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Does Grief Really Go Away?

Of course, you know the answer to the question in the title. In this article, I want to review many of the ways that grief does not go away. When you approach people who’ve not experienced a significant death in their life, especially the death of a child, grandchild or sibling, and ask, “How can you tell if someone is in grief?”

You often get answers such as, “They are crying, they look sad, they talk about their loved one, they aren’t themselves, they seem out of it.” OK, fair enough. But, what do these same people think when these symptoms are not visible? For many people, they breathe a sigh of relief that the bereaved person is “over” their grief or has “moved on” with their life. Several years ago I did an analysis of the media (radio, TV, newspapers) and found that journalists like to use terms like closure, healed, accept, or recover when talking about a person who has experienced a death. However, these are not terms that bereaved people typically use. The media use of these words only adds to the myth that we “get over” a death.

Because grief is such a complicated array of reactions, it would be amazing if any bereaved person someday totally “had closure, healed, accepted, and recovered.” Several years ago, with input from bereaved people, I put together a beginning list of grief reactions by classifying them into five categories:

Mind

Heart Spiritual Other People Physical

In this article, we will look at the Mind category and see how some of these grief reactions can last a lifetime. In future articles, we’ll examine the other four categories. See if you have found yourself experiencing any of the reactions listed below. If so, well, then—that’s grief.

You may want to give this article to someone to help them further understand how you never will really be “over it.”

Read the grief reactions below along with statements that people say and check the ones that still apply to you today:

Mind

Denial—“I still can’t believe this happened.” Or “I just can’t believe that she (or he) is gone.”

Unreality—“Sometimes this just feels so unreal.”

Time Distortion—“At times it feels so long ago and yet other times it feels like yesterday.”

Avoidance—“There are people, places or things that I still avoid since the death.”

Searching—“I still find myself searching for this person.” Longing & Missing—“I still miss him (or her) being in my life.”

Loss of Shared Communication—“I don’t have the person who shared my ideas or little inside jokes with me.”

Multiple Reminders—“Everywhere I look reminds me of my loss.”

Concentration Problems—“I still have problems focusing on things.”

Memory Problems—Since the death, my memory is still not what it used to be.”

Obsessive Thoughts—“I keep having the same thoughts of my loved one over and over.”

Rituals—“There are things I still feel I need to do in recognition of my loved one.”

Confusion—“I’m still confused about many things related to the death.”

Altered Sense of the Future—“I don’t look forward to the future anymore.”

Desire to Obtain More Information—“There is still a lot about the death I want to know.”

Disruption of Social Clock—“It is wrong that my child (or grandchild) died before me.”

Dreams and Nightmares—“I still dream about her (or him).” Loss of Role—“Since the death, I wonder who I am anymore.”

These are just some of the Mind reactions that people can have for a lifetime. How many did you check? Don’t worry if you checked many or a few. There is not a “score” to add up. e death of your child, grandchild, or brother or sister is something that has forever changed your life. Therefore, while the pain lessens, coping with the many aspects of grief is a lifelong process.

Yola, one of the original Seattle TCF moms put is so well when she talked about the grief of her son after 20 years. She said, “You know, Dr. Bob, grief is unfinished love.” Yes, Yola, you are so right.

 

 

 

Bob Baugher

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Comments (11)

  • Its been 12 years since we lost our David at the age of 21. They called him my twin. some days are nearly impossible to get through, but onward we move, trying our best to not let it show.

  • So far, so good. I am looking forward to the other four articles although I’m not a person who would benefit the most from this list of symptoms that can last a lifetime. Those who would benefit the most are people in my life who are still clueless as to how my daughter’s death has impacted my life. They still think I will recover at some point. They have been waiting three years and almost four months. I have learned to ignore their statements of “You look good. You must be feeling better.” or “You smile more than you used to.” Those are true statements, and I do feel better. There are also times I scream, curl up in a ball, or lie on the couch all day until it is time for bed. One suggestion: I would think that most people reading these articles will be like me. The least little error can throw me off like the “Th” that was left off in this statement: There is not a “score” to add up. e death of your child, grandchild, or brother or sister is something that has forever changed your life. As for how many on the list that I checked off? IDK. I mentally checked off most of them. At least one never has resonated with me, but to tell you which one, I’d have to look back at the article. And I just now read it. Says a lot?

  • I lost my son years before he died. He had been sober for 13 years, and we had rebuilt the relationship we never had when we were both using. Before he got sober, I had made a promise to myself that I would do everything to help ( or not help, when that was appropriate) so that if he died, I could live with myself. I had the same goals when he got sober, and we enjoyed getting to be son and Mom.
    Then he relapsed, and for four years we didn’t see or hear from him.
    My oldest son called me to tell me his younger brother had died. It was a terrible punch in the gut. I wasn’t surprised; I was just sad.
    It has been almost 8 years, and I have learned quite a lot about grief. It never goes away. It hasn’t derailed my own sobriety. I am fiercely protective of my
    recovery. I have been able to live with myself. There was nothing else I could have done. It is still sad, but not an open wound any more. I am peaceful about it. It helps to hear from others about their experience.

  • I recognize “loss of shared communication” because my son was my best friend. He loved that we could share low class humor at inappropriate times. Like, I go into the garage and I say ” Hey, Lee! What are you doing in here? Just Hanging around?” Very morbid. You can guess how he died. He would be laughing, though, I know.

  • I still feel like a failure with my son because he used drugs. I know it was his choice, but I often wonder why – maybe if I had been a better mother –
    even though I loved him and tried very hard to help him.

  • All the comments listed applied to our recent loss.. I lost my young grandson to suicide while he was in the Army. Our life has changed forever.

  • i lost my youngest daughter years ago to a car accident also killing the driver who was at fault….though a tragedy, and very sad, i seemed to accept the death since another family was also grieving as much as i was…..now many years later losing my son to suicide, i am not sure if it is my advanced age, or the shock of this type of death but i am struggling more with coping, and my health has been suffering with all sorts of new ailments. i have accepted his choice (since i must) but my mind and body cannot fathom the pain he must have suffered while taking this step. I avoid many since when they ask how he passed away, the stigma of suicide is not something others wish to know or discuss, therefore many have made a point of avoiding any discussion of my son, including my own family members. I am not sure what the point of commenting on here is, but there are so many levels of grief. (I lost my husband to cancer many years ago but i was prepared for that, and knew it was going to happen) i guess my worse problem now is the stress and actual heart ache (stress cardio myopathy) which has me in a place i do not wish to be but i am making every effort i can to “get over it” ……

  • Thank you for this article. I have felt all of the above. I long to see my beautiful daughter again. Sometimes I feel like I want to go myself so I can see her. I lost my husband four months after her death.

    I feel comfortable and want to talk about her. I have found that people don’t know what to say. It’s just ok to say I’m sorry! I hate it when people say you will get over it, or it will take time. They have no idea as they haven’t experienced the horrible pain of losing a loved one yet. Or her so-called friends who said she was my best friend and never called me on her birthday. Yet void at her funeral never to forget her. I feel jealous that they are getting married and having babies. I feel very alone sometimes but I can’t feel things for my new grandson who died two weeks after her death. Am I going mad?

  • It’s been 29 years; and I’m not “over” losing my 10 year old son. Before Mikey died, I had my doubts about PTSD – not any more. About 10, 15 years ago, I began to realize that my unwillingness to just ‘let my son go’ was not getting alot better. These days I take a prescribed pharmaceutical and my gut-punching PTSD-related depression has lessened.

    I sometimes council grieving parents – I tell them that they’ll never “get over” it. I share my coping method: You never get over losing your child; but you can build a bridge over the abyss; and every now and again, hang you head over the edge and let those tears go – every tear, a drop of pure gold.

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