We have a faulty understanding of grief in our culture. From the ways our professionals are taught, right down through the average friend or family member, most people have no idea what to do in the face of a loss like yours.
What people usually do is jump into helper mode, trying to fix things for you. But especially in that immediate state of shock – the place you’re in when the world has turned upside down and you’re not even sure what the heck just happened – you don’t need someone to “fix” you. You can’t even register what they’re saying. Nothing makes sense.
Everyone else is wandering around as though the universe is the same universe, but you know it’s completely different.
From the outside, people can’t really see or feel how destroyed everything is. They offer support and solutions for things that might have been relevant in life before, but don’t make any sense now: they remind you of things you used to enjoy, or ask what you’re going to do for the holidays. Inside that devastation zone – the first days, weeks, and months after your loss – even short term plans are off the table. Those mundane maintenance things, like eating? Cleaning the house? Finding “distractions”? Irrelevant. None of that stuff makes any sense.
It’s almost like this fog of confusion and disorientation descends. Everything is an irritant at that point.
A lot of people lose their social and emotional buffer in those early days: everything hurts. Everything is offensive. Everything grates. You can’t tolerate even typical smells, noise, sounds, or human activity.
In general, we just don’t know how to help people in that place. When even most professionals don’t know how to help, the average person doesn’t really stand a chance.
When Matt died, I had a horrible time finding support that actually helped – support that didn’t try to sugar-coat my new reality, or fix the things (like sudden death) that couldn’t be fixed.
I want something better for you.
Here are two things that might help:
* The early days of grief really are a world of their own. If you haven’t yet made a list of survival rules for yourself, check out my list. It may seem mundane or ridiculous, but the truth is – survival in that early devastation zone has a very small circumference. Finding things that don’t make this worse is the first step.
The pain of grief isn’t something that can be solved. Suffering, though – suffering is a whole different thing. Stay tuned for the next post in this series: Pain vs. Suffering: knowing the difference makes all the difference.
What has helped you in your own devastation zone? What are some things on your “survival rules” list? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
Right now my survival mode is just getting up each day and doing the basic things we all do and take for granted. Coffee, brushing teeth, showering. All the while I talk to my husband who is now on my dresser in a beautiful urn. I cry, I rage, I curse. I am empty and alone and lonely, but just for him. No one else. At times I want no one else around me. I am just tolerating other people right now. I want to crawl into that urn..I want to be with my husband. I am doing my best to be strong, for who I don’t know..possibly myself. I am angry and hurt and oh so sad.
Joe Rodweller says
It has been a couple months since she left me and I find myself with those same things that you describe plus lots more which I think we must all feel. The one thing I can say is I don’t feel angry in the least bit, the pain and sorrow make up the difference. I do keep asking why and often feel as if she was, or I was, or we were both being punished and that’s why she was taken so early, before we could enjoy our time of retirement. I guess we all go through this, I don’t know.
Janey S says
Oh Joe, your reply resonates with me. I lost my lovely husband in February, he had already retired but I took my “early retirement” at the end of August. Only five months together which were filled with anxiety and pain for us both. Then he passed. I, like you, feel no anger, only immense sadness and pain. There are days I feel as if I will be okay, then days I am plunged back into the despair of the early days when he died. I too, like you Joe, feel as if we are being punished for something, for that can be the only explanation surely? Take some comfort that there are others feeling as you feel. Each day is an obstacle course, some of which I manage better than others.
Les Collinson says
I lost my wife seven years ago we looked forward to retirement,it was not to be. I have my family but the new me is someone who prefers his own company other than my two Labradors. I work that is enough human contact it exhausts me but allows me that human interaction which i feel is important. You are unique,so is your grief don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.I found counseling to be of great assistance it helped me understand how i was feeling both mentally and physically.So sorry for your loss your not alone.
Cindy C says
Les, much of what you shared mirrors my own. We had just retired young and moved to Florida. In just 8 months he was dx with cancer. My husband died 2.6 years ago (or 132 weeks, 2 days). I work for income and human interaction. But you are spot on, it exhausts me. And finding counseling (especially in the age of pandemic) is difficult. But it is helpful when/if you find the right one. But nothing eases this emptiness and pain when you have lost everything that ever really mattered. I’m sorry your your loss. Each passing day brings us one day closer to them.
I ask why all the time. We planned for our retirement but never planned one of us passing away. It was never even discussed, because we thought we had at least 30 more years together ❤
Kathy Mielkie says
I know exactly how you feel. My husband died suddenly 6 months ago and I feel so lost and alone. When they were closing the casket at the funeral I wanted to climb inside with him. I’m angry and sad and nothing feels right. Most people don’t understand how much this sucks, that I’ll feel better “in time”,whenever that is. I don’t enjoy things I used to, I just want him back.
I feel exactly the same way. I lost my husband of 24 years 3 months ago. I cry the whole day. I wake up, cry, bathe, cry, go for a walk, cry, cook, cry, clean the house, cry……Nothing is helping
Celeste Melehan says
You have articulated the loss of my husband as well as yours. Thank you.
Odelya Gertel Kraybill says
This is a great post. I mostly like “The pain of grief isn’t something that can be solved” – I agree. Looking forward to reading the next post.
It’s been 16 months and 14 days since my husband was killed by a drunk driver. One minute he was there and then he was taken from us. I feel pressure from all its been long enough for me to grieve and I need to continue my life. I do continue but I think and include my husband in everything, 30 years of being together I finished most of his sentences. The best part of my day is going to sleep so I can be with my husband Chris in my dream. So 8 hours of the night I am still with him, and he is still with me forever and always.
In those first months, my pastor always greeted me with open arms for a hug while he reminded me to breathe. During the hug he would ask if I was drinking enough water, eating some, sleeping some, and taking walks outdoors. I adopted his survival list as my own. The hugs were important to me not only because I lost my biggest hugger, but because I no longer lived in a region in which hugs were part of our greetings. The reminder to breathe returned a memory to me of a dear friend who could tell I was troubled even from a distance; that friend would extend his arms and then swoop them toward his chest and face with a large inhale before exhaling as his arms pushed down toward the ground. This gesture helped calm me, and my pastor’s reminder to breathe calmed my stuttered, sobbing breathing somewhat. My survival those first months required basics, as you described them, too. Where the dishes were stored or the roses planted no longer mattered. I had lost the love of my life, and words like “deadline” or “dead end” stabbed my sensitivities. Breath, water, food, sleep, loving care…those mattered…still do.
Jan Elvin says
My husband died 10 days ago and I can’t say very much – no words, don’t know how to characterize my world right now. I just want to thank you for the suggestion to take a shower. I couldn’t stop crying this morning. Just cried and cried. When I wanted to stop, I remembered the shower. It helped a little.
J. D'Amour says
I’m so very sorry for your loss. The enormity of which no one will ever understand. I’ve never replied before. I just felt that you deserved acknowledgemento of what you’re enduring right now.it’s too big.One moment at a time right now. It’ll work it’s way up to an hour, etc. Pray. I’ll pray also.
Jan, it’s been a little over 4 months for me. When I do manage to take a shower, the tears flow. When you wrote this, 6 years ago, my sweetheart was still here & I was pregnant with our son. He took my heart when he left & I don’t feel anything but pain.
My whole world ceased when I lost my beautiful wise humble brilliant best friend and husband . A healer himself, a surgeon ,in fact giving back the gift of sight ,a miracle in its own right and the loving devoted father to our 2 sons 20 and 17 . Disbelief that he had succumbed to this horror of a cancer we both believed we could defeat, but we lost , we tried so hard ,had the added advantage of knowing where to get the most up-to-date, latest treatment but to no avail!!!
Widowed at age 49 is incomprehensible but it’s real for me now . Every night for the past 27 years we shared the same bed and it’s all gone right in front of my very eyes !!! What’s is all about !? “. Why us ? ” I used to day to ask him regularly , “Why not us ? ” He’d answer me . it doesn’t matter how nice you are or how smart you are how many degrees you have , how many wonderful Things you’ve done in your life for others ! Cancer Is indiscriminate !
He worried about me and the boys and how we’d be without him … that’s what he told everyone ……..
My 8 year old son passed away suddenly on May 24th after a Leukemia diagnosis only two days before. I am devastated and still very much in a fog. There is very little that matters right now and most do not understand. Your post really resonates with me and I appreciate you sharing how long it can take for just this initial phase. Walks in the park are helpful right now. I have to fit those in. It’s almost as if they bring some feeling back to the numbness.
sweetheart. I’m so sorry.
I lost my Father to heart disease in Dec 2016. He had experienced many heart attacks over the last 39 years along with diabetes. I feel as though I didn’t take his poor health seriously enough because he just kept on going. Denial. He passed peacefully in his sleep in his bed. I have been in a fog of tears, gutted sickly hurt and extreme anxiety ever since. I live in Australia and my family in England. I feel like I’m living in a tunnel and that life going on around me is both unreal and surreal. Reading other people’s experiences is really helpful. This is the first site I have found that resonates with me. Thank you.
The “check out my list” link leads to an article that originally was published 3 weeks after my husband’s sudden death almost 7 years ago. The list is helpful. I still need all the help I can get while I struggle with complicated clinical depression, and concrete suggestions do help. This website, which I discovered only recently, is a Godsend.
Our beautiful 3 year old daughter passed away in July this year after a very short cancer diagnosis. I still can’t believe it’s real, I have just started to venture outside and go shopping. The thought of our first Christmas is breaking our hearts. I don’t know how or when I came about your page but I cannot begin to thank you for the advise. You’ve made me realise I am not insane or doing anything wrong.
Hayley smith says
So sorry for your loss. I too lost my daughter in July 2020, she was 21 … my mother 2years before. I find this page one of the most helpful things , so little help out there and the realisation society has no idea how to treat people who have lost loved ones.
My thoughts are with you… I know the pain you are feeling and the depth of sadness xx
I was so busy in those first months. So much to do. The Hospice lady never called back for some reason even though she said she would and I really wanted to talk to her but I never called! I just stayed busy. Now, two years later, after my health has taken a turn for the worse, I feel like I must somehow go back and capture all the many feelings that are looking for expression.
My husband passed away 19 days ago.
He was so sick and in so much pain the last few months. He was able to be at home for three weeks at the end.
I have such heartbreaking memories of his pain and struggle. I can’t remember anything good right now. I hope in time I will. Most of the last few years I took care of him full time and now my life feels so empty.
My husband passed away on 3/19/21. I think the only things on my list is breathe, eat, bathe,and keep the kids alive. I hurt so bad and have never read words that described EXACTLY what I was feeling until I read this post. Thank you.
Control of the next moment in my life and my children’s life was the order of the day. I tried to make sure they new what was going to happen next in the immediate aftermath of their mother’s passing. Those next few day were completely new to them. Nothing was the same, so to know that their Dad knew what the next hour or day held was immensely reassuring for the. For me, I had to stop every little bit to make sure I was still breathing. Here we are exactly 13 months later and they still want to know that things will be ok. Devastation knows no boundary nor time. Grief can and will wreck any moment of its choosing.
My best friend was killed in March. I have had many more dark days than light ones. All I really want is for her to come back. We were supposed to grow old together.
All these comment resonate with me … I hate being around people. I hate bumping into people cause I get the same question “how are you?” I feel like saying to them “How the f @?! Do you think I am”
Why is grief so exhausting, I am so tired .. I know it has only been 2 weeks but I am tired of being tired… life sucks and I can’t see past it …
I moved in with my Mom to take care of her when the doctors told her she only had a few weeks left from cancer. I knew my step dad would need help and I wanted her to be able to keep her dignity. He died suddenly of a massive stroke three weeks later. My Mom passed ten days later. It seems like I’m in a nightmare I can’t wake up from. They were mid sixties and had so many plans and were such a huge part of my life. I now have to return to what is supposed to be the normal way of living but nothing is normal. The pain is so horrible. It’s been two weeks and I still pick up the phone to call my Mom. I’m glad I found this site. I don’t know how to start to heal.
I lost my Mike after a 20 year exciting life together (on 5/29/21).
Today I burned a tank of gas driving to parking lots, pulling in a spot and crying uncontrollably. Wipe my tears and go down the road to another. I never actually went in a store. I have a handicap placket from him, and found out- nobody pays attention to a senior in a handicap parking spot – so great place to bawl for half hour or so.
As I sit here in tears reading everyone’s stories not sure how to start my own,My Mom passed away 6 weeks ago from Covid complacations,I was able to be with her to tell her goodbye for 6 hrs,She was scared and all alone for 4 days,I called her every day and reassured her that we love her and are proud of her,Now she is gone and my world has been turned all but upside down,I wake like nothing has happened I smile and laugh like nothing has happened however I am lost and dont know where to turn.I force myself to go through the daily task of cooking and cleaning however I just want to lay in bed and cry.3 of my Grandsons live with me,I do my best not to fall apart or cry too much in front of them.My Mom was my best friend my partner in crime,My heart,When my Dad died 4 yrs ago we clung to one another and now she is gone leaving a whole bunch of us to pick each other up.I am lost and so very sad.I miss her so much that it physically hurts.
Stephanie Moricette says
I lost my mom almost 2 months ago. I’m a nurse who has held the hand of dying patients but was unable to do so for her. I promised her I’d never let her die alone and I did. She started her battle with covid a week before her passing., I told her she needed to fight to get better because I needed her. Because over the years she became my best friend. I’d call her twice a day, I received a phone call on a Monday night saying she has taken a turn for the worse. I lived 1100 miles away, it was a 15 1/2 hour drive. I begged and pleaded for her to hang on, to wait for me. She passed away when I was 5 hours away. I was devastated, did I make the right decision, the “ what ifs were coming from every different direction in my head.” I couldn’t stop second guessing myself. I have no idea how to handle this grief, this anger. I want to be with her. I don’t want to be in this ugly world anymore.
I lost my husband 4 months ago due to covid and it was so sudden ,he was never having any disease but this covid destroyed his lungs and took him away from me.From then i am just struggling each day to be alive,it feels like he died one day and i am dying each and everyday without him .He was just 32 and we had lots to go together but covid has killed our life.Question as to why it happened to us will remain with me always.
Everyone’s comments and experiences are familiar to me in some way… it is comforting to know that I am not alone in the intensity of what I feel So many things have been said that could be about me… I thank everyone, and add my prayers and love to everyone in their pain. I lost my Mum, my best friend, at the end of June, to a sudden cancer. After surgery, we all – including the surgeon – believed it was gone, and she started to make an amazing recovery. Then when my dad went downhill fast with dementia, into hospital, into a home, and into the clutches of Social Services, the stress mounted, piled on, relentlessly poured in day after day, and my fighting to protect her didn’t help as she saw the stress it produced in me. I was with her in hospital after her relapse and at the very last moments. The hideous stress of all this has caused me to have a complete breakdown (I was already living with serious depression of 30 years), decline in my father who I now have effectively lost also even though he is still ‘alive’, and the final straw to my already rocky marriage, which is now over as of Friday, when my husband leaves to return to Germany for good, after fourteen years together and overcoming all sorts of obstacles to be together. I identify completely with those who have voiced, “why me?, Why us? what have we done that is so bad to be punished so completely like this?” The pain is indescribable right now and contrary to what all well-meaning friends say, I caNOT see the light at the end of the tunnel, I do NOT want a ‘new start’ without the people I love most, I do NOT want to focus on me, and I already had beent hrough so many trials in my life that strengthened me and others who loved me that we did not need any more purifying or refining or testing or such. All these ideas just ring hollow and hurt even more, despite them having got me through past crisis of which there have already been more than my/our fair share.
Wow all of these posts sit with me in some way, shape, and form..I am at a lost for words most days..I tend to throw myself into work so maybe I don’t have to constantly think…I lost my sister last month..we were 11 months apart and my best friend last year whom I reside with her mother…i feel like I’m in an alternate reality and it’s not real …I have a hard time even looking at her pictures..maybe I’m still in denial ..to be honest I feel so many things and then so empty and angry. I pray I can find some peace and be able to build my life around this whole in my heart..
My precious daughter Tilke, died from nerve pain, depression and anxiety in January 2022. I am so heartsick, feel so broken, am haunted by the things she said to me. I miss her so very much, with every breath. Sad beyond comprehension….