Multiple Losses: When the Tears of Grief Return

By Harriet Hodgson —

Recovering from multiple losses takes time, grief work, and years of self-examination. You do not recover from multiple losses, you learn to live with them. The process requires acceptance, reconciliation, and the creation of a new life. I have lived all of these things.

In February of 2007, my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Two days later, on the same weekend, my father-in-law succumbed to pneumonia. The deaths stunned me. I was still stunned eight weeks later when my brother died of cancer. Then, nine months later, my former son-in-law died from the injuries he received in a car crash.

When people hear my story, they say the same thing: “It’s unbelievable.” I have trouble believing it myself. Two years have passed since my daughter and father-in-law died. Soon I will mark the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My sense of humor has returned and I can tell stories about my loved ones without breaking down. But every once in a while, totally without warning, I start to cry.

Why do I cry? I have identified five reasons for the return of tears and some may be familiar to you.

1. Empty feeling. Kristi A. Dyer, MD, MS, FT writes about painful losses in an article, “Dealing with Sudden, Accidental and Traumatic Loss and Death,” on dyingabout.com. After these kinds of losses Dyer says the “family may be left feeling in a state of perpetual disarray.” Dyeer says family members may have a lingering sense of unease and be disorganized. Though two years have passed I continue to have an empty feeling.

2. Legal/financial responsibilities. One death creates a mountain of legal and financial paperwork. You may find overdue, unpaid bills for example. If one loss creates a mountain of paperwork, multiple losses create a mountain range. In her will, our daughter appointed my husband and me as guardians of her twins. After the twins’ father died we became their legal guardians and fiscal conservators. We manage their trust funds, their assets, and are required to file regular reports with the court. The paperwork is enough to make anyone cry.

3. Personal stuff. My computer is in our office and I use it daily. When I walk to my computer chair I see my daughter’s black purse — evidence of a life cut short. Though we should probably get rid of the purse my husband and I cannot do it. Sometimes my grandson wears his father’s belt and my granddaughter wears her mother’s jacket. Seeing these personal items, hearing them use my daughter’s expressions, make me choke up. How I wish my loved ones were here and could see the twins growing into handsome, responsible adults.

4. Time factor. According to “Coping with Multiple Deaths,” an article on the Facing Bereavement website, recovering from multiple losses “will take longer than just for one loss.” Mourners may have to postpone some activities, the article goes on to say. I postponed activities after each death. Interestingly, I grieved for my loved ones in the order they died. This was not a conscious decision, it just worked out that way.

5. New relationships. Forming new relationships with loved ones is part of the grief work of multiple losses. Therese A. Rando, PhD writes about grief work in her book, “How to Go on Living when Someone You Love Dies.” Accepting death is first on the grief work list. Forming a realistic view of departed loved ones comes next. I have happy and sad memories of my loved ones. Thankfully, I was able to reconcile these memories over time. “You develop a composite memory of him which you can retain,” notes Rando.

All of these points — forming new relationships, the time factor, seeing personal stuff, legal/financial responsibilities, coping with emptiness– can make you cry. But tears are a good thing. We cry because we loved someone and we can be proud of that. In time, our tears of sorrow become tears of joy.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

http://www.harriethodgson.comHarriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists, and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. She is the author of “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD and available from Amazon.Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska, a well-known and respected grief resource center, has published her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life” The company has also published the “Writing to Recover Journal” and the “Writing to Recover Affirmations Calender”

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • David says:

    My wife’s family are all dead or dying. She lost her mother about 12 years ago, her father 8 years ago, her only brother two years ago, her niece with whom she was close earlier this year, and now her nephew is dying of cancer. She tells me she hates me and wishes I was out of her life. I feel for her loss, but I don’t know to deal with this situation. To be sure our marriage of 18 years is not the best, but I would like to know what I could to ease her suffering.

    • You are facing many challenges. Do you have a reliable friend you could talk to? One reliable friend can help to get you through this time. Although I’m not a grief counselor, it sounds like y our wife’s grief has become complex, and she may benefit from counseling. In time, you may consider marriage counseling. I hope things start to look brighter soon.