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Heart Connections – Long-time Grief

The immediate time after a significant death is terribly painful in a raw, debilitating, and all-encompassing way. Others who witness our journey may feel and comprehend just a fraction of what we really experience. As more years pass, our experience of grief changes, yet we don’t love or miss our child, sibling, or grandchild who died any less.

The ten-year anniversary of my son Connor’s death will come in several months, and I’m already feeling the weight that this significant anniversary brings. Even more lengthy, however, is the amount of time I’ve been a bereaved sibling. I’ve lived over 4 decades since the death of my youngest sister, Patti. When I say this amount of time out loud, it seems impossible. My parents are very senior now, and we are in the process of helping with living transitions that include cleaning things out from a past containing so many decades lived after child loss.

After our sibling, child, or grandchild dies, all our subsequent experiences are filtered through this life-altering change. As I’ve encountered these many years of living that are framed through childhood bereavement for me, and child loss for my parents, my experience is that loss grows in some ways over the years, rather than diminishes. For example, at every significant event in life, such as births, graduations, moves, deaths, marriages, etc., we are missing someone who would have been integral to those experiences. I had fewer sisters to walk with me through all those events. Even decades later, it doesn’t escape my notice and reflection when relatives or friends from my childhood experience their significant life events with all their children and siblings.

As the number of years that we are bereaved becomes quite high, our grief is more internal. Our grief hasn’t stopped and the hard work of incorporating our loss over a lifetime doesn’t end, but it may get more private. We may live in ways that honor our child, grandchild, or sibling while we still wish that it could have been different.

Outsiders sometimes think that parents or siblings who have endured many decades of loss have left that life in the past because so much time has gone by. Just because the pain and processing are more internal, doesn’t mean that we’ve left our loved ones in the past. Our love and longing remain.

If you are a long-time seasoned griever, know that your pain is seen, recognized, and acknowledged. Long-term grief is one of the reasons people stay connected to The Compassionate Friends over many decades. For those who may know a long-time seasoned griever, be sure to give an extra hug and a caring acknowledgment to them, for we know what it takes to carry loss and grief over the extensiveness of a lifetime.

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Comments (28)

  • Thank you Shari O’loughlin for sharing the above regarding long time grief. My son Jason passed on into God’s Heavenly Peace on
    January 09, 2010.
    Your words speak volumes to my heart.
    I will love and miss my son Jason and forever carry him in my heart, he will always be my son and I will always be his mother.
    Sincerely,
    Concetta Yaniero

  • I just started receiving this newsletter. We lost a son 13 years ago and just recently in November lost one of our twin daughters. Our son was 18, our daughter 16. Both were car accidents. To say we are struggling is an understatement.

  • We are in our 7th year living without our firstborn, Tyler, who was 26 and died in a freak accident when a tree fell and a branch pierced his chest, severing his aorta from his heart. In seconds he was gone. Gone.
    Even though 7 years seems like forever to all around you, and to them by now you should be well and truly ‘over it’ and if you aren’t, well, then there is something wrong with you.
    I can say I have progressed through this hellish reality significantly since it happened, but it has irreparably changed me. My psyche has been damaged somehow; I can’t recall things, or find words when I’m talking, just simple words I should know, and it just isn’t there. So frustrating. Also my anxiety has greatly increased. I just thought if I shared that here maybe someone could relate and then know that it’s not ‘just me.’

  • This article is spot on. My daughter has been gone for nearly 17 years and my grief continues. People are always saying to me to be happy. I’d like to but I’m still so hurt by the unnecessary death of my only child. If some of these people had to endure the loss of their child then maybe they would understand. I hope they never have to go through the pain I’ve gone through.

  • Thank you Shari. It is always so comforting to read a message such as this one. Knowing you’re not alone in this world’s journey helps get us through this continuous longing and internal grief. Bless you all for all you do for us..

  • Our son of fifty years died of covid 11/29/ 21. We are totally lost in grief. Friends want to come and stay with us but there isn’t a day goes by that
    we are not controlled by questions that will never be answered, grief attacks that leaves us drained, and images of his death. Hopefully we’ll learn
    to control and focus on other things but as I write I never thought we would know what anguish truly means.

    • Sydney, my nephew died of COVID at age 54, in the early stages of the pandemic. He was a doctor who helped set up a COVID treatment center in the hospital he worked at. It was tragic that months later, he was gone, leaving his wife and 4 children. While life goes on, there are no answers for “why did this happen?” 3 months later, I lost my favorite brother suddenly. It’s been two years but still I struggle with feelings of true anguish, but it’s not quite as bad as last year. A friend of mine shared an acronym she learned at a grief seminar, which I’m trying to work with now. It’s STUG- Sudden Temporary Upsurge of Grief, with the emphasis on temporary. The idea is you recognize when it’s happening, respect it, but know it’s temporary. It’s helped me and I hope eventually it can help you. I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.
      Mary

  • This is so true. Grief knows no time. After the loss of my brother 6 years ago and my nephew 4 years ago I can say that my heart feels the pain as if it happened yesterday. Some days are easier than others. Thank you for sharing this and for putting into words how I feel.

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts about long time grief! Every thing you wrote holds true for me. It will be 25 years this August that my daughter Veronica died. ❤

  • My older sister Mary has been gone almost 20 years, my son Patrick, a little over six years. I was looking for a photo to print and add to my “family photo wall” yesterday and chose a photo from my niece’s wedding this past June. It was a picture of the bride and her aunts and while there were 5 women in the photo there should have been six. I was blessed with 7 siblings, when our mom became I’ll later in her life we all jumped in to help, to do what we could so no one had to do more than they could handle on any given day.
    I worry that since my Patrick died any and all elderly parent issues will fall on my daughter Erin. Whether it’s me or her father or even her step father, there is no one else to assist her or to pick up the slack and since she lives 2000 miles away it could very well fall to my sisters and brothers, for I have that network of support and she, like so many members of her generation, does not.

  • I am a long seasoned griever, having lost my youngest son, at age 21 in an auto accident. That was 25 years ago. As you say,, the grief often turns internal. Sometimes I wonder if my family or friends even remember my son. But now I have another reason to grieve My oldest son was killed in an auto accident just 2 short months ago. An accident that was almost identical as my youngest son. It seems a double whammy. I feel like no one in the family wants to mention this death. He was older and so not as hard to bear for them. Maybe not for them but for me it is heartbreaking and I wonder where to go from here. I think of them both every day. We have one living son and he never mentions either brother. I now carry both deaths and it is beyond sad. No one in the family wants to talk about it. Some even say the oldest son is better off. How? He is still missing, not here to talk to or receive texts from. His kids don’t stop by anymore. Like since their Dad is gone, they don’t owe us anything.
    Walking through the loss of a child is unimaginable, walking through the loss of two is devastating. But one step in front of the other every day. God walks with me.

  • In October, was the immediate time after my significant loss. Here it is almost March, and pain lives where once was joy to just see him everyday. Some weight has lifted, but already, I anticipate the one year Anniversary coming in October. Many thanks for your article. You have given me a guide by which i can measure my growth in carrying heavy grief and loss.

  • I lost my kind and gentle son Elijah “Eli” as he liked to be called by his friends to suicide at the age of 23. On March 9th it will be the 4 year anniversary of his death, No matter how much time passes the pain never goes away. I love and miss my precious boy until my last breath.

  • Thank you Shari for this writing. it is very forthright and so true of all of our grief journeys. its been 22 going on 23 years since my daughter died now and yes we still do carry the grief but have managed to lean into it and make it our friend. thanks again..
    Bonnie Jo’s mom, forever 23

  • This is so very true! I lost my beautiful son Brian, 7 years ago on March 7, 2015 so tragically to suicide. He was only 26 years old. The pain in the beginning was so intense there were times I did not think I would get through it. I have managed knowing that he would have wanted me to continue. I keep his memories alive in my heart and know he is always with me. For some reason this 7 year milestone seems to be opening up old pain that I had not felt so hard in awhile. I think of him as he was right before we lost our son. I keep seeing things I don’t want to see or remember during that horrible and tragic time. I know I have friends and others that have never experienced child loss and think I should be over most of it by now. What they do not understand is that I will never be over it. The pain lessons but it will always be there. It is more internal but there are times, especially lately as March 7 draws closer that my heart just bleeds and I miss my son so much more. I wish my son were here and I can’t help but wonder who he would have been now. Where he’d be and what he’d be doing. He was such a beautiful soul. Just to tender hearted to stay on this earth.

  • Hi Shari,
    I have never posted before but your words describe exactly how it is. I went through the 10 year anniversary of my son’s death on 7/27/21. His name is Gregory Miller and was 23 at the time of his accident. I am his mother, and the suffering is always there but more personal. Thank you for your words as it has confirmed what it is like at 10 years. I just wanted to add that some days the upset stomach and exhaustion are right there with the emotional feelings.

  • Your situation resembles my own, I lost a younger sister almost 50 years ago. I also lost my youngest daughter in November 2020. These two losses are part of who I am. I understand the loss of a sibling, as my 4 other children do. I also understand the loss of a child, as my mother does. This is not an understanding I every envisioned having, but it is my reality. I am working to remember the good things and not focus on what they both missed. I am also happy to believe that they are together in heaven, being the best angels possible.

  • Trent was killed December 7, 2014. December is a hard month for my husband and me. We don’t decorate for Christmas and haven’t for quite some time now. To me, it is just another month going by. Maybe someday I will decorate but right now I just don’t have the desire to. He was only ten and was my life.

  • Thank you for writing about long-time grief. Not much is said about this kind of grief which is throughout a lifetime. It has been 33 years since my son David died. I am 74 years old now and i miss him every day. You are so correct in stating that loss grows in some ways over the years. Compassionate Friends has been such a comfort these long years.

  • Thank you Shari for your acknowledgement of the “Long-term griefer. For me we loss our son Keeyon 16 years ago and the pain never goes away; as you stated. We miss him everyday our pain is processed more internal. The Compassionate Friends has helped me get through decades of grief by staying connected with them through various activities. Our love and longing remains for Keeyon until we see him again. Love his Mom Brenda!

  • Thank you so very much for your article about seasoned grieves. I am one of them having lost my father when I was fifteen years old and then my husband and I lost our oldest son ten years ago when he was 41 years old. Thank you for sharing and understanding.

  • This is a very helpful article. The writer shares a powerful message. I feel her grief & strength. The thirteenth anniversary of my son Jim’s death is this summer. I still miss him so very much. It’s hard to believe that it has been so long. My heart carries his spirit always. I will always miss him too.
    Thank you to the author for her wise words & my heart goes out to her & her family.

  • Shari,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Connor, and Patti with us readers.

    It will be 10 years without my daughter Sandra on March 9th, and I’ve already been dreading this unbelievable “milestone” for weeks. You were absolutely correct about this being more internal – good word for it.

    My thoughts and prayers your way, Donna

  • Dear friends, I am in the middle of intense, raw, stabbing in the heart, grief as I approach my sweet boy .Nick’s, second anniversary of when he transitioned from this earthly life ..He died on 3/31/20 of an overdose and then the pandemic hit…..I have been in an emotional coma and just woke up on his birthday Feb 7 and finally was able to break down…it feels so good to be able to sob and cry ….please keep me in your prayers and remember my Nicky he was my beautiful boy

  • Shari,
    Thank you for sharing. Your comment’s are spot on for me.
    We just went over 12 years without our Ellen and your insight put how I feel into words. We have internalized our grief, and family life events tend to bring the grief back to the surface. From our son’s wedding just over a year ago, to the death of family members and other significant life events – we miss Ellen and wonder what she would have thought/said about these memorable times.
    We plan to attend our first TCF conference in August and already know it will stir our emotions – more so as Ellen’s birthday is the 6th of August.
    Thanks again and take care of yourself.

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