You may hear someone say, “I remember when my mom died…” or whomever they were close to. You may listen to people talk about funeral booking or see a hearse while driving around. Yet, when it comes to grief—the aftermath of death—you aren’t told what to expect, only how you “should” be. Here are a few pieces of grief I’ve learned over the years.
There is a ton of paperwork, and you won’t want to complete it.
Grief impacts reading, writing, and comprehension. This is unfortunate because you’re likely to be handed a crapload of paperwork after your person dies.
What do these terms mean? How did I find out their information? Where did she leave her passwords? Which office should I send this document to?
There are so many questions about paperwork and the unfinished business of your person dying.
However, the paperwork can also be overwhelming for survivors who have perfect documentation, trust, will, and all other information perfectly at your fingertips. When you’re grieving, the only thing you want to do is grieve and figure out how to miraculously survive the next 60 seconds. Trying to go through files sucks, and for some, this process extends weeks, months, and years after their person has died.
Evenings and weekends can feel extra lonely.
“Happy Friday” and “It’s the weekend!” have a new feeling when your person has died. It means you don’t get to spend extra time with them, are absent from the workday distractions, and have plenty of time to think. We’re often left feeling, “Now what? Who am I going to spend my three-day weekend holiday with, shop with, or visit?” Losing the person you love gives you lots of unwanted, empty time.
Grief doesn’t always bring families closer together.
Grief impacts everything and everyone differently. Including family members. We’d like to believe that hard times bring people together. However, this isn’t true for everyone. Before funeral ceremonies and after, families may have conflict.
These are stressful times, and grief can cause friction. You and your family may not agree on arrangements, how to lay the person to rest, what medical decisions were chosen on their behalf, and other critical details. There’s also the comparison game: One person may feel the loss is more significant to them compared to another (“he was your dad, but my husband; they were your boyfriend but my child; she was your cousin but my sister”).
Because guilt and shame often follow grief, experiencing tension in your family may make you feel overwhelmed. It can be troubling to wonder if there’s something wrong with you because your family is fading away.
Another stressor is boundaries being broken. A relative may feel entitled to know all their medical history or want to share details before you’re ready for them to leave the household.
What happens to children? How should they be cared for?
Conflict may also increase if stepchildren and second marriages are involved.
If you’re wondering if it’s OK to take a break from family to protect your mental health, the answer is yes. You aren’t obligated to keep people in your life who cause greater turmoil just because they’re family.
These challenges don’t always last. Couples fall apart because they grieved their child differently. Then, they navigate toward one another. Siblings may grow apart and return years later, or it could be the opposite. The relationship you once had is forever changed and no more. Whatever the situation, please know that you and your family aren’t alone. Navigate with sensitivity knowing your family is also grieving, and yet, give yourself permission to do what’s best for you.
Most people won’t understand why you’re sad years later.
Characters die in movies. If they’re lucky, they get a funeral scene. Beyond that, the show goes out without anyone being sad too long, mentioning them, or realistically responding to loss.
Grief doesn’t stop when the funeral ends. It evolves. There’s grief in everyday living: dinner time, waking up in the morning, daily routines, birthdays, and other holidays. The world continues moving. Friends and family expect grieving people to be “over it” and will encourage them to “move on.” Real grief lasts forever, and the heaviest parts of it can last for years.
People don’t always understand grief, and while that is perfectly normally, I wish I knew that before so I could approach them properly.
Grief will make your brain foggy.
Grief brain is real. If you were a person who rarely made mistakes, always remembered, or could plan and think quickly, grief may change that. The stress of grief demands a ton of brainpower. Your brain is on overdrive, from reminding you of memories—good and bad—to figuring out how you’ll cope. It’s trying to process an event that cannot be solved: why did they die? How did this happen? Is this real?
So, yes, I wish someone had told me why I struggled to remember appointments six months after my person died and it wasn’t that I had become forgetful. It was because of grief. There isn’t a best practice for what to do about this, but it prevents the griever from falling into self-blame about not having it all together mentally.
Small talk seems pointless when you’re grieving (and can be irritating).
Who has time for water cooler chats when your loved one is dead? Those grieving become keener on what has deep meaning and provides value, making anything “light and fluffy” unimportant.
Is your friend calling you to tell you how Starbucks spelled her name wrong?
A relative telling you about the cool car they saw on the way to your home?
Why is this a conversation?
What about someone complaining about their living person while yours is dead?
You’re not rude for having little interest. You’re too emotionally preoccupied to invest in what seems meaningless right now.
Thinking about your loved one less doesn’t mean you’re forgetting them.
Oh, no! I haven’t thought about him in a few hours! Days. It’s been days!
Grieving people are excellent are panicking when they’ve realized time has passed without being consumed by grief or thoughts of their person. Does this mean I’m forgetting them? No, it doesn’t. When your person was alive you didn’t think about them every second of the day. Sometimes weeks or months depending upon the relationship.
Guess what? We remember them enough to grieve them deeply. I became a bit panicky when I went my first day without thinking about my late partner. “I like thinking about him daily,” I said to myself. I was afraid I would forget what his voice sounded like or the details that made him uniquely him. Then, a scent would hit my nose or a movie line would come on, and I’d recall entire moments we spent together.
Healthy distraction is okay. Your mind taking a break from thinking about your person is too. Your mind needs a break and is learning how to integrate loss with the new life you’re forced to live.
You won’t forget them, friend. I promise.
You’ll probably lose friends and gain many others.
This is the part of grief I never expected. I thought I had amazing people in my life. After my person died, however, I found out that my friendships would change. I stopped talking to people I had known for years. Others placed distance from me and checked in on occasion. Relatives responded differently, too. Having relationships change on you during what may be one of the hardest times of your life often feels like an addition loss (because it is). Learning how to build new relationships can be helpful.
New grief triggers pop up over time. This doesn’t mean you haven’t “healed” or something’s wrong with you.
Grief evolves over time and what you find triggering now, you might not later. Or, the opposite could be true. What doesn’t trigger you now, might in the years to come.
For example, seeing first graders could make you sad if your child died. Years later, when it would be their first prom or college graduation, seeing students may trigger your grief in ways it didn’t early on.
The same is true of other losses. Arriving at different seasons of life and having various milestones might may you emotional because your person isn’t here. This doesn’t mean you are stuck in grief or haven’t learned how to cope with it.
This shows that grief doesn’t always stay the same from year to year, and that’s okay.
You don’t have to make meaning out of this.
Finding meaning and purpose out of your grief can be a wonderful thing—if that’s what you choose to do, but it isn’t a requirement. It’s perfectly normal and okay to never start a podcast, write a book, open a nonprofit, or give blood each year in honor of your person.
This doesn’t mean you’re selfish or without purpose. It always isn’t a sign that you’ve “moved on” or haven’t acknowledged the pain. You aren’t a self-improvement project or a fixer-upper. You don’t have to create purpose from tragedy. Surviving grief is enough. You can let the hard thing be hard without making it into something.