Grief is like…

Grief is not an illness – physical or psychological – but sometimes it feels like one.

Its onset causes an overwhelming barrage of intense emotional, behavioral, interpersonal, and physiological symptoms. In the early days, life is merely about managing the pain and getting through the day. The good(ish) news is that the pain should lessen after a few weeks or months, but grief is never gone. 

Grief is not a fleeting emotional experience. It’s not a blip on the radar. It’s not something that a person ‘gets over’ or ‘recovers’ from. The impact of a loved one’s death leaves such a mark that one never fully heals. As long as you have scars left by you loved one’s death and as long as you continue to love, remember, and miss them, you will always grieve on some level.

Grief’s ongoing nature is sometimes difficult for people to accept. As humans, we like when things are simple, resolvable, and curable, so we try and fix the things that we perceive to be broken. People often try to fix or cure other people’s grief, which can be frustrating, but I like to believe that most people are well-intentioned. Grief is just one of those experiences that people seldom truly get unless they’ve felt its miserable sting.

Before experiencing grief, even you may have thought it was a temporary and resolvable condition. You probably didn’t know that grief could lay dormant and creep up when you least expect it. You may not have realized that some days you’d feel okay and other days, for reasons you may not even be fully aware of, your grief would flare up and you’d need to spend a day or two sitting in a dimly lit room or binging Netflix or doing whatever it is you do to cope.

You also may not have known that grief can be seasonal. I know this sounds silly, but many people find their semi-dormant grief is triggered by a specific time of year or season, even years after their loved one’s death. Whether they associate the time of year with their loved one’s death or with especially positive memories of the past, seasonal triggers can leave a person in a long-term funk (let’s call this ‘Grief Affective Disorder’).

Above all else, you probably didn’t realize that eventually, you’d come to accept your prognosis willingly. That in some ways you’d even cherish your grief because although it hurts, it’s kind of nice to know that your loved one remains close enough to your heart that their absence will always have the capacity to make you feel a sad but tender ache.


Litsa and I are on a never-ending search for grief-related analogies.  Analogies are more useful than most people realize, especially when facing unfamiliar and confusing experiences because they help people communicate, understand, make connections, reason, and problem solve.  We’ve compared grief and grief-related emotions to everything from grief monsters to uninvited guests, but we’ve yet to find the perfect analogy.  Probably because grief is like an amoeba (now that’s a simile). It’s always shifting and changing shape — just when you think it’s like this, suddenly it’s like that.  Not to mention, grief is different from person to person. There are common themes, but no two people grieve in exactly the same way.  Not even two people who are grieving the same loss.

Grief is kind of elusive when you think about it — but that never stops us from trying to describe it.

We’d love for you to share your grief analogies, metaphors, and similes with our community.  In the comments below finish the sentence,

“Grief is like…”

You can also respond on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Be sure to tag us or use the hashtag #griefislike

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July 14, 2017

55 responses on "Grief is like..."

  1. Grief is a heart ache.

  2. Grief, especially when it is your child who dies, is like an onion – lot’s of layers and every one of them makes you cry.

  3. grief is being scared of your own thoughts because then all the memories come back and they are so painful, everything else seems unreal except for the pain

  4. Grief is like the end of your life but without the release. Every day, every breath is an effort. Finding joy again is unimaginable.

    I have made it through that first year following the death of my husband of 39 years and through all the first times without him experiences. I call this first year, “My God. He’s gone.” The realization strikes at odd times and always brings a chest full of ache. And many times, I had to remind myself to breathe.
    But I made it through the desert of “He’s gone.” and now I’ve moved on to the uphill, hardscrabble path littered with roots and rocks that I’ve named, “Oh, God. He’s not coming back.” It is different. It doesn’t hurt any less and oft times I lose my footing and slide down to the bottom or if I’m lucky, just part of the way back to the bottom. I can’t see the end of the path. But that’s where I am.

  5. Grief lives with me every second of everyday in all that I do in every picture I see there is spot missing my husband my friend my confidante my greatest supporter MY PERSON……….who one hour I was talking to and the next he was murdered senselessly of all places in a mall. People say all the wrong things there is really nothing to say Grief is like the waves of an ocean you never know when one will come crashing over you, I can fight it get angry and resist or I can allow the wave just to wash over me, powerlessly. It does not get better the longer he is not in my life the more real it becomes that he never will be and all the reasons that got me up in the morning all the feelings of security I once had are all gone, it is me left to make my own decisions, left to carry the weight no person to talk to all day about the little things that happen good and bad, today is the day we got married I lost my sister to a suicide I lost my father who died in his sleep, each year we would go to HI and throw a lei, on our wedding day which is the date my sister passed we chose to get married and spread my fathers ashes to make that day a happy one, I did not know that in the years to come I would be throwing 3 leis for my sister, my dad and now my husband who someone made the loss of both of them easier because at least I could wrap myself in a strong embrace and cry until I just wanted to sleep………..now I walk alone through it all. So GRief is a thief that comes to you anytime any day and hammers you with emotions…………….if it was a good day the trigger can be a song a smell a place changes on the spot and then I need to say that the Grief processes me to make peace at some point with unanswered questions and in that comes the gift……….getting in touch with the dark raw side of me then I am in complete and total surrender and acceptance grief leads to euphoric state. I rest.

    • Margaret, your description of your grief resonates with me do much. I’ve been trying to describe it for many years, and you have just done that. Thank you for sharing your emotions.
      Although such a different loss, you have resonated with me do much. I lost my mum, very suddenly aged 18, completely alone, no siblings, an estranged father who created more heartache after she had passed. She was the purest love, all I had, and was taken away from me in an instance. My father convinced people I didn’t care about her, and left me with nobody to support me at the time I needed them most. 20 years on and I still miss her like yesterday. So many missed moments. Especially now, I have 2 children. I ask for a sign, but it doesn’t come. The grief is just part of me now, part of her memory. If only I could have told her just how much I loved her and just how amazing she was – not having her in my life all these years has left such a huge hole.
      Sending my love and support to you Margaret – your loss is huge. Remember in fondness as often as you can, hold on to the memories and share them often. Anna xx

  6. Grief is love without an outlet.

    Love is both a noun and a verb. It why we say things like “in love” as we would “in Paris” or “in a deep hole” and “I love him, but I’m not ‘in love’ with him.” Love the noun is an emotion – a constant upwelling of feelings. Love the verb is the pouring out of love the emotion through thousands of acts – both everyday and grand. As father to my son Griffin, who died February 24, 2017 at age 8, and a typically emotionally basic male, I never really gave enough thought and attention to love the emotion. I knew, intellectually, that I loved my son but I couldn’t pin down the actual emotion. Looking back now, I think its because love the verb kept the welling up and pouring out in balance. Love the verb was 4-topping toast and piggy-back rides. It was bedtime stories and snow forts. It was being silly and playing his invented games with their fluid rules.

    But now he’s gone. Love the noun continues unabated, but there is no outlet. So I’m downing in it. My wife expresses it best when she says, “I don’t know what to do with all this love.”

  7. Grief is like the movie Groundhogs Day. I wake up to the same nightmare everyday…a life on repeat.
    Grief is like having someone clean your insides out with hot pokers..sears you to your soul.
    Grief is like a life sentance in an isolation chamber, you try to claw your way out of it until your fingers bleed and you resort to banging your head on the wall.

  8. Grief, after loosing my partner, is like a ball of yarn that is so unraveled that I can’t get control of it to knit it into something neat to put away. Grief does not want to be controlled, let alone put away!

  9. Grief is like taking an uppercut that knocks you down Then as soon as you think you have some balance a right hook out of nowhere knocks you down again.

  10. Grief is like having the worst nightmare every night and waking up to find the nightmare is never ending. Loss of a son to suicide.

  11. Grief is like the waves upon the sandy beach that carries grains of sand back to the water.

  12. Grief is like a wild dog that has completely shredded the contents of a room and you don’t know where to start, or what is salvagable, what to keep, what to discard and let go of. Some may be obvious, relationships will be altered, some seemingly irrepairable. With time there will be a sense of order but it will never look like it did before. In some instances as you have to rearrange and start anew there will be purpose and a inner knowing that the you’ll adjust and get accustomed to the new order of the room. But then the fear will sometimes linger that the wild dog will come back so you have to leave some scraps out for him so he has something to chew on and doesn’t destroy everything all over again. Trouble is they’re always there reminding you as well so you have to be careful not to trip on them and fall flat on your face. Seeing them can trigger all sorts of buried feelings but it also can trigger memories of peaceful times and the way it was before and even though you know it’lll never be like it was, nothing can ever take away the memory of your home the way it was before.

  13. Grief to me as a widow is the most painful,heartbroken,hopeless feeling and feels like having a dark rainy cloud above you at all times and being in a endless dark lonely tunnel and can’t wait until you meet up with your loved one again.

  14. Grief is like a sinkhole that opened up and you lost someone dear to your heart. You can fill in the sinkhole with loom but it opens up again….with grief you can try to fill in the sadness with being busy but as soon as you have even a second to think it opens up again and brings with it another hole in your heart like the hole left by the sinkhole.

  15. Louise McOrmond-PlummerJune 17, 2017 at 8:46 pmReply

    Grief is like a catastrophic physical injury for which you need intensive rehab before you can walk again – first, you’re in traction. Next, you’re in wheelchair. Next it’s crutches. Finally, you’re walking again, but you will always have a limp, and that will be very okay – the injury is part of you, but you WILL walk again. And sometimes, you might go from crutches back to wheelchair for awhile because you’re so tired and overwhelmed., or because of an unforeseen aspect of the injury. Expect those setbacks. The thing for me is not to become too discouraged in the “rehab” period, when it feels like healing just isn’t going to happen. 7 months after losing my beloved husband, I’m at the “wheelchair ” stage and sometimes don’t actually know that I even want to keep trying to walk. But I will, of course I will, because my darling, and what I know he wants for me, is front and center of my “rehab” cheer-squad. 🙂

  16. Louise McOrmond-PlummerJune 17, 2017 at 8:33 pmReply

    Grief – for me, widowhood – is like getting up every day to a job you hate and feel completely unskilled for. It’s like being a six-year old teetering about on mummy’s platform heels, and having to accept that one day you’ll grow into them.

  17. Grief after loss of a beloved and cherished child is like riding a roller coaster (that never stops) without a seat belt.

  18. Grief after loss of a beloved and cherished child is like riding a roller coaster that never stops without a seat belt.

  19. Grief is like trying to comprehend what is beyond comprehension. One day they’re there, the next they’re not, this to me remains beyond comprehension at a deeper level.

  20. For me
    Grief is…
    A shadow
    Always present
    Not always visible
    But always a part of me

  21. Grief is learning to live with something that does not exist anymore but contradicts your subjective experience. (not too conceptual, I hope)

  22. What would you do if your daughter has died, leaving a 7 year old son who was so very close to her, but whose Dad (my daughter’s hus band), won’t address the need for any type of counseling and is demonstrating himself, stuffing of feelings so my grandson is doing the same? I know he hasn’t mourned his mom’s death. I LOVE him to not end and I continue to worry. He is now almost 12 and all I have been able to do is LOVE him. Every time I’ve tried to convince my daughter’s husband to take some action he says “I’m in control – he’s fine – if he has any problems we’ll address it when it happens”. It’s like waiting for a bomb to go off. Depression and anxiety run in the family and I want to do something to help him but I feel I can’t. And I know my sweet daughter would want me to do something about it. Any suggestions?

  23. Grief is like a mixture of recreating an identity and a bittersweet processing of memory. An evolving relationship with the person who has gone. A search for identity in the (physical) absence of the person you loved with sincerity. who am I now?

  24. Grief is like trying to sort through the rubble of what’s left of your life after the earthquake of loss has hit. Never any sure footing, and always alarmed by the aftershocks.

  25. Grief is like walking thru mud. Hip high mud.

  26. Grief is like being a walking dead zombie – so numb – stumbling around from here to there with no direction. Oblivious to things and those around you – like one long daze following the masses because you’re so strung out you can barely think straight. Like auto pilot. Like a robot. This lasts until a lot of time has passed and you begin to get glimmers of clarity.

  27. First thank you for what you do- your articles are so helpful. Grief is like the crazy weather – sometimes showers and storms pop up when you lease expect it.

  28. I say it’s like being on a roller coaster ride… Lots of ups and downs.. twists and turns and you don’t see them coming. You heart races and drops .. but this ride doesn’t end.

  29. All of these apply to me, so many fitting analogies! Having a spouse with cancer is so incredibly challenging. Grief is not linear I’ve come to realize! It sucks so bad and those that have not experienced it don’t always know what to say!

  30. Grief is like a guilty addiction reminding me of a time when my life was right. It’s like probing a wound so it won’t heal because the wound is all that’s left of a future that didn’t happen.

  31. Grief is like a boomerang. It keeps coming back and wounding you anew.

  32. Grief is like an image which recalls a bad acid trip.

  33. A constant pain that never goes away & is worsened by “triggers” to it.
    My daughter’s dad died in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. He didn’t call in to say anything to his family bc he was in acute distress of a physical nature so he called 911 in obvious need of help that would never be able to arrive. He was on the 102nd floor, four levels above the plane’s impact and every single exit (of 5 choices) was blocked.
    He didn’t do it to himself, some arrogant fools decided THEY had the right to take life. Their like-minded kind are STILL deciding that. They did it in Manchester a week ago and that “triggered” a response in me that included grief & all the anger that goes with losing a loved one for a stupid reason.
    If the surviving relatives and friends see the death as stupid or unnecessary the grief is way more complicated, filled with helpless anger, and nobody told me it would feel like that. Or that it would be so damn hard to “choose happiness hope.” Translation: You have to decide you want to keep living in a world that could do such a thing to someone you loved. Sometimes it’s way easier SAID than done.
    I find it annoying. Anger seems to be my dominant emotion except when I feel depression from the loss.

    In memory of
    Eric Bennett
    10/17/71–9/11/01

  34. Grief is like …. being burned alive !!!!

    • I agree -it is like being burned alive.

    • Grief is like waking to a hundred pound monkey on your back and walking uphill backwards with him every morning , does it get easier with time? I don’t know , it’s not normal and it wasn’t meant to be in the first place.

    • Louise McOrmond-PlummerJune 18, 2017 at 4:34 pmReply

      Yes, Deborah, I used that analogy too – in it’s very worst times, it feels like being on fire and desperately looking for an oasis to leap into to put it out – but there isn’t one.

  35. Grief is like being in a constant nightmare. Asleep
    or awake the horror remains.

  36. Grief is akin to having an incurable affliction. There is no cure and like a cancer it can lay dormant only to be triggered at any given moment. Nothing can heal your grief, not time not anything. You may have emotionally wiped away some tears but not all because they can come gushing back. We lost our daughter in 2014 under suspicious circumstances and I still cannot fathom her loss nor understand it. I see her in the face of my grandson and in everything he does. I still try to understand it and still look for ways of revenge. I think I may fall apart at any given moment and wont recover and sometimes I just dont care if I do.

  37. Grief is hard… it’s trying to get through each day whilst remembering what we have been through and that we have to carry on with a life that never going to be the same again. the constant ebb and flow of emotions. Missing my husband so much.. the cuddles, the love

  38. Grief is like being in the middle of a twister that Reeks havoc all around but as quickly as it destroys everything in its path the sun comes out and the twister gone you quickly rebuild everything around you only to wonder when the next twister will hit and how much damage it will do next time .

  39. Grief is a sadness that overwhelms the soul.

  40. Grief is like losing a part of yourself and expecting that that missing part could? be filled by something as you move through your grief. But filled by what ?

  41. Grief is like the rug being pulled out from under you. And you have the daunting task of weaving a new rug thread by thread. Maybe one day it will become my magic carpet and take me to you.

  42. Grief is like being continuously hit by a tsunami. Once you gain some footing, try to be “normal” for a short time, those waves hit yet again.

  43. Grief is like..being in a chronic state of anxiety. It feels like i am afraid and waiting…for something to happen…something bad is about to happen..but the realization that that horri le thing that i am waiting for has already happened. And i cannot concieve of it..i want to prevent it it ..i want to change it..i want to wake up and see that it was just a nightmare. But no..i am awake..i cant do anything about it…its maddening….

  44. Grief is like being the pinball in a game you never chose to play.

  45. Grief is like sitting on the sidelines. You don’t get picked to join a team; you are alone wondering why it can’t get better. After a while you don’t even want to be picked.

  46. Grief is like wound. Over time you heal but it leaves a scar. Once in a while you notice it and realize that the scar has become part of who you now are. It is always there and, despite the healing, leaves a mark forever.

  47. Grief is like that song by David Bowie, “my brain hurt like a warehouse, there was no room to spare.” Grief is like a months long concussion. Grief is like living inside a bell jar, everyone is normal, but you. Grief is like a waking dream.

  48. Grief is like a bottomless pit. Just when you think you’ve reached the top, you miss your footing and slide back to the bottom. It’s dark, scary and lonely.

  49. Grief is like your insides being munched away by parasites and wanting to vomit but your empty.

    At least that what it feels like today. It’s the feeling that your forever waiting for something to happen, but nothing will ever happen, making you feel a constant unease.

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