We Don’t Recover From Grief, and that’s Okay

After some discussion with our insightful readers, we’re adding a brief preface to this article.  We feel it’s important to clarify upfront that when we say we don’t recover from grief or experience “grief recovery”, we do NOT mean that we don’t recover from the intense pain of loss. It is important for all grieving people – despite their loss and experiences – to believe in the hope for healing. No one should expect to live with the anguish associated with acute grief forever.

Our belief is that grief encompasses more than just pain. We believe that over time grief changes shape and comes to hold space for many different experiences and emotions – some of these experiences may be painful – like a milestone or the anniversary of a loved one’s death – but some of them may be comforting – like warm memories and the enduring role that your loved one plays in your life. With that, the original article is presented below.


I need to tell you that, in the face of significant loss, we don’t “recover” from grief.

Yes, I’m using the royal “we” because you and I are all a part of this club.  

I also need to tell you that that not recovering from grief doesn’t doom you to a life of despair. Let me reassure you, there are millions of people out there, right now, living normal and purposeful lives while also experiencing ongoing grief.

All the things you’ve heard about getting over grief, going back to normal, and moving on – they are misrepresentations of what it means to love someone who has died. I’m sorry, I know us human-people appreciate things like closure and resolution, but this isn’t how grief goes. 

This isn’t to say that “recovery” doesn’t have a place in grief – it’s simply ‘what’ we’re recovering from that needs to be redefined. To “recover” means to return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength, and as many would attest, when someone very significant dies, we never return to a pre-loss “normal”. The loss, the person who died, our grief – they all get integrated into our lives and they profoundly change how we live and experience the world.

What will, hopefully, return to a general baseline is the level of intense emotion, stress, and distress that a person experiences in the weeks and months following their loss.  So perhaps we recover from the intense distress of grief, but we don’t recover from the grief itself. 

Now you could say that I’m getting caught up in semantics, but sometimes semantics matter.  Especially, when trying to describe an experience that, for so many, is unfamiliar and frightening. Grief is one of those experiences you can never fully understand until you actually experience it and, until that time, all a person has to go on is what they’ve observed and what they’ve been told. 

 

The words we use to label and describe grief matter and, in many ways, these words have been getting us into trouble for decades. In the context of grief, words like denial, detachment, unresolved, recovery, and acceptance (to name a few) could be interpreted many different ways and some of these interpretations offer false impressions and false promises.

Interestingly, when many of these words were first used by grief theorists starting in the early 20th century, their intent was to help describe grief.  I have no doubt that in the contexts in which they were working, these words and their operational definitions were useful and effective. It’s when these descriptions reach our broader society without explanation or nuance, or when they are misapplied by those who position themselves as experts – that they go terribly awry.

So going back to the beginning, we don’t recover from grief after the loss of someone significant.  Grief is born when someone significant dies – and as long as that person remains significant – grief will remain. 

Freud Grief Quote

Ongoing grief is normal, not dysfunctional. It’s also not dysfunctional to experience unpleasant grief-related thoughts and emotions from time-to-time sometimes even years later. Humans are meant to experience both sides of the emotional spectrum – not just the warm and fuzzy half. As grieving people, this is especially true. Where there are things like love, appreciation, and fond memory, there will also be sadness, yearning, and pain. And though these experiences seem in opposition to one another, we can experience them all at the same time.

Sure, people may push you to stop feeling the pain, but this is misguided. If the pain exists, it makes sense, because there will never come a day when you won’t wish for one more moment, one more conversation, one last hello, or one last goodbye. You learn to live with these wishes and you learn to accept that they won’t come true – not here on Earth – but you don’t stop wishing for them.  

And let me reassure you, experiencing pain doesn’t negate the potential for healing.  With constructive coping and maybe a little support, the intensity of your distress will lessen and your healing will evolve over time. Though there will be many ups and downs, you should eventually reach a place where you’re having just as many good days as bad…and then perhaps more good days than bad…until one day you may find that your bad grief days are few and far between.  

 

But the grief, it’s always there, like an old injury that aches when it rains.  And though this prospect may be scary in the early days of grief, I think in time you’ll find that you wouldn’t have it any other way. Grief is an expression of love – these things grow from the same seed.  Grief becomes a part of how we love a person despite their physical absence; it helps connect us to memories of the past; it bonds us with others through our shared humanity, and it helps provide perspective on our immense capacity for finding strength and wisdom in the most difficult of times. 

Here are some other thoughts on this subject:

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September 6, 2019

47 responses on "We Don't Recover From Grief, and that's Okay"

  1. Seventeen days ago marks five years that my Mamaw (paternal grandmother) died.
    The night she left was very long and confusing.
    I saw my dad cry for the first time in a very long time, my stepmom called me telling me to lock down the house, my aunt told me she was sorry about my Mamaw, and my mom called me to tell me to pack a bag to stay at her house for the night. That was all in the span of an hour.
    When my mom told me that my Mamaw died, my world broke, I couldn’t hear anything and I couldn’t breathe. I had my first panic attack, I felt like part of me died with her.
    Since she left, when big things happen in my family or in my own life, good or bad, I cry like the night she died, because she’s not here to share in the joy or be support.
    We were very different people, she was a God-fearing Pentecostal, and I am agnostic and lesbian. But I could tell her anything and she’d listen. We shared a love for games, books, family, dirty jokes, and old movies.
    She truly took a piece of me when she left.

  2. In bed struggling to sleep, unable to keep the pain from swallowing me up whole and feeling like I might drown in my sobs, I Googled “how to get over grief” in complete and utter desperation and somehow ended up here. I sure am glad I did.

    Lost my dad almost 4 weeks ago to cancer and as a staunch believer in Christ and healing, I was certain he was going to recover, right up until he died right in front of me. I cannot describe the cold, numbing shock and disbelief I felt in that moment and the crushing pain that has followed since.

    Reading this article and the comments have really helped me and I just want to say thank you. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone and my emotions are not abnormal. I hope sharing my experience might help someone also as I have been helped.

    I also look forward to sleep as it is my only escape and knowing others do the same is a relief. So much of what people have written, I deeply relate with. I became convinced I am clinically depressed. I’m still not sure I am not. I hold on to my faith when I’m able. I feel it’s all I have.

    I had a close friend basically tell me to suck it up and get on with it and saying how my brother is handling it better and it made me feel so very bad. I already felt guilty about being so lost in my pain that I couldn’t provide comfort to other members of my family and his words made me feel truly horrible.

    Then I felt a level of resentment towards him as I thought it quite easy for him to say this, still having both parents and not having had to deal with such loss. He finished off by asking me not to ruin his mornings by sending him messages talking about my grief. I’d only done so one morning, when I couldn’t sleep all night and felt like I would lose my mind if I didn’t let it out. Great friend, that one.

    My dad was everything to me. He was a sweet, kind, generous, funny man. A truly beautiful soul, instantly loved by all who met him. He was so full of life, larger than life. Every big moment I’ve ever imagined in my life- achieving great career heights, my wedding, having kids- all had him as a major star. Now everything I’ve ever imagined will never come to be as I imagined it. I feel I will never be truly happy again.

    I’m sorry, this has perhaps not helped so much.

  3. To all of us collectively that have lost our love ones moving on is always going to be sad and challenging to the spirit . My beloved Thomas passed away in my arms in our home. At first the reaction was devastating i have never seen someone pass away, I kept thinking to myself why did this have to happen this way. Then i began to think it wasnt about me it was about him then and only then i began to understand the beauty if i may in being a part of someone going off to heaven to be with God, how close did i come to being a part of something so spiritual. I still grieve him daily but im able to function. Death is coming to us all at some point in our lives we no that, but living without that love one is a daily task but i think we forget that those who leave us on this earth still can see our pain without the ability to add comfort. I believe my Thomas is comforted by my will and strength to continue living in his absence understanding death is not for earth bound souls, i relish in the knowledge of knowing that all the days i spent crying when my time comes and i see him at that point i will realize that all that crying and sadness and he is standing here once again before me. There is pain when we are born and pain when we leave.

  4. I feel tremendous guilt after my mother’s death about a year ago. I am one of those people who stays at home now–completely opposite from how I used to be. It seems that with the passage of time, I am piecing things together, and my guilt increases. It’s true that my mother was 100, but she didn’t need to die.
    I am a single senior citizen (70), and come from a large family. My experience with a psychiatrist in my late 20’s really messed me up. She told me that my mother showed “benign neglect.” It’s really a long story, but my mother had few options in life including the choice of her husband! I became very incensed, and even didn’t contact my mother for a year. When I did see her, the guilt was unbearable, but I think the anger remained the rest of my life.
    I spent most of my life trying to come to terms with anger for not getting married, almost being given away as an infant, etc. My siblings had their own issues. About 10 years ago, I decided to get more involved with my mother and sister as they were moved into a nursing home. My sister hated it there and died there four years ago. My mother hated it also, but she survived and had an apartment with 24-hour help. The aides for the most part were sub-standard or worse. I was never comfortable leaving her, not knowing if they would yell at her or worse. It made me so anxious, I could never relax.
    Two years ago, it seemed we had a relatively good pair of aides. One was super organized, but in truth I didn’t trust her 100%.
    The other one was crazy, but she never missed a day, was quite religious and watched Mass each day on tv, and always talked about a mother’s love… . My brother wanted to get rid of her, but I said “no” and laughed. He had seen her steal dishwashing liquid.
    All of a sudden, aide number one said she was quitting, and that I was tired of her. I was traumatized, but I couldn’t stop her. Aide number 2, the crazy one, became the principal helper. I believe now thatshe worked against us behind the scenes.
    About two months after that, I found the most gentle, caring person to help my mother. The first day she was there, we were talking, and I told her that I was leaving but that my brother would be there that evening and the next afternoon. She said yes and that she would do laundry. Then she said “What if she falls”? I said she wouldn’t fall if she held onto her when she was walking. What I didn’t know was that aide number one told her to do laundry, but she didn’t tell her to do laundry when my brother was there, and she let my mother fall. If only I had questioned her about falling.
    My mother’s fall was not ordinary. It really wasn’t too serious, but some “stuff” came out on her knee, and my brother and sister said it looked like an infection. I put some garlic and lime water on it, and after a month, her leg was reddish, so I decided to take her to Med Express. The doctor there said it was a serious infection, and that it had probably gotten into her bones or blood, and that I needed to take her to the emergency room. Well, in the hospital, she was put on IV antibiotics, and kept in the hospital for two days. When she got out, her knee was like mush. To make a long story short, she was never the same after being poisoned with antibiotics. And…I found out later that she didn’t have an infection. The situation got worse and worse, with aide number two becoming indispensable to my mother’s care because she seemed to be able to handle her and lift her when others couldn’t.
    But, she started showing herself to be a pathological liar. She wouldn’t let anyone into the bathroom when she was washing my mother. One day I went in and saw a huge bedsore and that her foot had some horrible fungal infection. The final blow was when she came to work with what looked like a cold, and she asked me if she could stay and I said “yes” and that that was what she got between seasons. She didn’t answer. About three days later my mother had pneumonia. It killed her. My brother and I also got it. But here’s something I didn’t know. There are strands of pneumonia that become chronic and can cause heart trouble, atherosclerosis, etc. I am afraid that I have atherosclerosis and other problems now as a CAT scan shows. I was a healthy woman before that. My brother has had by-pass surgery, too, since my mother died.
    I am so very distressed because of my guilt. Every decision I made regarding my mother in the last year of her life was wrong. It is true that the stress was almost unbearable, and with my mother having dementia, she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me what these women were doing to her. It breaks my heart. I will never get over it. I have lost my job, my friends, my personality, my personality, my sanity, and I worry about losing my brother. This is in addition to losing my mother. I feel an intense, horrible pain in my heart, and I feel completely alone. I put several lives in jeopardy. It’s really unbearable. I am so glad when nighttime comes so I can sleep and not be expected to participate in life. I feel responsible for what happened because I should have gotten rid of the aide who was behind every wrong decision that I made. She was horrible, but I kept her and it has changed our lives forever. Now, I have intense emotional problems and intense physical problems. I don’t know which one to dwell on first.

    • Hello Jean,

      My mom passed a few weeks ago and she too had dementia. I thought I would die and it felt like I was coming out of my skin. I now hate dark rooms, have panic (grief) attacks and became claustrophobic (I never suffered from these before). I also did the “What could have I done differently” bit. Know you mom is out of her pain, like my mom is now. In the end she stopped talking, became bed-ridden suffered bed sores and infections after infections. Does it help me knowing she’s in a painless, better, place? Not really. All my logical reasons why she’s better off not being here just fall apart when the pain, the emptiness of my mom not being that constant presence hits me. I don’t know what to do with myself when my mom was my world. I was truly my mother’s son.

      Just know that someone has heard you and you aren’t alone.

      • Hello Frank,
        Thanks very much for your response.
        After writing my piece, things are worse for me. I really think that unending, harsh, and rejecting family pressure on me caused me to change how I did things for my mother on a subconscious level. I just made one mistake in judgement after another. And my mother, with dementia, knew everything that was going on. She knew about people and their motivations–but wouldn’t say anything. She was amazing.
        My sister died almost five years ago and then my mother last year. I am really going crazy with guilt (although I had it from before her death and tried to erase guilt by keeping her alive, if that makes sense.) Maybe I just tried too hard–I don’t know.
        Here’s the horrible part. If I had just tried to make peace with my family, maybe things would have been so much better.
        I am really in hell just thinking I lost my chance to keep my mother alive. I miss her so very, very much. Actually, I feel totally alone now. She was adorable, but one influential family member didn’t like her.
        She had nothing wrong with her physically, and the dementia was stable. She would, though, stand up and try to walk without her cane. That’s one of the things that ended up killing her. As I said before, one aide told the new aide to do laundry, but gave her incomplete instructions, failing to tell her to wait for my brother to arrive to do laundry. The new aide said to me, “What if she falls?” but the way she said that made me think she was asking what to do if she falls. I said, “She isn’t going to fall. Just make sure you are always holding onto her.” She left my mother alone to do laundry the next morning and my mother stood up and fell.
        Oh, the questions and guilt I feel about this are enormous and crippling. I keep remembering new things and putting things together. It feels like hell and that I don’t deserve to live. Something was wrong with me but I didn’t know it. Most of this stuff I have realized much too late!

        Also, later my mother had a small blood clot on her leg from the fall, and it was misdiagnosed as an infection by a doctor and the hospital. It really makes me sick to my stomach. The hospital ended up killing her by pumping her with antibiotics. If only I had taken a warm cloth and put it on her knee. I just can’t say why I didn’t do it. Well, it’s true that the doctor told me In error that she had a life-threatening infection that had probably gotten into her blood and her bones. I rushed her to the hospital, even though my mother said she didn’t want to go to the hospital. Oh, God, help me.
        I hope you are better. Are you?
        Take care.
        Jean

  5. You always hear people regretting g not saying this or that. Then it happens to you. I have only experienced two weeks of pain. I feel sad, devastated and sick. I miss my mum.

  6. can we bring own tromotermoter with use to rent a jon boat

  7. My husbands ex-wife passed away suddenly on May 6th. They have a daughter together, and I have been in her life since she was 5, she is now 17. We live in the same town, so we always saw each other , and her and I worked well with her mom at Co-parenting along with my husband. My step-daughter is weeks away from graduating HS, and then heading off to University in the fall. Her mother was an alum of the school, and she planned everything, they were so excited about decorating her dorm, freshman orientation, everything. My SD (Step-daughter) and I have always been semi-close, but never had a mother daughter relationship, as I was very careful not to interfere with that. The two of them were thick as thieves, best friends really. I have been trying to comfort my SD, and provide support, but she doesn’t want it. She has totally withdrawn from me, and her father. She is living with us now, but is only at the house 60% of the time, as she continues to go to her mothers townhouse to “pack” but nothing gets accomplished. I have asked what I can do, and she tells me I am trying to hard, and that she will come to me if she needs anything. So, I haven’t talked about anything with her about future plans, etc…

    On top of it all, my husbands father and step-mother are reaching out to my SD directly and taking her places. Which is wonderful, but a little history. When my husband and his ex were divorced, they discontinued a relationship with him and took his ex in as their own daughter. We see them twice a year at birthdays and Christmas, as we have two other children together.
    My husbands father has contacted him to tell him how he needs to set up an account for my SD with the life insurance money, as he was still the beneficiary. 1. they have no right to tell us what to do, and I know this, however they have been more or less sneaking visits with my SD and not telling us, or inviting us or the other children. I was told as the memorial by the ex’s friend, that my husband and I couldn’t possibly provide the support my SD needs, because we have two other children. It was also mentioned by my SD uncle that we need to make sure all the insurance goes to my SD, and not to my other two kids. We have no idea even how much the policy was for, we don’t think much only $50,000. But I nor he would ever take her money away from her. But get this, when it came to paying for the cremation, memorial, and all of my SD living expenses, it came out of our pockets. I have kept a log, and I am sad that I had to, but glad I did so that I can pay us back.

    All that being said, my husband and my relationship feels like it could crumble in an instant, as he is basically treated like an idiot by his and his ex wife’s family, and I want so badly to speak up, but he continues to tell me if I get involved I will mess up his relationship with his daughter.

    If anyone can provide me some support, let me know that this type of behavior happens when people die.

    • People become very strange when there is money involved so just be aware of that. It is still too soon after something as devastating as this for your SD to being acting like normal. You have offered your help and that’s the best thing you have done. She will always remember that. Reason why she won’t be acting rationally is 1. She is in shock. 2. She is a teenager and 3. having the “other family” to contend with, who are not 100% on your side. What you have said is pretty much normal for you and your husband to be experiencing. He is very torn at this time so no pressure at all despite your misgivings. This is a very delicate time in all of your lives so tread very carefully as you would not want to destroy what good solid relationships have been built over the years. Don’t rush things. It is still too soon for her to be deciding what to do with her moms things. It’s going to be hard not to do or say anything especially if you are a very outspoken person. Just remember SD is in deep shock … just being there for her is all you can offer.

  8. Karen Alexander-PerryApril 21, 2019 at 9:33 amReply

    My husband passed away suddenly 12/9/19. I kept my promise to him and pulled him off of life support as their was no hope for him after a catastrophic event. He also did not want a funeral, cremation & only a celebration of life. I cry every day over something, a memory, song….doesn’t matter. Some said it’s because I didn’t have closure and when I had my husband’s party it would get better. Well I had the party and it was a wonderful turnout. He is a retired policeman and his brothers in blue showed up in force. This was not a solemn occasion this was a party! This was what he wanted. It was great to hear everyone go up and tell a story or share a memory. It made me more proud of the man I was married to and also more in love with him. But now he’s gone…I put up the front at work but there are times I hide in the ladies room when emotions takeover. I say goodnight and hug his ashes /kiss them/talk to them… The party didn’t give me closure…what does that even mean? It just made me miss him more

    • Hello Karen,
      Your story resonated with me so much. My husband died of oesophageal cancer on November 25, 2018. He didn’t want a funeral, he didn’t want to put me through that. He had a “cremation without ceremony“. Nobody was there, not even me. After his body had been taken from our house the next time I saw him was when his ashes were returned to me in an urn.
      Instead of a funeral Steve organised a party around his birthday in January. It was a wonderful turnout, and again replicating your emotions, I was so proud of my husband. But I am over five months down the road, not one day goes by when I don’t cry for him, for our stolen time and for the emptiness I feel without him. So I am sending you my love and best wishes across the miles. Take care of yourself and hopefully we will all walk in the sunshine soon.

  9. Today, April 17, marks the second year since my 21 year-old daughter was suddenly and tragically killed in a traffic accident. She was a junior at UT Austin–so happy and lovely. I came across this blog just now. Thank you. I am aching and grieving, and expect to do so in some form for the rest of my life. Yet, there is hope and I hold on to it so close.

    • I lost a daughter of 23 in a car hi-jacking incident 13 years ago. I have learnt to adapt to life without her, constantly wondering what she would be like after each passing year. The grief & pain remains because we loved so much. It is the learning to adapt to the void. I have put the incident in a box far away in my mind & if I visit it, it’s like yesterday but feels like 100 years ago at times because I have not seen or hugged her for so long. Grief stays while we learn to adapt to life without that lived one.

  10. it nice to be out here

  11. Thanks to Bridgette for her insightful comments. I think I am going through both the mourning and grieving for my husband who passed away last January 25. I am going through intense emotional and physical pain.

  12. Dear WYG: I love your original article and shared it with other grieving people before you added the preface. It speaks the truth to me and many others who face endless pressures by those in the non grieving world to ‘get over it.’

    I will never get over my partner’s dying and death in 2016 but it doesn’t mean that I’m curled up in a corner. I live a double life, pretending everything is normal at work and with friends and acquaintances who don’t get grief, while crying and writing endlessly about my grief in my time alone at home. I’ve learnt through endless reading that this is normal, healthy, and helpful. Facing up to the pain instead of playing stoic old me, has been life changing in a very positive way. I only discuss my feelings with select people because I’m so tired of other people’s judgement when I speak the truth. I often wonder how many thousands of other people are walking around carrying their grief like an invisible secret?

    Our grief denying society is doing so much harm and articles like yours are badly needed. I’m greatly saddened that you’ve added the preface as it undermines the powerful earlier message that so many people need. The points you’ve made in the preface stood out clearly to me in the original text. The original version was more precious than gold. A million thanks.

  13. I can subscribe keeps coming up as error

  14. Grief is misplaced love, so this article basically tells us we won’t get over that love. Everyone grieves differently but nobody is the same after losing someone so important to them. Again, this is a very touching article and I’m glad I came across it.

  15. I love this!! Thank you for this article! This is one of the best things I have read about grieving.

  16. This article had useful information, but she didn’t explain the difference between mourning and grieving.

    My perfect 20 yr old daughter died in a freak car accident on Labor Day 2014, here one day, gone another. The one thing not mentioned in this article is the difference between mourning and grieving. Mourning is the intense emotional (and for me physical pain) that accompanies the immediate days, weeks, month, years after the death of a loved one. It’s hopeless, all-encompassing and dark and you think you will never recover. My therapist referred to this period as it’s like having a wet, cold, heavy blanket on you that you can’t remove. Like everything in life, everyone experiences mourning differently. I was in mourning for two years after Madeline’s sudden death. I went to therapy; my therapist also experienced the death of a child, her 22 yr old son in a car accident. I worked in the MH field for years and even so, I couldn’t even begin to know how to navigate these waters. For me, therapy was the key to the beginning of the understanding of how I was going to spend the rest of my life. I didn’t go the group therapy route bc, of my professional background and I knew I wanted the floor all to myself. I spent one year in therapy and then I knew what I had to do. Without therapy, I would’ve been floating out there in nowhere. Not knowing how to articulate or understand what was happening to me. It was a Godsend. I believe that everyone who experiences the death of a close loved one needs to go to some form of therapy, you need to talk, cry and understand you’re not losing your mind. Those intense feelings are the price of love. After that and now my “new normal” is when the grieving began. To me, it is the reality of how I will spend the rest of my life. It’s not as intense as mourning, but mourning does come in waves during times when I miss Madeline most, as it “normal” for the loss of a child.

    When the intensity goes away the grieving begins, which I will do for the rest of my life. Grieving is the longing for the person who died, that feeling you get when you open your eyes in the morning, all day and ending when you say goodnight to them. Over time (at least for me) the pain lessens. One friend who lost a child years ago said “In the beginning I had a big rock in my pocket, over time it gets smaller but I’m still left with a pebble and at times my finger hits that pebble and it hurts a little and it reminds me of the burden I carry and how far I’ve come.” My therapist told me the happiest of families recover better when experiencing the loss of a child, which we were. Nothing was left unsaid and all feelings of love were experienced and felt daily when she was alive. That is what helps to heal; we remind ourselves daily that Madeline would NEVER want us to spend the rest of lives sad and living in the past and it keeps us going. God Bless all mourners, I hope what I’ve experienced those who lost someone significant to them. I hope you find comfort and healing as the days pass.

  17. Thank you Eleanor, your article validates what I’ve been experiencing 6 7 months after the death of my son.

  18. I wish I had some of the optimism that some of you have expressed. For me, everyday gets harder not easier. I am in so much pain and agony every moment of everyday. My reason for getting out of bed in the morning is so I can continue to work on his estate as I had promised… I have no idea what I am supposed to do the day after it is closed out. I absolutely, agree I will never recover from losing the love of my life.

  19. I guess it all comes down to this folks:

    Do you want to be lied to or told the truth? If you go to the doctor and have a terminal illness and the doctor tells you “all is well, no worries” does that then mean all is well? NO, your still going to die regardless of the “good news” the doctor spoke.

    He simply did not tell you the truth. This article is spot on (in my opinion). Id rather be told the truth than live in a make believe world or see life thru rose colored glasses. WE will never recover from our loses (there is no way on earth our loved ones will ever come back which is the old real recovery) but we will survive but in a whole other world with (less of everything). That’s the way i see it after 3 years.

    Is life still worth living at this point? Early on i would have said NO, now at least the jury is still out. That’s my only hope at this time. And that’s a lot from a guy like me, my wife tells me I’m a pessimist, I say I’m a realist. It seems like “time” is our only true friend after loss. This is my reality.

  20. Great article! I especially like the part about focusing on warm memories. To me, the worst part of grieving is the first two or three months after a friend has passed. All I could think about was how much I missed him. Then a friend of mine told me she discovered a website where she could create a permanent page for her friend. She felt better as she was creating the page and later when she was feeling down, viewing the page on her smartphone or tablet made her feel better.

    So, I created a page for my friend’s “warm memories” and invited his other friends to contribute stories and pictures to the page. Now we all feel like he is with us. It was a great healing tool! And we are continuously adding funny stories to his page.

    For those interested, the website is http://www.DepartedRegistry.com. There is a nominal one-time fee for creating a forever page, but it has been a BIG help in keeping our focus on the warm memories.

  21. Hello – I’m a social worker working with the bereaved in a hospice program. The word I often use in my work is that grief “softens” over time – it never “goes away” just as the love for your person doesn’t “go away”. But it becomes less painful. Some people find that term helpful…

  22. Thank you WYG my mother has just died and I am glad you are here, feels like having an understanding friend, my way is the poets way.

    They ache

    when it rains

    old familiar pains

    gained playing games

    the wining and the losing

    the right the wrong choosing

    the price we pay for another day

  23. This is just what I needed to see today (some people on same journey) my wife’s funeral was 3 yrs ago coming this weekend.
    Suicide :/ found her in our closet.
    It’s been huge hot uphill battle that has beatin me up bad. … I lost house job n her kids.
    It was me and our 2 year old girl left alone house hunting, with a lot of people saying get over it ;( I just don’t understand the minds n hearts of others.
    After wife’s suicide .. our bf copied her. My close cousin. My nephew. And a few attempts from others…
    It’s hard come up and mention that u feel sad.mad confused. Ur family work n friends saying man up get over it already. Get outta bed !!!
    STOP THE STIGMA … it’s got to be shared more that depression grief n anxiety is for real and is deeper in some than others

    Thank u for sharing and reading

    • Hi Leeson: I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through so much! I pray that the stigma associated with mental health challenges will go away sooner than later. There are so many people suffering, that need help but won’t reach out because they are afraid of what others will say/think. Please hang in there and I’ll pray for you and your little one! Take care!

  24. I’m 22 years out from the death of my husband, and there isn’t a day goes by, even today, that I don’t think about him. He died young, of cancer, and the pain of those first days was horrible.. numbing…lost…thinking I couldn’t go on like this for too much longer. I realized one day that an hour had gone by without pain…then a few hours…then a day…then several days…and the crushing, suffocating pain over time diffused into an appreciation of our time together…always tinged with what could and should have been. As more time passed, I came to reject the idea that I would ever “be over” his death, but would instead have to incorporate his death into my life. Always appreciating what we had, still mourning in a way what could have been. This is a long way of saying it gets better. It takes a while. But it does get better. And the fact that we mourn means – in my mind, anyway, that I had something special…and that over time I felt gratitude for that piece of history that I will never, and should never, erase.

    • What a wonderful commentary Andrea! I lost my husband 3 days after Thanksgiving last year. I am not even 6 months out from losing him and I am trying my best to adjust to this absolutely terrible “new normal” life of mine. I was very moved with what you had to say about your loss of 22 years ago. You have given me the hope that things will get better and I so appreciate your comment – “Always appreciating what we had, still mourning in a way what could have been.” I so feel this way too! But it gives me strength in knowing that it is possible to go forward with my hubby always with me in spirit.

  25. I feel for you Mark – I also lost my 17 year old son (car accident) in 2016. That was the day I became two people (one before and one after). Obviously I prefer the former. A day (really every second) doesn’t go by without regret, guilt, and horrible sorrow along with dozens of other emotions i cant even put into words.

    In 3 years after trying EVERYTHING that i thought would help I finally gave up because i realized, there is nothing that really helps except to bring my son back (which isn’t going to ever happen). Once you lose hope (I’m there now) that’s when the real pain starts. One day at a time as they say.

    The best thing anyone ever said to me was “that’s the most fu&ked up think Ive ever heard of” when he found out what happened. He didn’t give me any BS that doesn’t do anything from everyone else (who hasn’t lost a kid). I wish I had better news for you my friend but i don;t, other than I’m in the same boat as you. Each day is like climbing a mountain. At the end of the night my only “hope” is that i fall asleep and forget about the reality of it all for a while.

    My only suggestion is to take all good things every day that you like (or used to like) and get rid of negative things and people, that helps a little at least.

    That said, we (you / me / everyone on this page) will survive, it just isn’t the same world we now live in.

    • Thank you!
      You have truly expressed every thought I am feeling. It is difficult to put into words. I hope that people read and internalise your words. I too, have lost my 17 year old son. No words can express my feelings! Thank you, Joe!

  26. I am going on 8 months since my wifes shocking and sudden passing from lung to brain cancer. I kiss our companion urn next to my bed good night and good morning. We had just retired after 37 years marriage and 43 years of solid love for each other. We worked hard through most of our life-never really fortunate and struggling financially but we took care of our 4 children and always had a roof over our head-mostly rented. Finally it was our time- we had grand children and we were able to buy our dream retirement home (only due to my Moms passing 2 years prior to my wifes and our inheritance). But we had just entered a wonderful phase of life retirement me at 64 and my wife on back disability. She got all of 2 months of the good life before some evil force decided “enough of that for you”. Now all my wonderful plans for trips- anniversary parties-vacations etc… GONE. The beautiful home? its now a house with all furniture purchases once a plan now put on permanent hold. There is now no need to furnish complete and in style as we had planned. There are 2 empty bedrooms and a basement once to be readied for ultimate “man cave” status is basically just a cluttered unorganized storage place for all our unopened boxes we never go to go through. Its not a home any longer-shes gone- its just a house. I now desperately scramble to find a job just to get away from here for 40 hours a week and remember I retired not do do so and now right back into the rat race I go. What else is there to do? I cannot sit and look at the walls and stare out at our beautiful backyard and inground pool. That was all for her! ALL for her and I was so proud to have brought it to her. Now without her why do I need all this? It was once a perfect fit for the 2 of us- Now alone its way too much . Unfortunately I am allowed to “age on” while she is gone and that too depresses me. I read about those who pass only months after they lose their spouse and how lucky are they? Me? Now I kiss a box of ashes as I enter darkness of my room at night. Then when I get up in the morning and say to myself “not again” I kiss that box good morning. Yeah welcome to my Golden years- the ones I worked my ass off for 40 years to get to with my wife. It was for us to now sit back and celebrate all we did and look forward to all we can do. It was always to be with and for her. Now we were both robbed and grief and I will be partners in life until I am finally rid of it on my own last breath. I did not want this “journey”. I am a changed forever person-one once with so much life and happiness- a good guy to be around of I say so myself. Yeah because of my wife! It was her that made me smile-laugh and be happy go lucky. It was her that made me feel so good that I bought a tuxedo for 4 weddings. We only got to 1 and she missed our 2nd due to diagnosis and surgery 2 days before! The pride and joy tuxedo now shoved away in anger. It was for us- we were Cary Grant and Myrna Loy…now its all gone and over. I have told the kids to cremate me with that tuxedo. I want to be sure I have it with me when I finally see my wife again!

  27. I am not sure I see the benefit of having yet another person tell me I won’t ever recover from my son Brady’s death from suicide at age 16 in 2016. Perhaps it’s clear to others why people who are such desperate pain that they would willingly lie down and die must endlessly be told that they’ll never recover. Personally, I don’t get it.

    • Mark,

      I’m so sorry about the death of your son. My heart goes out to you.

      I want to emphasize for all our readers that there is always hope of healing from the intense pain. Where there is grief there will always be some potential for pain, but hopefully, over time, it will become something a person learns how to live and cope with. Something more manageable and which doesn’t prevent the person from living a life that they find meaningful. Though, I do know this can often take a very long time.

      In saying we don’t recover from grief, I’m not trying to say that we never feel better. Though pain is inherent in grief, I see grief as being more than the nightmarish parts.

      As we said in the article, it is possible for one’s relationship with grief to change so that it begins to play a different role in their life. A role that can still bring pain, of course, but which also connects a person to memories of their loved ones and which represents the imprint that person had on the world as well as the ongoing role they play in the lives of those who continue to love them.

      If this isn’t your experience and/or if you disagree, I completely support you in doing so. Everyone experiences grief differently.

      • I have to say that I agree with Mark. The premise of this article disturbs me. I expect to read something like this on Facebook from someone who has only their own limited experience as their guide. I’ve read and heard things like, “You’ll never get over it!”, “You’ll never be the same!” (and NOT in a positive way). There is such a thing as resolved grief, and as a contributor here, you already know this. No, I don’t want someone to pressure me into ‘speeding up’ my recovery or hurrying to resolve my grief. But some encouragement in the direction of resolving grief would be helpful. I lost my 16 year old son, Micah, last August when he drowned in Lake Erie. And no, I will never be the same. But the EAP counseling, support from friends and family, and the tangible presence of God in our lives is leading towards resolution. Not a quick one, not an easy one, but to eventually be able to reach out to others who are stuck in unresolved pain. It is true that some people will never see their grief resolved. But not because it wasn’t possible. This could be a case of semantics, but if that’s the case, please clarify that in your article. I’m really not trying to be hypercritical, I just wanted to affirm Mark’s feelings and say that they line up with my own.

        • Jason: I’m sorry for your loss. It has been extremely difficult for me since my son died. However, I am much better today than I used to be. For instance, now it may be several minutes after I wake up before I think about what happened with Brady. From where you are now, that may be hard to believe. But I think it’s a realistic hope. I recall one long-bereaved father telling me that one year at least he didn’t realize it was the anniversary of his child’s death until the end of the day. That may not be recovery, but it’s pretty close if you ask me. I’d take it. I hope you get some peace today.

        • Dear Jason,

          First of all, thank you for sharing your perspective. I would never wish to question your experience with grief and healing and, speaking generally, I agree with you about the healing that is possible and, frankly, necessary.

          As I mentioned in the article, semantics and how we talk about grief do seem to be so important in this conversation. If for no other reason than for the fact that so much of grief is unique to the individual and subjective. I wonder if the place where we differ is how we conceptualize grief and the idea of grief recovery. I’ve said much of what I might say here in my response to Mark who originally began this thread so I will try not to be redundant.

          I will simply say that when I say that grief remains a part of our lives I do NOT mean the intense pain of grief. No one should expect to live with the intense pain of grief for their entire lives and, if someone is struggling with pain on any scale that causes them personal distress, I fully believe (as you said) that things like counseling, support, and other methods of coping offer important help towards healing, one day at a time, bit by bit.

          However, as a contributor here, someone who has experienced loss myself and who’s had years of experience working with grieving people, I do not believe that there is such a thing as resolved grief. Resolved pain? Okay. Resolved conflict, both internal and external? Yes. But the grief remains – it just takes a different form. Again, though, this goes back to how you conceptualize grief. I conceptualize grief as a part of the ongoing relationship you have with the person who died, your memories of the past, the feelings that you have around the loss, and many other things.

          Finally, as I said to Mark, I’ve seen how the expectation of finding recovery and resolution can leave people feeling baffled and abnormal when grief continue to have an impact (even if that impact isn’t negative) on their lives. So, rather than grief resolution being the endgame, I’m more comfortable encouraging people to find hope in the belief that you can change the role that grief will play in your life and that you can find healing, purpose, comfort, and an enduring connection.

        • Jason, the biggest take away here is that grief is different for the individual. Your experience is not my experience. My partner died nearly 17 years ago and I feel grief every day. I will never ‘recover’ the way the world around me wants me to. I live life, I laugh, I have fun but I am also deeply sad and some days, the weight of grief feels heavy. Society tends to see recovery from grief as you are back to what you were before that person died, which is ludicrous. As time goes on, society is less willing to grant you the space to grieve. I know this from experience.

          “It is true that some people will never see their grief resolved. But not because it wasn’t possible.” – you may not want to cause offense with these words but you do. You are saying to me that I could have recovered if I really wanted to, I just choose not to. Try to remember that your experience is yours and if you have manged to ‘recover’ that is amazing, special and rare. But please don’t tell other people that they are choosing not to recover.

      • I’m sure you are trying to help. I applaud you for wanting to emphasize that there is always hope for healing. I don’t see that starting off by stressing that we’ll never recover and then returning to that theme repeatedly serves that admirable goal. You are of course aware that bereaved people, especially parents bereaved by suicide, are at much higher risk of suicide than other people. Perhaps it is obvious to everybody how it helps someone in that position to tell them that they’ll never recover. It’s not to me. Even if you later concede that they might recover a little after a long time, I don’t see what positive goal you’re trying to accomplish here.

        • Hey Mark,

          Thank you for sharing your perspective on this. I think it’s helpful for us and hopefully for others as well. I don’t know that we disagree about anything, except how we might define the experience of living with grief or what it might mean to recover from grief.

          I can certainly see your point about how the article seemingly starts off in a way that seems negative. My intent was to quickly qualify that living with grief isn’t synonymous with living a life of intense pain. However, I can see how someone who doesn’t share my perspective (that grief is about more than just the pain) or whose loss is very recent, may interpret this very differently than I intended. You’ve indeed given me something to think about.

          That said, I remain hesitant to say that we ever “recover” from grief. Because I understand grief to be a part of the continued relationship we have with the person who died, the rituals and traditions we continue in their honor, and yes, the pangs of pain that can hit us years afterward on an otherwise good day. My experience of grief, and what I’ve come to understand after working with many grieving people, is that grief is always there, even if it’s just a little.

          I also come from the perspective of seeing people being told they will “recover from grief” and then seeing these people feel confused or abnormal when they find years down the line that grief is still a part of their lives. Or perhaps they find that something brings their grief to the surface years later – maybe a milestone or another important event – and they wonder, why is this still coming up?

          I only mean to normalize this experience and to perhaps reframe the goal of grieving, if you will, from making complete grief recovery to instead, learning how to live with grief. And when I say that, I don’t mean learning how to live with the intense pain of grief, I absolutely believe we need to heal from the intense pain of grief and no one should feel condemned to living with this. Rather, I mean recognizing that scars will remain, but that the scars won’t prevent them from feeling ‘okay’ someday or from achieving a sense of well-being or from finding purpose in life or, most importantly, from living a life that allows them to feel close to their loved one despite their physical absence and which allows them to honor, connect with, and remember their loved one in a way which feels warm and comforting.

          Again, I thank you for sharing your perspective. I think it really highlights how differently we all experience grief. Though we share commonalities, our journeys are all so individual and we can really learn from one another. And as I said, you’ve given me something to think about regarding the beginning of this article and I will think about what I may be able to add to reframe my intent a little bit.

          • I’m sure you mean well, Elizabeth. I’m less sure that you can make a blanket statement that grievers never recover from grief while at the same time maintaining that everyone’s grief is different. Although both statements are very commonly made by people talking or writing about grief, I don’t see how both can be correct. The second denies the possibility of the first. And I think the second is more correct.

            Obviously, I can’t change what happened. Nor am I likely to forget my only son if I live to be 1,000. But neither of these is necessary for recovery. Here are the six relevant definitions of recovery from Dictionary.com, which is as good a source as any:

            an act of recovering.
            the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.
            restoration or return to health from sickness.
            restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.
            time required for recovering.
            something that is gained in recovering

            Of these, only the second is something we can say for sure isn’t going to happen. Brady died and he’s not coming back. (At least if he did he’d be the first ever.) The others are absolutely possible and I absolutely intend and expect to recover in those senses of the word.

          • Thank you Eleanor,
            I think a part of the problem with attempting to discuss the topic of grief and loss is that we have very limited language for much of what we grieve. The western culture is especially impoverished of rituals and observances that lend the respect/honor due to those we love with the fierceness that when we experience their absence, our world as we know it, expect it, implodes and explodes all at the same time. The reason we have such limited language is because we do not engage in conversations of death, grief, and loss. The death of a child is one of those disenfranchised griefs that no one talks about. The out of order death is an enormous complexity of emotions. It is fraught with landmines that can take off a limb at any “tiny” seeming misstep. I have experienced those feelings of guilt over others’ expectations of where I “should” be in my process. Because we are so not practiced in the skill of talking about grief and loss, our semantics operate in a very small window. I appreciate this forum for this very reason. If we can share with each other and support each other and understand that each loss we experience , whether a being, a dream, a plan, will have it’s very unique grief and mourning.

          • Eleanor, Mark, Jason, Chelle, Jody thank you all for your wonderful input on this subject. I have throughly “enjoyed” the discussion. Eleanor you have impressed me immensely. Your having worked with many grieving people enlightens us that grief will always be there, even if it’s just a little. My teenage son’s suicide devastated me and left me childless but in time, I decided to reinvest in life again by having two more. If I hadn’t done that, I honestly don’t think I would have “recovered” as well as I have. Life for me is good again but I am also aware that there will always be a dark cloud above me … I will never be oblivious of that deep loss. So yes it’s good to reiterate that we are all so different in our grieving and to be respectfully aware of our differences.

    • I hear you- I don’t get it either. When my firstborn son Jack Young Jr. died by suicide on his 27th birthday, it was a blow to everyone who knew him. Our family created Particle Accelerator in memory of Jack Young Jr. in response. It’s an annual all day music festival in our sweet little town of Putnam, CT. Local bands donate their time, we have booths with information about how to get help in our area, food, bounce houses, and our Wall of Angels with luminaries. It’s being held on June 8, 2019. We figure, if we can save a life, then he will not have died in vain.

  28. Again, just love your posts… you have a great way of saying it all. Your writing hits the mark.

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