A Grief Intensified. A Grief Sidelined. A Grief Forgotten.

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Litsa Williams


Like so many things in life, grief is both an internal and external event. Our internal experience of loss is constantly interfacing with the external world around us. Before the world changed several months ago, this might have meant a good day derailed by an intense reminder. It might have been a bad day turned around by a comforting mention of a loved one’s name from a friend you didn’t know was thinking of them. Maybe it was a complete meltdown triggered by burning their favorite dish or being unable to open a jar. Since the world changed, it means all of that and now much, much more. 

Like so many things in grief, there are no universals. We have heard from so many of you via comments and emails and social media explaining how your grief is being impacted by the world in new ways. We have felt that ourselves – deeply. I have unexpectedly lost two good friends and a family member in the last three months. I am the first to say there is no “normal” in grief. But even with that in mind, my grief feels even more unexpected and confusing than ever.

One comfort I have found are those comments and emails and social media messages about your own grief, reminding me I am not alone. Reminding me that I am not the only one feeling the impact of the external world on my internal grief in new and unexpected ways. I am not the only one feeling moments of grief intensified, grief sidelined, and grief forgotten.


From you to us back to you

Here at WYG, we feel lucky that we can serve as a bit of a megaphone. We are so grateful that you trust us with your experiences of loss and grief. And we are hopeful that, by seeing the themes and trends in what you share, that we can share them in return. We can amplify individual voices and experiences into a collective, reminding us all that we’re not abnormal. We’re not crazy. We are not alone. We’re just grieving. 

These are not the only experiences that have been shared, but these are the most common experiences. They are the experiences that have been of comfort to me in these last few months, knowing I am not alone. They are the experiences that we imagine many of you, even if you haven’t shared them or labeled them, can relate to. But we know there are many more, so please leave a comment to share others you have experienced and felt. 


A Grief Intensified

We have talked about cumulative grief plenty of times before. It is often described as losses stacking on one another. Before you have had a chance to catch your breath, to process and integrate one loss, BOOM – another loss kicks you in the gut. Your brain starts spinning and suddenly you feel completely overwhelmed and debilitated. Each loss feels intensified with the pain of the previous loss. Many times when cumulative losses are talked about, it is in the context of multiple deaths in a short period of time. But cumulative grief isn’t limited to non-death losses. It can be any type of losses stacking together, making everything feel intensified. 

In this moment, we have heard from many of you saying some variation of “before this, my grief was devastating, but I was somehow managing. Now, I can barely function. It doesn’t feel manageable anymore”. There is a good chance this is because you are now coping with additional losses stacking up on your existing loss. It may be anything from disconnection from friends to difficulty accessing your previous coping tools to loss of meaningful events. And if it doesn’t feel like additional “losses” per se, it may just be the feeling that you had figured out ways to carry your grief in the world six months ago. Now it may feel like the world is turned on it’s head; you don’t know yet how to carry your grief in this new world. 


A Grief Sidelined

We have heard from others of you who have felt not that your grief has been intensified. Rather, it has shifted to a new space in your life and in your mind. Many have reach out saying, “I have been so busy worrying about my kids and my finances and my safety, that my grief suddenly feels secondary”. For something that was so consuming just a few months before, this can feel unexpected confusing. Some have said this has them feeling guilty, like it means you are forgetting your loved one (you’re not!). Others have said it makes them worried that their grieving wrong now (nope, you’re not doing that either!)

We often think that we are supposed to grieve, grieve, grieve, grieve, grieve, and then suddenly start grieving less, then back to “normal”. But that isn’t how grief normally works. Grief is often three steps forward, two steps back. There are often days we feel overwhelmed by grief emotions and others we don’t. The Dual Process Model, a grief theory we love, does a wonderful job explaining that in grief we are always oscillating between “loss-oriented” experiences and emotions and “restoration-oriented” experiences and emotions. They even explain that we engage in avoidance of our grief, taking breaks that are healthy and adaptive! But when we feel ourselves taking these breaks, if no one has warned us that they are normal and natural, sometimes we think we are grieving “wrong”.

So I’m not grieving wrong?

Nope! Not at all. In those “restoration-oriented” experiences, the very first on the list is attending to life changes. Those can be changes as a result of the death. And they may be other life changes. In this moment, many of us are coping with a laundry-list of changes in our lives that we need to adapt to and attend to. Our brain’s way of helping us to do that is sometimes to focus on those “restoration-oriented” things. This means taking a break from some of those more “loss-oriented” feelings and emotions that we more traditionally think of as “grief”. 

When your brain and world are feeling a bit more settled, you may feel those “loss-oriented” things creeping back in a bit more regularly. Either way, all of this is a part of your grief. Your grief is not just your pain – far from it. Your grief is learning to live in a world without your loved one, and it is learning to live in a world that is always changing. 


A Grief Forgotten

Last but not least, some of you reached out and said some variation of “I feel like my grief has been lost or my forgotten”. In a world where so many people are experiencing distress, confusion, loss, and chaos, this can happen for many reasons. The first is that people in your world may now have so many of their own stressors to cope with that they are no longer checking on you as often. It may feel like they have forgotten that you are grieving. Others of you shared stories of people suddenly saying things that feel minimizing, like “at least John didn’t have to live through this”. Even if you believe that to be true, it can still feel like another person diminishing your grief. 

Finally, you may feel like your loss is now just one in a sea of media stories and personal stories about grief. Some of you shared that you feel it is harder to talk with others about your loss. Some said you feel like your grief isn’t as important with so many other losses in the world. It is important to remember that other people’s losses don’t detract from your loss. They don’t make your loss “less than”. This is a time when you may feel unseen. So, it can be important to remind yourself that your grief is valid and worthy of sharing and support. If you need some reminders and reinforcement about that, we recommend this article reminding us we all have a right to grieve.

Relate to some of these? Have others to add? Leave a comment! And subscribe to find out about our new articles and to receive other grief support in our weekly email newsletter. 

Let’s be grief friends.

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15 Comments on "A Grief Intensified. A Grief Sidelined. A Grief Forgotten."

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  1. Nors  June 17, 2020 at 1:48 pm Reply

    Thank you for making a person feel sane! I was starting to worry about my actions and reactions but this article spoke to me.
    It becomes Increasingly more difficult to talk about grief as time goes on. There is an expectation that you should be better by now so as a result you start to think “ maybe it’s not just grief, I was feeling better”
    I feel like I have permission to continue my grief journey.

  2. Carol Clark  May 29, 2020 at 1:14 pm Reply

    I was widowed after being with my husband since before my sixteenth birthday. That was nearly 58 years ago. Ken had had lymphoma,diabetes and prostate cancer and had been given only 3-5years to live in 2002. We were very blessed to have had him for so many more years, but I can’t seem to get beyond losing him. We did everything together from working with him, having lunch and dinner and later after 2008 , having to give up his business of 30 years during the recession. We have 3 children , and we planned ahead for my losing him. We sold our home of 47 years and helped buy a larger home with my daughter and her family. I feel so blessed to have my family and close friends to help me, but my heart aches for him and I can’t stop crying when I hear certain music, or a friend mentions his name or recalling all the many memories. I really adored him, and he was one that always made me feel special. I am not blaming anyone or feeling sorry for myself, but I don’t have a purpose anymore. I am close to my 5 grandchildren, but my granddaughters are grown and out of college so they don’t come by very often. I am enjoying my two grandsons 9 and 10 , but it still doesn’t fill the void of not having my husband with me. My precious, dog, that Ken gave me to be with me if he should leave me, also died this same year as my husband. My only thought that relieves the pain is that they are in heaven together. Since being married since 17 and the two of us literally growing up together, we were each other’s best friends, and preferred being with each other more than a lot of friends. I just want to be able to enjoy life again, and really feel he is happy, too. He wasn’t a very religious man, but loved his family, the friends he fished with, and his dogs. He wasn’t able to really talk to me at the last so I don’t know whether he knew he was dying. I seem to want a sign or something to tell me he is all right. I know this is a lot, but it is the first time I have tried to even write down my thoughts. I feel like I really loved him too much. I get out and go places, but I’m still so sad. Does the pain ever stop?
    I pray for strength to heal and not cry every time i think of him.

  3. anonymous  May 18, 2020 at 11:17 am Reply

    Me again.
    I wrote 2 days ago, mentioning Desiderata on YouTube.
    I had been guided from within to find it. I listened to it many, many times on Saturday.
    It gave me hope and energy after the death of my sweet husband of many, many years. We had no children.

    I received an email Sunday morning with news of the hospitalization of my mother.
    So here I am now, in all of this again, and off-balance.
    I had planned to get the swiss chard and kale planted today. And rake some leaves. And prepare some healthful meals.
    We’ll see if I can muster the energy. Nature, and good fruits and vegetables, are always helpful for me.

    I’m so sorry for all who are hurting, and do not have the luxury of physical movement, as I have.
    I do hope you have a window with a view of something lovely.

    We all are doing what we are able to do, moment to moment. I truly believe that.
    I pray throughout the day to be open and loving and calm and non-judgmental.
    Thank you for listening.
    Love to each and every one of you.

  4. Jess Joseph  May 18, 2020 at 10:12 am Reply

    Recently I purchased an URN from this UK manufacturing company called URNS UK they have a wide variety of creative and expressive urns with eco-friendly options as well. Also another interesting aspect is their ‘memorial jewelry’ section ! Check out this interesting brand!

  5. Caroline B Mayer  May 17, 2020 at 1:07 pm Reply

    Thank you Carol Lynn for your reply. My husband passed on the 16th. It appears we are in the same place time wise. I will keep you in my prayers because my husband too had chronic back pain. He broke his back when he was 26. I was 19. He suffered all his life. So I will say a prayer that you get relief. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be able to be with your loved one when so ill and passing. I was in ICU with my husband when he died and so grateful for that. The hospital staff couldn’t have been more supportive. This is such a sad time. And again I am grateful that I have found a place where I can both share and vent.

  6. Carrie  May 17, 2020 at 8:48 am Reply

    My brother, who was the person I loved most in the whole world, died on 27th December 2019. I feel that since COVID-19 is something I don’t get a choice in, I’m glad it happened in March, because in March I had just started to function again. And I remember the first day that I realised COVID-19 was something serious I should pay attention to was the first day I didn’t feel the grief. It was a relief at first; suddenly I had energy and spirit (from adrenaline I guess) and didn’t feel weighed down. At first I liked that relief, but then when the grief didn’t come back I became worried that I was repressing it. My counsellor told me no I wasn’t; she told me it would come back in its own sweet time. Well, now it has. The COVID-19 situation got a bit better where I am (Tasmania), and pretty much as soon as it did – BAM! – you know that grief thing you forgot about? HERE IT IS! I feel like I’ve regressed two months. I burst into tears at random times and I’ve lost my colour vision and my posture. I know this feeling. I’ve been here before. I didn’t bloody like it. But thank you for writing this article because it reminded me that I’m normal. I’m really glad I’m not repressing it too – I’ve done that before and it made me mentally unwell. On the one hand I have this bittersweet relief that I’m not repressing it, and on the other…. oww. My heart is bleeding.

  7. Micki Meadors  May 17, 2020 at 7:55 am Reply

    Thank you for the articles. My best friend died a little over 3 years ago. That was hard. I was just coming to terms with it when my son died unexpectedly. My son’s passing has been like a tornado hitting a house & leaving nothing but a foundation & a field full of debris. I’ve been a care provider my whole life, but now I find myself floundering and needing care myself with no idea how to process everything, let alone rebuild. I’m currently under the care of a physician & a counselor, but Covid has interrupted some of that for the time being. Your articles help remind me that it’s OK to not be on top of your game when life as you know it has shifted so drastically. Thank you.

  8. anonymous  May 16, 2020 at 7:27 pm Reply

    So much honesty here.
    I hope my contribution will be helpful.

    I first heard Desiderata on the radio in 1971. By Les Crane. Stopped me in my tracks, and I played it over and over. I was 16.
    It has been a source of recent comfort to me, and I found a beautiful YouTube video of it. With Les Crane again narrating, and some very beautiful scenes of nature.
    It is 4 min and 15 seconds, and posted on July 27, 2017 by efren limas.

    Maybe it won’t feel great today to hear this piece for some.
    Maybe it will be better a bit farther down the road.
    Maybe it will never fit.
    Maybe it will be just what someone needs today and in the tomorrows to find some kind of anchor.

    Thank you, Litsa and Eleanor, for our community joining spot.
    And thanks to all who come to the table, including me.
    We are all so incredibly brave!

  9. Caroline B Mayer  May 16, 2020 at 4:19 pm Reply

    This article kind of just appeared. Guess I was supposed to read it. My husband died December of 2018. Went to grief group and was feeling that maybe I could begin to experience life a little more and then COVID19 hit. With so much going on in the world I feel guilty when I get on the pity pot. My grief feels more intense now then ever. Cut off from my one son and family here in this state with me, I feel totally alone. Grief group has disbanded and I realize what an important part it has been in my grieving process. There are other losses that are compounding my grief surrounding mother’s day and financial stress. I have been waiting for a settlement which I hoped would keep me in the last home I shared with my husband. He is here and I do not want to leave. Do to legal complications the settlement is dwindling and having to set up an estate for something so small is bringing up all the horrible memories and feelings associated with his stroke in 2013. I had been his sole caretaker since then 24/7. It has left me exhausted, but I wish I had him back. We were married for 55 years. I have known him almost all my life. There is a hole in my heart and I fell like I am sinking. I feel I am to old to live in this world of change and I guess I am mad that I have to. I won’t get into disappointments felt about how others deal or don’t deal with my grief. We are all grieving in many ways right now and I just feel so sad. Thanks for giving me a place to vent.

    • carol  May 16, 2020 at 6:57 pm Reply

      I too lost my husband in December 2018 – the 12th – my birthday. My name is Carol Lynn so when I read your posting, I had to reply. I too was his caregiver. We had been married 35 years. He died from complications of Parkinson’s. In October of 2018 I had a “simple” surgery – a lumbar laminectomy. I have been in even more pain since the surgery. I wish I had never had it; there aren’t good “options” to help with the pain. I was already fairly isolated before COVID-19 because I am too uncomfortable to go out much at all. I too, attended Grief Share most weeks and did complete one full session but was starting on the second when everything changed. I had had many visitors before that, and so I found that even though I thought it wasn’t as hard for me as others, it was because no one could visit. My son is in management with a large grocery chain so he has not been able to visit me much because he is exposed to so many different people every day. So that has been hard. My husband died in hospice and had been in a nursing home. I have to remind myself how awful if would have been to not be able to be with him or have a funeral, or many other things that people are experiencing. But still it is really hard and I am so sorry you are going through difficulties too.

  10. Linda Knight  May 16, 2020 at 11:23 am Reply

    I am indeed having a much harder time since COVID 19 showed up in our country. I lost my best friend of 51 years a year ago and was already anxious as the anniversary of her death came around for the first time and at the same time we started seeing cases of COVID 19 killing people and it just flipped me out because my girlfriend died from the flu…she had an underlying issue she never knew she had and that was what killed her because she got the flu. So, I was already so so anxious and now my anxiety has been tripled and I am really having a tough time worrying about my family or if I or my husband will get this or my friends…and we are all compromised in some way with our health…so scary, anxious, not liking our world today and how it has affected me and intensified the pain of losing my best friend to the flu. Not a good time for me at all. Just not. Good article at the right time. Thanks for that.

  11. Judy  May 16, 2020 at 3:53 am Reply

    Oh my goodness, this has arrived in my inbox as if sent from above! Lockdown has intensified my grief at a time when I am isolated and alone. The second year, the lonely year! We have passed the second birthday during lockdown. Second anniversary is around the corner. Did anyone call to ask how I was? Has anyone asked how I am coping during lockdown? Not because they do not care, but because they have other concerns. My grief is forgotten, of course it is, why would it not be? It was anyway being minimised….the second year – you’re supposed to be moving on now aren’t you? Alone with my thoughts, walking the fells where I live, I have at turns been angry, hurt, devastated, achingly lonely and torn in two but at times I have found a great sense of peace hidden in the fells, watching the emerging Spring, amongst the wildlife. The turmoil is intensified with little outlet! Thank god for my healing tree high on the fell, where I can scream into the wind and yell, heard only by the owls, the branches of my tree rustling in the breeze., bringing peace to my soul.

  12. Patricia Castellano  May 15, 2020 at 10:14 pm Reply

    This was such a timely piece of advice, unbelievably so. Four months since Bonnie died, thought things were being managed, but this week has been horribly sad. I have been trying to figure out why…what’s up with this crying and bottomless feeling of off balance again. I know May is the month we bought flowers and garden plants and my birthday month…her gift many times were plants and shopping greenhouses for baskets and pots, etc. I was reluctant to think of planting but I knew Bonnie would want me to put flowers all over in our big pots, so I visited some green houses and purchase things. Kept noting that I was a week early buying things and it was good because the greenhouses weren’t picked over. I had just a Bunch of misfiring Pistons this week…. forgetting things like taxes were due and I had forgotten to leave a check for somebody, I spaced out a walk I was going to take with a friend, I had to close out Bonnie’s checking account , which was a sad affair , just not concentrating very well and I wondered what that was all about. Then I looked at the due date for payment of taxes, May 15th, and I realized it was our anniversary, the day we first actually met 30 years ago. I was going to interview for a job at the Children’s Museum and I was supposed to have called Bonnie in early May when the interviews were being held. I was directing a show at the time and after that show was over I totally spaced out, forgot, that I was supposed to call her and set up an interview. A friend of mine who knew Bonnie, told me I should call anyway and just apologize and see if I could still interview.(actually I knew Bonnie somewhat since the theater I directed for and the museum were in the same building and I had talked to her on the phone from time-to-time.) So I called her and funny thing they had not even held any interviews yet, and what I like to come in and interview. May 15th was the date of my interview and the day I was hired in 1990. That day I met someone who would change my life, someone who would be the best example of a boss, who would become my best friend and sweetheart. May 15th was not only my work anniversary, but it was the anniversary that Bonnie always remembered as our anniversary. Being this isolation time and so confusing as it is, I have not even thought about dates on the calendar . I think part of what’s been happening week , why I I’m so sad is because of that anniversary time, time of flowers, time of year that we both just loved. I think all the things I’ve forgotten this week we’re just symbolic of the interview I forgot years ago and somehow Bonnie was trying to remind me this week that it’s our anniversary and “of course you’re going to go buy flowers, that’s what we do in May for your birthday and our anniversary.” I don’t know if any of this makes sense but I’m trying to figure it out.

  13. Mom  May 15, 2020 at 9:48 pm Reply

    Elaine,

    I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I lost my son in August 2017 and it still seems like yesterday. I still find it very difficult to accept he is gone. We were very close and his death was sudden and unexpected. The details are so awful I just prefer to say I am still very angry as well as other horrible, devastating feelings. Everything you feel is normal and millions are in our shoes. I don’t go anywhere, sleep all the time, do not take care of myself and feel guilty that I can not be a better wife and mom. I don’t know how to live without him and it does not get better. I wish I had happy, joyful thoughts to pass along but losing a child is so, so horrendous. I wish I had died with him but I know that is up to God. I thank him daily that my mom raised us in the church because without my faith I don’t think I would be here. Maybe one day life will be a bit more peaceful but I have my doubts. I just want to go to my true home and see my son again. I was never prepared for him to die and especially in the horrible way it happened. I pray always for all parents who have lost a child because I don’t know what else to do. Many, many hugs to you and know there are so many of us in this horrible ” club”.

  14. Elaine Lyons  May 15, 2020 at 8:13 pm Reply

    This article really helps, as I’ve been very depressed and confused lately. My only child, my son, died violently and through no fault of his own on June1, 2019. He was also my only relative. He was an organ donor, and I honored his wishes which meant sitting with him almost 4 days after he was pronounced brain dead while matches were found. The processes that take place for an organ donor are unbelievable. Every health care professional (and there were dozens involved in keeping his body viable) was compassionate and kind to me beyond belief. I held his hand, talked to him, and kissed his precious face the whole time.
    I feel that I am just now coming out of the shock, and my grief is overwhelming. The whole world shutting down and the isolation has been horrible. I can’t even be with my wonderful friends.
    4.5 months after my son died, my 13-year old cat suddenly died. I will always believe she died of grief. She loved Kevin. He and I shared a home, as he was not yet married, although an adult.
    The cumulative grief is getting worse, not better.
    Any advice is welcome. I had been going to my bridge groups and having dinner out with a friend each week, but, of course all that is gone now. I sit in my house alone each day. Sleeping is very diffi cult, but when I do finally sleep it is for 12 or more hours. Probably trying to escape reality.
    My heart goes out to all who are grieving.
    If not for my strong faith, I don’t think I would have made it this far.

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