Hurting the Ones we Love in Grief

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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Confession: Sometimes, I'm kind of a jerk. Actually, I've been an especially large mess during some of the years you've known me on this website. I've allowed emotions like fear, pain, and anger to justify some epically stupid choices; choices that I am a) too smart for, b) that went totally against my character, and c) that have long-term consequences.

Had you told me at the time of my self-destructive, downward spiral that I was acting like a terrible person and going about things all wrong, I would have responded with something like,"You have no idea what you're talking about!" Boy do I feel sheepish now.

I'm just grateful that the people I love and care about had enough faith in my good qualities to stick with me as I battled with my worst. They sure didn't have to. They could have given up on me. They could have written me off or, worst of all, they could have defined me by my demons. In retrospect, I see how narrowly I escaped losing people and things that I don't want to live without.

Part of me wants to write a multifaceted explanation of all the reasons why a person might make bad decisions when they are feeling emotional, beaten up, vulnerable, confused, and depressed. I'm not going to do that, though, because the excuses are endless and they seldom justify causing pain.

This is relevant to grief because sometimes the emotion and stress of grief can make a person behave in ways that they later wish they hadn't. The death of someone you love can feel like such a profoundly earth shattering and unfair experience that you may feel entitled to act any which way you want. And you know what? In many ways your are. But one of the cruelest realities of grief is that it happens in the context of ongoing life. Time doesn't stand still so that you can grieve in a bubble. Instead, your grief plays out in the real world where feelings get hurt, relationships need to be mutually maintained, and where there are consequences for your actions.  

When we are at our worst, we need good friends. After all, having a strong support system has been correlated with positive outcomes in grief. I know some people feel as though they don't have the support they need, but I hope most of you do. Even if you have just one person who sticks by you, who takes it on the chin when you push them away, and who you know will be standing with you on the other side of darkness... Sometimes that's enough.

It's useful for some of us to admit that—when we're at our worst—we can be the worst kind of friend. If this maybe, could be, has ever been you, I'd like to end this post with two thoughts.

  1. Stop whatever you're doing right now and take a minute to appreciate the people who have been there for you. These are the people who help you have perspective; who try and keep you from making mistakes and who love you when you make them anyway; who know what to say and do at exactly the right moment; and who remind you time and again that you are not alone.
  2. If you think there's a chance you've ever hurt these people at any point, acknowledge it and say you're sorry. And then remember that, even though actions have consequences, you are worthy of forgiveness. Whether you feel regret and guilt over something you did before your loved one's death or something(s) you've done in the pain of grief, you deserve to be forgiven. If self-forgiveness is something you struggle, with I recommend the following posts:

Grief and Forgiveness: 12 Tips for Self-Forgiveness

Making Amends in Grief

64 Thoughts on Individual Worth and Forgiveness

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some people to appreciate.


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

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

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

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13 Comments on "Hurting the Ones we Love in Grief"

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  1. M Bird  August 28, 2021 at 9:50 am Reply

    My mother died 2012 I love my wife n kid with all my heart I did something that is totally out of character for me I’m a quiet person I had a affair with the most horrible ugly woman neighbour, and I can’t believe I acted like that I’m totally in love with my wife n kids , what I done I can’t explain why I don’t know I don’t even like the other woman But one thing i know it has ruined our marriage n family still today in 2021 I still can’t understand why I did this I need to explain to my Beautiful wife of 39 years , when my mother died I’ve been to counselling but still nothing is clear I’m a good person but for some unknown reason this happened I have never done anything like this before please anyone’s thoughts big thanks Mike

  2. Michele Gure  February 21, 2021 at 11:18 am Reply

    My 15 year old son wont talk or deal with his grief yet is mad at me for showing mine. Please help

  3. Tanya Lamb  December 30, 2020 at 2:42 pm Reply

    My then boyfriend now ex treated me like a stranger, stopped communicating would not provide me with the details of the funeral arrangements ( I got them after 3 attempts) and then shared that a past love interest was performing 3 songs the day before the fine . I decided to step away at that point. Before his loss we were inseparable. This has been extremely hard because I truly loved and enjoyed him but I knew he would never be the same. His behavior and hurtful treatment leading up to the funeral combined caused me to not attend the funeral. I knew this was not going to be easy for either of us, but the was just more than I could stand. I’m currently grieving the relationship. I wish things did not turn out like this but I just didn’t know what else to do. I had to take care of myself.

    • IsabelleS  December 30, 2020 at 3:28 pm Reply

      Tanya, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. It sounds as though you made the best decision for yourself… but you’re still entitled to feel sad about the loss of the relationship. I hope this website and community brings you some comfort. All the best to you.

    • Jeanne  March 30, 2021 at 10:40 pm Reply

      Hi Tanya, the same thing happened to me… what I call the push-away. We were in love and planning our future and his mom passed. This is a hard pill to swallow because it doesn’t make sense. It brings me some comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in this. My tribe says they understand but they want me to just get over it. I push forward everyday because I have to take care of me. Thank you for the post. And to the author of the article, thank you for writing this.

      • Ebony McCombs  January 22, 2024 at 11:33 pm

        Thanks everyone !
        My husband lost his daughter one year from today the week of her anniversary he began to act weird push me away. And acting as if he wants to be alone . Now he’s I understand grief I’ve lost my dad . And I know you need all the good supportive love ones around , I also know everyone grieve in a different way . But the mistreat & neglect isn’t something I’m willing to deal with because others isn’t treated as such . I’m in a very difficult place with staying or leaving .

  4. Rose  May 20, 2020 at 5:30 am Reply

    It is validating to know that I am not the only one that does crazy things while processing grief. It is powerful and often hard to mange. Thank you.

  5. Anna  December 11, 2019 at 9:21 am Reply

    I have needed this badly today. Thankyou. @KindWoman….that’s ALOT and I hope you’ve found strength & healing.❤️

  6. Suzanne  November 17, 2019 at 6:42 am Reply

    When my friend’s mother died a few years ago, we were there for her even though she lived in another state- consoled her by phone, sent flowers to the funeral, etc.

    When my own mother died 3 months ago, this so-called friend did nothing at all during our grief; thus forcing a permanent estrangement.

    I’ll never figure people out, but won’t spend my life even attempting to try.

  7. Kind Woman  October 10, 2018 at 4:50 am Reply

    2 years ago my late husband went from never having any serious health issues to being diagnosed with terminal sarcoma: exactly seven weeks from the day we found out until he died.
    His mother, with whom I’d never had an unkind word in the 17 years we were together, turned on me just one week after we’d found out, when he was re-hospitalized and she insisted on coming in to see him immediately when he didn’t want her there until he was settled in. I had to deliver the news, since he was getting treatment, and her response was to flip out and throw me under the bus as ‘keeping her from her son’ (he was 51), then blasting me to his whole family to make it look like I was controlling him, etc. (not possible, he was calling all the shots, believe me). This was all done behind my back, my learning of it from another family member that evening. To say that I was blown out of the water by this is an understatement: I had never, ever had any issues with her before, and here she was throwing a temper tantrum at me, at the time when we should all have been supporting each other the most. Granted, she had always been very entitled in general, but I was truly devastated at her capacity for selfishness and hurtful behavior when our world was rapidly falling apart.
    Unfortunately, this created havoc in his last few weeks, leading to our even having to mediate his parents hospital and home visits, incredibly awful. Two days before he died in hospice at home, she begged me to let her pay for his funeral. I refused, knowing that she might play power games, but she cried and wore me down (I’d been up with him for 72 hours) and I relented.
    Suffice it to say, she not only tried to turn his funeral into her personal gotcha (attempting to have his brother rewrite the obituary that my husband had written himself, trying not to allow me to bring the clothes my son had picked out for him to be buried in, and turning the funeral director against me by telling him God knows what, he was criminally horrible to me. She broke me, all because I had said no to her (for him). After the funeral, I wrote her a letter to say that I could not understand how she could be so outrageously cruel to someone who never did anything to her, and the response was that it was just a “misunderstanding” on my part. No apologies or acknowledgement for the pain she had caused both of us in the past two months as he was dying. I then informed her that I was done with them, and cut them off and out of my life. It was a terrible time; I lost both of our dogs within the next few weeks, and so in less than 5 month’s time had lost the entire household (my son is grown and married), everything that was ‘home life’ was just gone. And still the painful burden of the MIL’s actions weighed on me: what did I do to deserve this behavior from her?
    It brought me to seeing a grief counselor a few months later, as I was near-suicidal with it eating me up that someone I’d thought would have my back could turn on me so viciously.
    After a year, she wrote me a letter asking for forgiveness, saying that she’d been to counseling and it had been a grief reaction. It took me several months and lots of counseling to say that I would do so, since she’s in her 80’s, but I will never get over it, and can’t have a relationship with her because I won’t trust her again.

  8. Suzanne MaGee  March 21, 2016 at 6:17 pm Reply

    Boy, this really hit home. It was 35 years ago when my brother was murdered. I was in my twenties. The first year – I just don’t remember it. After the trial, even though the monster was sent to prison for life, I went crazy. I became my alter-ego. I am amazed at the situations I put myself into. I divorced my husband, moved to Dallas and began a new life all along having risky behaviors and bad decisions. Old friends watched over me and new ones just thought that was me. It took a couple of years for the real me to ooze through. I learned a lot about myself and MY demons. Tried to get help but the psychiatrist was inept so I continued to try to do it on my own. Twenty-seven years later I attended a support group for homicide survivors. It changed the trajectory of my life. Three years after that, I found myself working as an advocate for survivors of homicide. I am where I am supposed to be and I know my precious brother is right here with me.

  9. Sandy Frankel  March 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm Reply

    How did you know that this is exactly what I needed today. Boy-this rings true with us right now. Thank you for posting this-you have no idea.

    • Lindà Gardner  March 15, 2016 at 1:02 am Reply

      Thank you,I really needed to read this tonight

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