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"I had unknowingly fallen victim to the popular misconception that the pain of a traumatic loss would change for the better after a time. It did not. It has not."

There’s Nothing Wrong With You: On Lasting Grief and How We Deal With Death

After a terrifyingly low period in my mental state over the past few months, I recently googled, “is it normal for grief to be worse in the second year after a death?” I was instantly comforted to find that I was not the only one who had experienced a severe turn for the worse at around the 18-month mark, but it made me concerned for the other people who are and have been in my situation, slogging through the grieving process solo without seeming to make any progress at all, slowly giving up hope. As much as I preach that grief operates on its own timeline, I had unknowingly fallen victim to the popular misconception that the pain of a traumatic loss would change for the better after a time. It did not. It has not.

This feeling leads to a worrisome line of questions: if I unconsciously believed that the pain of my loss would get better after a time, what other subliminal misconceptions about death have been reinforced by the world I’ve grown up in? What kind of damage are we doing to ourselves by living in a society that denies the reality of death and places unrealistic expectations on the bereaved?

For many of us, a 3 to 7 day bereavement leave is all that is allotted following a death. For those with sympathetic employers, that can usually be extended depending upon the severity of the loss, but as anybody who has ever experienced the pain of the grieving process can tell you, bereavement leave in the immediate wake of a death is not realistic. I have needed my bereavement leave more in the past six months that I would have ever needed it in the seven days following the loss of my father.

Acknowledgement of loss in our society does not seem to exist past a certain period of time (a few months at the most), when the bereaved can feel comfortable expressing pain. After that time period, when the shock has subsided and the real emptiness of loss begins to sink in, permeating every aspect of day to day life, many friends and family have moved on from the experience, leaving the bereaved alone to cope with an overwhelming amount of grief with no comfort and understanding.

“You have one year to be as sad as you want, I think.” A friend said to me once, in an attempt to make me feel better. One year is nothing.

We have not been given the tools to realistically cope with loss in the long term, and as a result there are hundreds of thousands of us wandering around wondering if there is something *wrong* with us because we feel more sad now than we did during what was described to us as an acceptable grieving period.

In addition to the unattainable expectations placed upon the grieving process, the romanticism of loss weighs heavily on the minds of the bereaved. We are told in movies, books, and stories from friends that if we work hard enough through our sadness, grief can be turned into something positive, even beautiful. This romanticism can be quite damaging to those of us who, despite tremendous effort, can’t seem to morph our sadness into ANYTHING except more sadness.

I have desperately enrolled myself in support groups, read books on enlightenment through loss, gone to therapy, given back to my community, and read every grief blog and memoir you can think of in an attempt to ease a pain that I was told should be better by now. The reality that I can not replace pain with action has been the most agonizing conclusion I have come to in the past six months.

Aside from the discovery that Chinese food tastes great on top of pizza and that there is a small window after a death when people feel so awkward they will do anything for you (this can really be quite fun), you are not obligated to turn your grief into a teaching moment. You do not need to turn your sadness into something positive.

We need to start using new language so that the bereaved can stop believing that we are damaged when the pain does not go away, or when it gets worse. It’s time to start rethinking the way we address death, as well as the conscious and unconscious expectations that are placed upon the bereaved. Bad things happen for no rhyme or reason, and it is time to start finding ways to embrace the awful experience as a whole, rather than pretend it’s not happening, until it happens to you.

There is nothing wrong with you if you are still sad two years, five years, ten years after your loss. There is nothing wrong with you if all you’ve turned your grief into is an intense love of deep dish pizza. There is nothing wrong with you if you feel like you’re going crazy from the ups and downs of the grieving process. There is nothing wrong with you.

11 Comments

  1. LindaGonzalez
    October 22, 2014

    I lost my child over ten years ago. Oh, I go on, laugh, work, play, and go about my life but without warning it hits me hard and it takes me down. Right now I find myself in tears for you see my daughter didn’t just die, she was murdered and her murderer was given 10 years probation. He never saw the inside of a prison that kills me to know he got away with it, but I must go on for the children’s sake.  There is always a heaviness in my heart that never really goes away. Never.

  2. lemonadesunset
    October 22, 2014

    MorganWoroner DeathSalon Thank you so very much for this article.

  3. abc123
    October 26, 2014

    thank you. my mom passed away 7 years ago when i was 19 at this time and i’ve been taking the time today just to remember and cry. then, i see this article while checking my email.

  4. Rebecca
    October 29, 2014

    I remember the second year being very hard after losing my mother 7+ years ago. The first year, people close to you are more sensitive to your loss. The second year hurt because everyone acts like their absence is normal. I went right back to work after my mother, who was also my best friend, died after an arduous battle with cancer. I have a lingering depression that nothing I do matters because my one and only cheer leader isn’t here to share it with me. Some losses are just that devastating. Thank you for writing this.

  5. C Owens
    October 29, 2014

    After losing my mom 3 years ago today, and my brother last year, I feel like my season of loss is never ending. There’s also the loss of my husbands health, the loss of my job 4 months ago, and my daughter going to college in 8 months. Just listing all of that can be depressing. My faith has helped keep my head up. I’m the queen of trying everything & anything to feel better. Trying to convey my journey without seeming like I’m whining is hard, so I tend to NOT talk about it. It’s a process, this life. And that has to be okay.

  6. ww
    October 29, 2014

    We fear the loss of love more than we fear losing anything and everything else in the whole world. If I lost my son I would die too. His was the most pure and true love I have ever ever known, even if he only was able to express it as he was was facing his own death. Unimaginable in retrospect that he was actually more worried about how I would react and tried to cushion me!!!! The memory of that perfect love will keep me going on forever, even though the cascade effect of his injury left him unable to be so self-aware or expressive again. I know he does love me and I would give up whole worlds before I let go of the love of my child. This has made me aware that what people grieve most of ALLL from the death of a loved one, is the loss of love, whether of our little fur babies (pets) or someone as close as an identical twin – they all take pieces of our hearts with them. We allll just wanna be loved. <3  my amazing beautiful son <3

  7. October 29, 2014

    Four days from now my wife of 39 years, Annie, passed from a terrible cancer.  Recently a gentleman said to me.  Bob, when my wife died my grief was over within 6 months.  It’s now been over 3 1/2 years for you and your still grieving.  Here’s what I told him as I’ve figured this grief thing out.  It quite simple:  “The More You Love, The More You Lose”  and,  “The More You Lose, The Longer You Will Grieve.”  And yes, some folks have died of a broken heart. “If You Love Someone Today, Try To Love Them More Tomorrow.”  “Life Happens.”  “Because of Annie.”

  8. JDB
    November 22, 2014

    I love this article. My dad died 10 years ago, my mom 999 days after him (yes, I counted). And most of the time, it’s not mentioned or talked about by anyone. Like somehow we all agreed to stop acknowledging that the entire universe is fucking upside down now. 
    But it’s still upside down.

  9. Karen Perry
    December 12, 2014

    This is an excellent aritcle.  I lost my three young children and their dad 3 years ago in a plane crash.  The pain has been so bad…and just seems to get worse with time.  Very few people in the world has experienced or really understand this kind of pain.  The article hit the nail on the head!

  10. Tap
    December 13, 2014

    Grief is a very individual thing and it is hard to say what “normal” is but if you are still so profoundly sad that you are not experiencing any joy and or happiness in your life than it may be necessary to seek professional help.  i am not saying that it is not normal to be sad and still feel pain always from time to time but if it never goes away and you are never happy than you need to seek help. Just to let you know that I too know…I have lost my daughter, my father and a brother.

  11. mado
    November 13, 2015

    My deepest condolences to all you who lost a dear one. 

         My mother-in law’s Home Health Aid from Jamaica,  told me on November 2014, before my husband started his chemotherapy, that in the Town she lived when somebody died, two more people within the vicinity  will die around the same time. It gave me the chills. I remembered that when my mother died in 2011 my aunt next door died 2 months after her; and when my father-in law died on 2006 his son -in law who was closed to him died 3 months after. 

    Three month after that, grandma was dead due to neglect in a nursing home while recuperating from Pneumonia; 4 months after, my husband was dead due to the devastating effects of an OD of chemo. While my husband was in agony my aunt died in PR; then my sister’s mother in law died in the USA,  3 months after my husband. All elders over 70-99 years old.

    As dead draw near by my husband, on the weekend of  the 4th of July, I was scared to my bones of how many people died in the ICU unit where he was at. It was a howling night. I kept kissing his forehead and thanking the Lord he was still alive. 

    I  believed in medicine, technology, the nursing staff, the hospital reputation and had deep faith in God he will pull through this. But eventually he died two weeks after 40 days in the hospital  of the devastating side effects of overdoses of Chemotherapy: Bendamustine, Neulasta,  Neupogen and a battery of antibiotics and antivirals. I could not believe the incompetence of the Oncologists and hospital staff who treated and cared for my husband and how deceived we were by the marketing skills of the media and oncologiy staff.

    As I read the comments below of so many losses within a family during a short period of time it reminded me what the Home Health Aid told me and also the Bible story of the “Passover.” 

    It’s been close to 4 months now and taking every single Bereaved class is been offered. One is called a “New Day” because it is actually the stage we are on… all is passed…. you must pick up what is left and  moved on.

    As time goes by and try to put the pieces left together  I come to the realization that when someone you loved  dies it takes away EVERYTHING you dreamed of and believed on. Everything crumples down like the Twin Towers of 911. 

    Your faith in everything you believed on is the greatest loss of all.

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