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