeks ago. I lost my mother 2 and a half years ago. We were very close all were always there for each other. My father passed a few months earlier, but we were estranged and e didn’t shed a single tear for him, but my heart is completely broken over losing mom. She was my life, no siblings or other family, I’m totally alone with the exception of some aquaintences, and friends that I see infrequently as they live far away. Losing my job after over a decade hasn’t helped. I’m trying to relocate and start a new life, but I need to be very careful with expenses. Remaining in the apartment that I’ve lived at for over 3 decades is really getting to me. The neighborhood is going downhill and I do not belong here any longer. Short of winning the lottery, I don’t know a way out.

  11. Thorpuppy  August 12, 2021 at 8:58 pm Reply

    This is a great analogy. I am just trying to figure out my grief monster. My mom passed away at the end of June 2021. It was a quick illness. She was fine at the end of April and gone two months later at 71 years old. I miss her beyond words. I am lucky that I have a wonderful husband and friends to lean on. However I am so fortunate to have found this group. I am her only daughter and her first born. We were so close. My little brother is unfortunately hiding from his grief. I am sure in time he will grieve in his own way. Thanks for this wonderful forum!


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