What the Newly Bereaved Should Know

Today is April 13, 2020. People throughout our country and many parts of the world are keeping a safe distance from their friends, family, and neighbors. While, at the same time, an unprecedented number of people are sick, dying, and grieving.

Quite often, the best thing you can give to someone new to grief is a hug or a shoulder and your quiet but abiding presence. At a time when closeness is the answer, it’s become an impossibility. If you’re newly bereaved, I’m sorry you’re going through a loss in semi-isolation, and I’m sorry all anyone can offer you is grief support from a distance. Hopefully, our readers who are a little further out from their losses will help us fill the void by offering their words of support and encouragement in the comments below.

Hello to the newly bereaved. I’m sorry to meet you here in the place where loved ones leave you — a place where no one wants to be. 

If this is your first time here, you may find it darker, foggier, and more frightening than you expected. If you’ve been here before, you’ll probably notice that things look different than you remember. That’s the nature of this place. It’s always changing, depending on who you’re saying goodbye to.

You may feel incredibly alone right now, so the first thing I want you to know is that there are people who want to help you find your way out of this place. Most people can only join you for parts of your journey, and those who you do and do not see along the way will probably surprise you. But they are out there.

There may be times when you feel let down by your support system, but try and remember, they aren’t trained for this. Most likely, your friends and family have the same good intentions, but varying levels of tact and execution. 

Though providing honest feedback sometimes feels awkward, you’ll get more of what you need if you can tell people what is and is not helpful. Also, try and lean on your loved one’s strengths and forgive their weaknesses at least once. And when all else fails, look for the grief safe havens in your community – the counselors, support groups, and grief centers.

newly bereavedThe next thing you should know is, there’s no trail of bread crumbs to lead you back to your old life. After someone you love dies, life changes. Joan Didion put it well when she said, “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

That’s not to say everything familiar is lost. Some things about your old life are already gone, and some will necessarily change, but some parts will stay the same – you don’t need to know which is which right now. Uncertainty is scary, but it’s normal for things to be hazy. There are a lot of things you can’t know right now, but they will become more evident over time.  

Also, there’s a lot that probably hasn’t sunk in just yet. Many people say the days following their loved one’s death were a blur. You won’t always feel this way. Actually, for many of you, what you’re experiencing is probably more akin to a temporary acute stress response than grief. 

It’s okay to be in shock. It’s okay to feel numb. It’s okay to feel all the things you’re feeling. Grief is a lot of overwhelming things, but it isn’t dangerous. Grief, in and of itself, won’t harm you – though it does mean experiencing some pretty painful things. 

As you become more familiar with grief, try and throw away any preconceived notions you have about it following a set of stages or a timeline with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s so tempting to believe in something that makes grief seem manageable. But how could anything unique to you and your relationship with your loved one possibly be so uniform?

I’m sorry to say; grief can be unruly and unpredictable. Sometimes you hear the rumble of thunder before the grief storms hit, and sometimes they bubble up out of nowhere, but they do always subside. And it’s through weathering these storms time and again that they incrementally become more bearable. Until eventually, you learn it’s safe to go outside even though there’s always the chance grief could cloud your day. 

Yes, “always”. 

Your grief will forever be a part of you because your loved one is forever a part of you – and this is the last thing I want to tell you (for now). Your loved one is never really gone from this world. No, they aren’t physically “here” to look at, talk to, or hold, and that hurts like hell. But in mind, heart, and spirit – as a part of the past, present, and future – they are here.

They are here as long as you are here to remember them. Hold onto this truth as you stand in this place where your loved one has left you and fight for it if you have to. It’s the guiding light that will help you out of this place, and chances are it will be part of the foundation on which you build whatever comes next.


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April 15, 2020

36 responses on "What the Newly Bereaved Should Know"

  1. Thanks for this post. I lost my mum a couple of weeks back. I read a few posts on this site about dealing with grief. Even though I knew it was terminal, when it really happens, the realisation hits you hard. But I guess I’m slowly coping with it. Though i don’t know what will happen in the coming days.
    One thing I am finding tough to accept is how things are normal for my friends and everyone is active on social media or group chats. I know everyone has a different life but I expected close friends to be a bit sensitive. Maybe I’m just wrong and that’s how life is.

  2. It’s lovely to read these posts. I lost my Mum just over a week ago, 14th May and it was sudden. I don’t even know what I’m thinking or feeling, I am with my Dad caring for him as he is unwell. I feel I am grieving both my Mum in her passing, but also for my Dad who has suspected Dementia. The worst thing is he had a brain scan the day before Mum died and we get that results in 6 weeks. I don’t know how I’m going to cope if the diagnosis is confirmed. I didn’t get to see Mum on Mother’s Day because of the virus and they wouldn’t let us see Mum in the chapel of rest.

    I have been dealing with my grief (or not) by caring and cleaning for my Dad. The place was a mess and I am starting to see how unwell he is and requires a lot of care. I am filled with so my guilt that I didn’t do more. I can’t sleep or concentrate and can’t even think about going back to work.

    It’s nice to read these posts to feel less alone and know that others are suffering too. My condolences to everyone who has lost someone…

  3. My Auntie passed two weeks ago. 97 years old and I never said goodbye. I wrote letters to her for two years, but stopped during lockdown because “I wasn’t really doing anything to tell her about.”. Why, why, why didn’t I write to tell her how much I loved her and admired her. The whole family is coping so well, and I’m bringing everyone down, especially my poor wife whose birthday is this week. Here’s your gift, a husband having an identity crisis. Feel like I’ve ruined my life with this selfishness.

    • Dear David,
      Please try to be kind to yourself.
      You’ve done nothing wrong.
      Just do your best now, from moment to moment, going forward.

      And know that, although we’ve not met, you are in my heart with great compassion and love.
      And love never dies, David.
      Please try to remember that.

  4. I lost my father to Covid too. At 27 years old, none of my friends have lost a parent yet, and to them, lockdown and working from home is simply a pain in the arse. Really they are lucky that their biggest concern right now is being stuck at home.

    My real problem is this: nothing my boyfriend does is good enough. I’m so irritable, I keep fault finding. I’m annoyed that he seems happy, or annoyed that the effort he made wasn’t quite right. I love him dearly, but this grief thing has put me in a place where I’m pushing away the person I love the most. I miss my dad so much, and I’m scared of losing my boyfriend because of how I’m behaving, but I can’t stop. Please help.

    • Lou,

      Thank you for telling your story and reaching out. There are no perfect answers to your questions. What you are aware of is really astute and important. Have you told him these things?

      If you can help him give you a cushion to hit against, not literally but metaphorically, then he might have a better way to help you. Can you think of some kind of “trigger message” – a code language – that he or you can use when you are acting in a way you might regret later? It might work as a kind of easy communication stop sign, so that you can catch your breath and rethink before things go south any further.

      It’s also important to have enough time to yourself. No one can grieve for us, and being okay being alone without anything on the agenda so that our mind and body can journey with the grief is important. Keep a notebook at hand and make a running list of all the other things you lost, as a result of losing your dad. It just helps to clarify what it is that hurts so much, and it will be a lot.

    • Lou,
      I think you and I are in a very similar position! I am also 27 and just lost my Dad to COVID-19. I agree, none of my peers understand just how immensely difficult it is to grieve the loss of your parent during a pandemic. I often find myself being upset when my friends complain about working from home….honestly, as someone going through grief I would love to be able to work from home instead of going into work and having to focus on my job!

      Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to talk, I’m on Facebook

  5. I lost my husband January 23, 2020 from traumatic brain injuries he suffered from a fall in April 2019. As his full-time care-giver and advocate for the final 6 months of his life, it has been extremely difficult for me to cope with my loss. Making matters worse, I have been unable to lay him to rest due to the current health restrictions in our country.

    I love you very much, honey, and miss you with all of my heart every moment of every day…..

    The words written here have helped me today. Thank you for your expressions of hope.

  6. Thank you so much for this. This is exactly what I needed today. I lost my beloved father (74) to COVID 4 weeks ago, and then my beloved Grandmother (95) just 2 weeks after that, from natural causes. The day I had feared all my life finally arrived: the loss of my father. We were very close and he was a wonderful man and father – but I spent far too many years in my earlier years (I’m 34) being angry at him for neglecting his health, or fighting over politics and religion. Things that simply no longer matter. (Although I do feel this Country betrayed my father, a proud American, for not taking the Virus seriously sooner, which could have possibly saved his life. He contracted it at church, the only place he left the house to go every week. Had the Country taken this more seriously, the churches might have been shuttered sooner – and he would have been home, which is exactly where he should have been. Those are all the many other complex layer to this process – as is not being able to be with my family, or being able to perform the traditions of a wake and burial, due to the pandemic) The grief i’m experiencing is not at all what I expected. I expected to be inconsolable, unable to get out of bed, not eating, or sleeping. The reality is, I am getting out of bed every day, I am working remotely, and I am trying to good wife to my husband and doing my equal share of cooking, housework, and the very few errands we are allowed to run. I eat because I have to have energy. I sleep because I have always turned to sleep during previous bouts of depression to help cope. These are the only things that have kept me going: I need to keep going, I just must keep going, and I am too overwhelmed by my grief to sit at home all day, and try to process what has just happened. I fear if I do, I will slip into a black hole that I will be unable to pull myself out of. My father always admired my work ethic, my tenacity, and thought I was very “determined”. I am DETERMINED to get through this somehow. I really don’t know how. There is no path, there is no certainty to our future. My heart is absolutely shattered into a million pieces, but is also simultaneously breaking for anyone who is losing someone during this time, or has lost someone ever, period. All I can say to each and every one of you: we are strong as humans. We are resilient. We are tough. We will find a way forward. Love to all of you.

    • Hi Alexandra, I am Alexandra too. I lost my dad (62) to COVID-19 on April 4, 2020. The only way someone can relate to that is if it has happened to them. I was also close with my dad. He was my biggest cheerleader, teacher, therapist, and friend. I agree with you. I too feel like this country failed my dad. I am angry. I don’t have much to say except your post helped me find comfort. I haven’t spoke with a lot of people whose dad died from COVID and everyone who messages me on social media says the dumbest stuff. It will be at least a year until I am able to have a service for my dad, where I live. I am so sorry about your dad and your grandma and I hope one day we can find peace.. right now it feels impossible.

    • Alexandra,

      Thank you for telling your story. I am so sorry for your losses. It’s particularly hard when some of this, to some degree, was preventable, and that this is an unexpected loss.

      What struck out to me in your post was this:

      “The grief I’m experiencing is not at all what I expected. I expected to be inconsolable, unable to get out of bed, not eating, or sleeping. The reality is, I am getting out of bed every day, I am working …”

      It may be that you are in a state of shock, and therefore still able to function quite normally.

      The part of your story that I wonder about is the vision of you, as it were, powering through this, as a coping mechanism to avoid depression. Avoiding depression is very important since, as you put it, it’s a black hole. At the same time, grief is there for a reason. Please keep searching and allowing for ways to grieve this tremendous loss. For if we don’t, depression might well catch up with us.

      My hope is that you will give into grief as much as you can, which I’m sure you’re doing. One way to help with acknowledging our loss is to make a list of all the secondary losses it created, as a result. When we have, in black and white, the enormity of the loss, then we’re better able to allow our grief. It’s a little easier to handle, because it makes more sense. And at the same time, it allows us to honor all of that which we value in what we lost. When we do this, then we can find ways to carry some of that forward with us, in different forms. This helps diminish pain, and may make it worth it to feel the immensity of our pain.

  7. This article really out to be titled, “What every bereaved person ought to know” with updates and bullet points from those who left comments. Jon Blak’s comments especially resonated with me, because although I’m still pretty young (in my 30s), I too fear the diminishing memories of loved ones lost. In fact, I lost my aunt (more like a surrogate mom) when I was 20. As memories fade – I can’t even remember the sound of her voice anymore – and time marches closer to 20 years since she died, I am fearful. Unsure what to expect. I know I will never forget her, but what does it feel like when you knew somebody for 20 years and suddenly they’ve missed 20 years of your own fleeting existence. If I could offer any advice at all, it would be this: 1) Grief comes in waves. At first, they will feel like tsunamis. You’ll learn to swim and keep your head above water. But don’t for a minute think that the waves are over. Sure, they’ll get fewer and further in between, and you meet even be able to feel one coming. But, you could be walking through the mall one day and see somebody who looks like the aged version of your loved one or hear a song on the radio that you wish you could share with your loved one and those times add the hardest, because out of the blue, a tsunami will strike. Grab onto something and hunker down, it will pass, but it will hurt like hell. 2) Every loss is different. You can make your peace with losing somebody before they go and inevitably you will realize one day that the day you are living is the longest amount of time you have gone in your whole life without seeing your loved one. 3) Let your tears fall. Men and women! There is no shame to be had over mourning the loss of somebody or something (pets) that filled your life with love and purpose. 4) Remember, what you resist, persists. If you try to force yourself to “get over it” or “move on” you are just prolonging the sadness. Embrace it. Lean into it. Think of it as honoring the one you lost, because it truly is. Of course, seek out professional help if you need it. There’s no shame in that either. As much as we would all love a guidebook for grief, it’s just not possible. I hope that helps even one of you. Sending love and light.

  8. So very true. I lost my parents in 1991 within 2 weeks of each other to cancer. I was single and thought my world had ended. The first year following was terrible and I cried and felt low quite a lot but I knew my parents were soulmates and wanted to be together. Then in 1993 I met my beloved husband – and my life began again.

    We married in August 1994 and had 2 daughters. We just went so well together and over the years our love grew stronger. He was my best friend, husband, lover and soulmate. He was 10 years older than me but that didn’t matter he was young for his age and always made me laugh until 27th March, 2020 when he sadly passed away after a short illness to pancreatic cancer.

    My world seemed to end that day even though I have my daughters. He was and still is my life. It is a month since he passed and I am heartbroken, miss him terrible and his presence and wit. Part of my died with him that day. I just wish we had had longer together and keep asking God Why and why we could not have longer together. We had a strong and happy marriage and some wonderful holidays and memories which I will treasure. I just hope one day like I told him I hope he comes to take me over when it is my time to leave this world and that we will be together forever. I truly hope so.

  9. On May 3rd it will be two years since my dear husband of 36 years died. That first year the broken thoughts and dense, gray feeling in my chest slowed me way down. I felt like I was standing on the outside of life looking in. People wanted to help but I had no idea what I needed, except to have my husband with me and our life as it used to be. One thing I’m very grateful for is the time I told my grief counselor that I was writing to my husband every day. She said, “Does he write back?” Since then, I write a page, and the next page is all his, though I hold the pen. It’s a comfort to hear his wisdom and encouragement and warmth. Things are hard now with isolation, but not as hard as in that early grief. I don’t know how, but it does get better. One day you will smile and even laugh again. The timing is your own. I send my love.

  10. Just what I needed to read today. I lost my husband on January 7, 2020. He is my best friend the person I started every day with and ended every day with. And he was everything in between. He would be the one to tell me how to get through all of this. He would have had the words when my aunt died in February 2020 and when my brother died on March 29, 2020. So much grief it takes everything to just get out of bed in the morning.

    • I am so sorry….. I lost my husband February 3rd to lung cancer. He was 60 years old. I am 51, we have young children and I can barely get by… I hope your days get easier

  11. So reassuring reading all these comments as we all grief in differing ways and it is ok. I am currently going through another wave of grief so intense as it is nearly 2 years since my eldest daughter took her life. She never got over her older brother’s death when she was only 8yrs old. I also have a son who is struggling with addiction/mental health issues for the past 20 years in and out of rehabs. But I am so grateful I had the privilege of sharing my life with both my eldest son and eldest daughter. I will continue to appreciate both my son and youngest daughter with 3 beautiful children and so am making the most of my life while I am alive……so very precious. Sending much condolences to all who have lost a part of themselves. I can totally relate.

  12. Bernadette Gomez - mother of Forrest GomezApril 17, 2020 at 6:34 pmReply

    My son died only 4 months ago in a very isolated lonely such sad way. I am full of regret, intense pain, and sorrow. He was my only child, my only family, my only person.

    I am crushed by pain daily, and can hardly function.

    I’m counting COVID a blessing because it is the gift of time and space to grieve and not have to rush out to meet expectations.

    The PAIN is physical and heavy on my chest, my heart, my lungs. I pray sometimes to go too, and it occurs to me – how can I.
    But of course I’d never – but here I am asking him and God – why? Why? why?
    Wonder what is left but to exist only to pay bills. Are we slaves of either Satan or God made from clay to return to the Earth?
    If we live again – where IS HE??? WHERE IS HE?? Is he okay? If Jesus meets each soul – then where does he go?
    If he died sinning – can you accept Christ the moment your soul gets to the other side?
    Is his intention to kill himself and die of an overdose, (intentionally since he was already in the death throws and wanted to end it), that and lack of baptism damn him to hell? Or does Jesus meet him, he accepts Christ and is living with Jesus, (or some realm of non-suffering) for forever? Who goes to hell?
    so many stories, and explanations from different beliefs.
    All I can feel is the pain and think my whole life – is 8 feet under.

    I pray and pray and pray for relief, talk to him constantly and try to believe. I want to die too!
    Please will you consider a prayer for him and I?
    Thank you – and God bless.

    • Deborah BezuidenhoutApril 23, 2020 at 2:35 amReply

      Dear Mama Bernadette,
      I know you pain and if I could I would just like to hug you.
      My only child and son Timothy was ‘promoted to glory ‘ very early at the tender age of 22yrs.
      It will be 7 years in August since his death. I know your lonely and grief must be exhausting and be extremely challenging during this lock down time. Read , listen and look at your surrounding inside and outside with God’s word as your lense. I am praying for you . Fondest ,most caring love be felt for you .

  13. Thank you for this article. I lost my Mom on 29 March 2020. I’m so exhausted and confused and heartbroken but this is the first thing Ive read that made sense.

  14. My 22 year old son committed suicide by strangulation on March 13, 2020 . The paramedics worked on him until they got a pulse. He remained in a coma until we were told that his brain would remain in a végétatif State as it was too long without oxygen. We had to make the hardest decision of our lives and take him off life support. He passed away peacefully on March 20,2020 with his family by his side. We take comfort in knowing that he has saved a few lives with the decision we made to donate his organs. May you rest in peace my child. We love you very much.

  15. I lost my beautiful fiancé a week ago tonight. He turned 28 two days ago. He is my fiance, my best friend and my carer as I am chronically unwell. Every single part of my world, we had our wedding booked for next August and we we both absolutely heartbroken we could not have children due to my poor health and discussed surrogacy just 24 hours before this happened (this was one of many many discussions and just how excited we were for the future. My darling Matthew is a part of every single second of my life particularly because I am unwell and I know reading people’s posts it’s all the same and people message saying oh you have the good memories. I can’t even look at a photo or go near our bedroom. I am absolute broken and ready to go with him. I am sorry you all are in similar situations.

    • I’m so very very sorry sweetheart..I wish I could be there and to be able to take your sorrow. I have lost two husbands in my lifetime my Ron left us 17 months ago…I miss him everyday and can’t believe how very quickly our 33 years together went…now I just have memories and disbelief still he is gone from my life….I feel for you so very much…warmest hugs sent with love. ❤😥

  16. Mom passed on, the 14th March 2020, and we went into lockdown, in South Africa the next week…..
    It is so difficult….. not having her here with us, or family to support us, especially dad…. they were married 55 years xxx
    Thank you!

  17. Thank you so much. My mother died in May of 2019; she was 92 and I am 61 now. We were very close our whole lives. Your article really says it all. That life is over and I am still struggling to figure out how to cope with it. And a national crisis sure doesn’t help! But sharing our thoughts on it does.

  18. My wife died two years and four months ago, we had been married for almost 52 years when she died…..I hate the term “passed away”….but though she is gone now I think of us as still married for 55 years on our Anniversary this coming Nov 27th 2020. Though she is gone she will always be my beloved Georgette,. I still speak to her every day, and I can’t wait to join her. She is the first thought in my mind every morning and the last thought in my mind every night when I go to bed. I still cry every day, I know men are not supposed to cry . I dread the thought of diminishing memories as I age, but as long as I feel the pain of her loss, I consider that a good thing, because as long I as I can feel the pain, she still is here, at least in my memory.

    • Jon,

      What a heartwarming story you’ve written. What a wonderful life to have experienced such a deep and loving relationship.

      I hear your desire to keep her presence alive in you. What an honor that is to her and to your relationship.

      You are very fortunate that you cry, as so many men have succumbed to the unnatural habit of resisting tears. Do you feel better after you cry? My dad says he does. I don’t usually. Nevertheless, when reading your account a few things came to mind.

      I’m wondering if there is some way to replace your dread, your fear of diminishing memories, with something more empowering? Might you catch yourself when you find those thoughts in your mind and body (we feel fear in our bodies), and replace them with a good memory? Mindfully putting attention onto a joyful moment or memory is a way to burn happiness into our psyches. It takes effort, because our brains are hardwired to to focus on the negative, for self-protection. Basically, you just focus on the memory and the feelings in your body, for at least 90 seconds. The more we do this, the more we can access joy, simply through accessing our memories.

      Another thing that came to mind. Once when I was driving with my mom in the neighborhood where I used to live, my mom was lamenting the fact that I no longer lived there (I’d moved to another state). My mom was feeling sad at the fact that she could no longer drive to my house and visit me. I wanted to help her move from sadness to a less painful space. I pointed out that she could choose to focus on how lucky she was, that for over 30 years, I’d stayed close to home. This helped her a little, moving from focus on loss, and shifting focus to cherishing what she’d had.

      I’m wondering if feeling the joy might be an option for you, rather than the pain? Could you choose to reminisce in past joys, and still keep her close to you in memory?

  19. Thank you , my wife of 40years died 2 months ago, it is so hard!! I will hold on to this!

  20. This is all so true and good advice as always. I am going on year 2 and still weathering the storms of grief.
    However the intensity and power of grief in the early stages was something nobody who loses a spouse (I had 38 years and she was 62 and I 64 – Just retired!) can ever be prepared for or imagine.
    Truth be told my grieving started 2 months at diagnosis of stage 4 terminal lung cancer and from there I was in a complete fog that lasted well over the year.
    The hardest parts were the regrets-guilt and the never ending woulda -coulda-shoulda`s and the “why didnt I see that” signs.
    I must admit the fog I wander in while still with me is clearing a bit- but not one day goes by where I dont miss her and feel the twinge of pain at the things she has missed ( 2 grandchildren). Its those moments that hurt the worse-the holidays forever are numbing/meaningless and any other time is just time “she deserved to be here”.
    But one thing for sure since I first heard the neurosurgeons beginning words “I`m sorry to tell you this” I was and never will be the same.

  21. Thank you. This is exactly what I needed today. The loneliness of this time in our world is unbearable. Where is the touch of the one you love when you most need it? Empty arms…I have to imagine being held and remember the feel of a hand or smell of the jacket as you lean into the shoulder of the one you love.

  22. Exactly what I needed to read tonight as I lay here missing my son. I’m so glad I found this.

  23. Thank you! Perfectly said!!

  24. Thank you!!!!!

    This helps so much…so sad but true…our old life doesnt exist anymore. Love you my babe….always in my heart xx

  25. This describes grief & your life perfectly. Wish I had read this 29 months ago, but it validates my life then & now.

  26. so beautiful

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