Why Do I Feel Worse Now Than I Did Right After My Husband Died?

Grief counseling was invaluable to me after I lost my husband, Sid. He was only 56 and died very suddenly.

There were so many feelings during the grief process that seemed to come out of nowhere. Of course it didn’t make my loss less painful, but just having my feelings validated seemed to help a tiny bit.

In our group session one night, our counselor explained the difference between a sudden loss and an anticipated loss. In an anticipated loss, it is as if you are standing on a beach and you see a huge wave coming right at you. But your feet are hopelessly stuck and you cannot escape the wave. You stand there frozen—terrified as the enormous wave crashes towards you. It hits you and tumbles you over and over like rag doll. You find yourself on that beach, bruised, battered and totally disoriented.

The difference between that and a sudden loss is that your back is to the ocean.

I thought that was a great way to explain it. No matter how the death occurs, it is devastating. You still feel awful—but with a sudden death, you just didn’t see it coming.

Because you are in such shock followed a sudden death, the grief is often delayed. My counselor explained that to me, but I guess I didn’t realize how much worse I would feel months after Sid’s death.

About six months after he died, I felt I was doing okay. Not great—but okay. I had lots of supportive family and friends and I was making my way through the maze of paperwork that is overwhelming after a death.

As I entered my seventh month of grieving, I hit rock bottom. I thought that is what I hit the day Sid died, but I was wrong. It was hard to believe, but I was more depressed than ever and felt completely hopeless.

My grief counselor reassured me that for some people—particularly a person whose back was to the ocean, so to speak—feeling worse many months later is perfectly normal. Again, that news did not make me feel a whole lot better but it did help me see that I wasn’t crazy. And that in itself was helpful.

When you think about it, it makes sense. Most of us are surrounded by friends and family right after our loss. People are bending over backwards to help us and be there for us emotionally. But as time goes on, people get back to their own lives. That is normal. But for those of us in the throes of very personal grief, getting back to normal seems impossible. So no wonder we sink into that deep dark tunnel of despair when we are no longer surrounded by all that love and attention.

I think that is what happened to me. I was totally alone for the first time since Sid died, and the shock of his death was wearing off. Coupled with that, I had too much time to think. And that is when reality set in. He is really gone.

I felt worse than I did right after he died. The delayed grief my counselor had warned me about hit me with a vengeance. Just about the time people expected me to be coming to grips with Sid’s death, I was having more trouble dealing with it.

How could this happen? Aren’t you supposed to feel worse right after someone dies? Thank goodness those questions were answered by my counselor. It does happen and it isn’t unusual to feel worse a long time after your loss. Although not quite the same, grief from a sudden death can often return like post traumatic stress.

Unfortunately, I just had to face my grief head on. But months after a death, that seems particularly hard to do. It is almost like you are reliving that awful day you lost your loved one again. And it doesn’t help that people’s expectations are different seven months after a death than they were seven hours after a loss.

All I could do was continue my counseling and work through the grief the best way I could. Life eventually did get better but it was hard to handle the delayed grief.

We are all different in how we cope, but I can only hope that some of my experiences, like dealing with delayed grief, can help someone else see the twists and turns on this dark journey. But I also want others to know there is always light at the end of this journey we call grief.

 

Melinda Bailey 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Melinda Richarz Lyons

More Articles Written by Melinda Richarz

Melinda Richarz Lyons earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas and has been a free lance writer for over forty years. Her articles have appeared in many publications, including "Nashville Parent," "Cats Magazine," "Reminisce," "True West," "Frontier Times," "Kids, Etc.," "Cincinnati Family Magazine," "The Tennessean,"The Fort Worth Star-Telegram," "Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love," and "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers." Ms. Lyons is also a published songwriter, and was the 2004 co-recipient of the Academy of Western Artists Will Rogers Award for Best Song of the Year. She is the author of several books, including "WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty," "Murder at the Oaklands Mansion," and "Crossing the Minefield," the story of her journey from grief to recovery. She has four step children and nine grandchildren and currently lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband Tom.

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  • Sarah Foster says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. The analogy your grief counselor shared about the difference between anticipated loss and sudden loss was extremely well put. It definitely put things into perspective. I think your grief can come back and hit you really hard months later no matter if it is an anticipated death or a sudden death, but in varying degrees. I completely agree that a sudden loss of a loved one would hit much hard when all of your supporters have continued on with their lives and left you with your thoughts. The best anyone can do is take one day, hour, or minute at a time and keep on struggling through the grief.

  • Heartbroken says:

    My husband of 32 years passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack almost a year and a half ago. I am still not over his death & may never be. Life without him is so lonely. I dont you ever get over the lost of you mate that you loved so much. I miss everything about our relationship. Even though he had heart problems with several heart attacks I still was not prepared for his death. And, I dont think I will ever be the same again.

    Just Heart broken forever

  • Kathy Wood says:

    I feel the same way at times. tomorrow is week 5 for me. I didnt realize until this moment why I was so upset last thursday and couldnt function. it was the day he died one month before. I woke up crying that day and cried for most of the day at work, went home and cried some more. I went through the same panic I did the day the nurse called me and told me I had to go home he wasn’t going to last much longer. I kept shaking and couldn’t stop, my heart was racing, and felt like I was losing him all over again. Everyday is a challange and I feel like I am obsessed with his death, I am here at work on my break and thinking about it, I think about him being gone every min of the day. I know that someday I will feel better about it but now all I see is that my husband is gone and I am alone once again.

  • Pattie S says:

    i feel worse now than i did when it happened i thought it was bad when it first happened but its worse now. i miss him so much it digs my heart out day by day. he was killed on our property in a roll over off our hill. i wasn’t able to hug him or tell him how much i loved him i wasn’t able to even get close to him do to the police and ems, i know they were concerned about the about MARK and should be , but i begged to see my best friend, husband, Mark was everything to me. and i feel like i let him down by not being there. but the police said the car was unstable i understand that but i just wanted to hold him and give him my love and say some prayers the last person i know he saw was our wonderful Don. i am very thankful don was there for my MARK but was glad he saw someone he knew. i am not jealous just very hurt that i couldn’t be there for him. we were together 20 years and i never wanted anyone or needed anyone but my MARK and my CHILDREN AND THE LORD. i was happy being his wife and best friend. but i feel so lost without him. why are these feelings so strong now ? any help i would be open to .

  • Judy says:

    Oh my. I am so glad you wrote this. It is over three months since my husband died during surgery. I didn’t think he’d die. The doctors assured us things would work out and so I didn’t go to see him off into surgery because the weather was terrible, zero degrees, and it was so early in the morning. I told him I would be there when he came out. Well it turned out he died without me ever getting to say goodby. I wish now I would have been there when he was wheeled in. We were together 31 years and had a lot of trials throughout our marriage, but I could always count on him to be there. Now, he’s gone and feel I wasn’t there for him in the end. I am having a really hard time living with that. I don’t think about that as much as I have this anxious, panicky feeling that won’t go away. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. I cry a lot. I know this is grief and I have to go through it. But how long? No one knows for sure.

  • stewart says:

    My wife passed away suddenly 4 weeks ago from prescription overdose. I miss and think of her almost all day every day, I dont fall asleep until 3 or 4 in the morning and only sleep till 8 am. I find myself walking around the house all day long in and out, moving things around trying to pick up the house. I am scared to hear that things may get worst for me in the months to come. After I cry for a while or try to do some work or tend to her garden I come back in and feel like maybe I will make it through this, but then I read of others experience months later and how they are hit with all those feeling and then some.
    We were together for nearly 23 years, she passed away 1 week before our anniversary. Did i mention when she od and I was not sure, I could have called 911 sooner than I did and she would be here today most likely, this thought crosses my mind often throughout the day, especially when I go to the kitchen where she finally collapsed. Sometimes as I drive to the store to buy food, I think of what if I just went off the road.
    death no longer seems to be such a stranger to me now, in fact since i am in my 50′s already, I even think sometimes come get me, I am not afraid of you anymore, in fact I don’t think I care. Its ok. but i have 2 younger kids and they still need at least 1 parent and so for now i feel i need to be there for them.
    I have been reading so many posts and websites over the past 2 weeks, and read so many people who have died, i was never so aware of so much death. Im afraid of other things too, like a life alone, I miss snuggling with her at night, lying by her side, talking with her about the day, the kids, what we are going to do about this or that, all i have now is to look at any empty space on the other side of my bed.

  • Thao Doan says:

    My husband of 18 years past away very suddenly at the age of 46y.o exactly 13 weeks ago.I send all my sympathies to all who is going through the pain that i am enduring.I have 2 teenage sons who needs their Mum very much and that is what keeps me getting up in the morning and face each day. Would’nt it be so much simpler to crawl away into a black hole and hide and never have to come out??The emotional,mental and physical pain is so intense you wonder how you make through the day and you can’t see past all the tears.But you realize that life does go on,and the bills keep coming in and you are just another person another number when you try to explain to someone over the phone why your bills are late this month.I sincerely beleive that we will all be ok with time and i’m going to be optimistic about life but i’m not too sure of how i find happiness.I turn to my religious belief for prayers and comfort,and i urge anyone out there if you have a faith try praying.I didn’t think i am the praying kind of person but when something so devastating ,sudden and meaningless happened to you one normal evening just like thousands of any other evenings you share with each other there is nothing on this earth to explain or ease the pain,not even your children ,parents ,sibblings or friends can help you.It’s a long dark journey that we have to face alone ahead but we are resilient creatures and we have responsibilities so to every one out there who has ever lost and loved my heart goes out to you all and know that one day we will all feel lighter.

  • Cheryl Churchill says:

    It is literally 6 months since my husband Martyn passed away from cancer. We only found out about the cancer in November 2012 and were told with chemo he could live another 12 months but sadly before he could start the procedure the cancer spread to his bones, he went into hospital the week before Christmas for an emergency operation and the day after New Years day 2013 was taken to a local hospice where he died on 17th January. I thought then the pain was unbearable but now six months later it has hit me like a sledgehammer that he is gone and will never be coming back. He would have been 65 on 30th July and last year we had already booked a special holiday for September 2013 to celebrate this special occasion. We had no idea of the news that was coming in November. I actually googled today ‘why 6 months after my husband died is the pain getting worse’ and this site was first on the search list. I’m so glad I found it. It helps a little to find out what I’m feeling is normal, I thought I was going crazy.
    I am going to Keswick in the Lake District for his 65th, it is a place we loved and where I scattered his ashes back in April. I’m going to lay a bunch of his favourite flowers under the tree where his ashes were scattered and then go on one of our favourite walks. I’m also going to do a Hawk Walk at a local wildlife centre, Martyn loved owls, falcons, eagles etc and for his birthday I was going to buy him an adventure day flying falcons, I will do the Hawk Walk instead in his honour and as I fly the birds I will think of his spirit flying free over the Lakes we love. x

  • Nyla says:

    I am glad I found this site and it is current. My husband and I retired and moved to Mexico to a place we vacationed for 20+ years and have been here 4 years. He passed away Aug. 28th. I can relate to so many of the things written and am scared of how long this process will take and if I will ever “find myself” without being a part of “us”. I miss him terribly. He was my best friend and my rock. I had been independent when I met him and became very dependent on him through our friendship and love. Now I am lost.

  • Carole says:

    My husband died a week ago after a long illness. He beat the odds and lived longer than expected. I could tell he was getting weaker the last month, but it had happened before and he always rallied. This time it was not to be, they told me he could not come home to die due to the oxygen level he was on. Machines were pumping his heart and keeping his blood pressure and pulse up. It was time to pull the plug they said. The only recourse was a ventilator and once in, he would never get off. He did not want that. When they turned off the machines, he died in my arms in only 15 minutes. His heart was gone. I spent the last 3 years taking 24 hr care of him on a home IV. Sometimes he felt good enough to walk to the car and walk through the store using the cart as a walker or the electric cart. I served all his meals at home, watching the sodium, etc., bathing him, watching TV, renting him DVD’s. he was happy home with me and his cat. Now I am lost and not sure what to do. Sometimes I’m fine, then break down at the smallest thing. Life seems unreal and I am not sure what I am supposed to do

  • Usha says:

    I really relate to what you are sharing and thank you for doing this as it validates and explains to me what I was going through. My husband died over two years ago of cancer. As it was discovered in the very last stages, he barely lasted for eight months and was gone. He was quite active till two months before his death. And so it was sudden in many ways. And for me too, I sank into a depression around six months after he died. I had to take mild medication for nearly one year after that. So I would say it took me one and a half years to get over his death even though I was utterly functional all throughout.

    But I am facing something strange now that I wonder if any one of you have ever experienced. It is now two years since he died and I don’t really miss him although I really loved him and we were inseparable. This feeling of mine, of independence of him, I find strange. Is this denial too? Or maybe I really have moved on and that is okay?

  • Dotty Tsipopoulos says:

    One thing I can say is that regret is part of loss and part of mourning. For those of you who feel they should have done this or that, it is a normal feeling and does not mean that you did anything wrong. When we think back about almost anything, we will ffind things we should have done differently. I lost my husband three months ago in an accident and find myself wishing and wondering how I could have prevented his death. But I have come to understand that we can’t predict the future and we can’t live our lives anticipating loss. This feeling of regret is starting to lift now. I’m sure there are many things my husband would have regretted as well, yet I would never feel that we owed me an apology. We loved our spouses and we did the best we could in this imperfect life. Your regrets will dissipate with time, as your grief takes its course.