“We don’t see many people these days,” my husband commented.
“I know,” I answered. “It’s because of our multiple losses.”
After our twin grandchildren lost their parents in separate car crashes in 2007 we became their legal guardians and conservators — roles that required tremendous time and documentation. Then two more family members died. Grieving for four loved ones while raising grandchildren is the hardest thing we have ever done.
Coming to terms with one death is hard, but coming to terms with four is much harder. According to Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, the American culture does not encourage mourners to express their grief. He makes this point in his article, “Helping Dispel 5 Common Myths About Grief.”
Our culture tells mourners to carry on, according to Wolfelt, to keep our chin up and stay busy. “So, they [mourners] end up grieving within themselves in isolation, instead of mourning outside of themselves and in the presence of loving companions.”
The University of Texas cites the isolation of grief in a website article, “Life After Loss: Dealing with Grief.” It says a person who has suffered sudden loss may have sleep disturbances, nightmares, distressing thoughts, depression, severe anxiety, and social isolation. “The length of grief is different for everyone,” the article explains. “There is no predictable schedule for grief.”
There is no predictable for multiple losses either. My stages of grief were not absolute and often overlapped. It took several months for me to realize I was grieving for my loved ones in the order they died. Though a small group of friends encouraged me to express my grief, they were the exception.
Why do multiple losses increase isolation? In our case, becoming a GRG (grandparent raising grandchildren) made us isolated. While friends were visiting relatives, taking cruises, and attending conferences, we were at home with our twin grandchildren. Our interests are different, too.
The number of losses is another cause of isolation. Bob Deits, author of “Life After Loss,” describes grief as a test of endurance. He thinks it takes at least two or three years to work through a death. We cannot expect someone who is grieving for several loved ones to bounce back instantly. I still have days when I cannot believe my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law died within nine months.
Lack of information about multiple losses also contributes to isolation. Many friends were so stunned by my story they did not know what to say or how to help. The bereaved person has a sense of impoverishment, according to Judy Tatelbaum, author of “The Courage to Grieve,” and needs companionship. Your friends may not be able to provide companionship at this time.
The power of secondary losses is yet another reason for isolation. Each death creates dozens of secondary losses. In some instances, the pain of the secondary losses is greater than the deaths. When my daughter died, for example, I losy Sunday dinners with her, family stories, common interests, such as decorating, traveling with her, and the satisfaction of seeing her excel in life.
Other factors may contribute to isolation. You may have a chronic illness, be a family caregiver, or forced to move. Still, you may get help from friends, your religious community, social services, national groups, relatives and neighbors. We can emerge from our isolation cocoons and soar like butterflies.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson
Multiple deaths in a short period of time does leave one empty of the joy of living. It happened to my family in 1976 when we lost five beloved members within a few months of each other. What each one of our beloved departed had given us is what sustained us. In remembering them, talking about them, sharing stories about them, and even to this day, keeping them alive in our hearts – that was the salve that healed and continues to heal. The emptiness will always be there – through the years we have lost others – young members and old – each death brings its own sorrow. For me, having a young child near to watch grow and help guide and to tell them about their relatives who had a wealth of love, laughter, share of tears and courage to live through it all. Raising grandchildren is something I know a little about – I’ve had that experience too and for me it has been as fulfilling as the first time around in the experience of parenthood – only a bit more challenging!
God Bless you and help you to carry on knowing your children are at peace and your grandchildren are safe.
Grace, thank you so much for your thoughtful and wise comment. I am so sorry for your multiple losses. Our daughter’s death was the most painful for us. Just as you suggested, however, we continue to share stories about them. Some stories have already become part of family lore.
Thank you for your insightful comments. Your last sentence about knowing my daughter is at peace and my grandchildren are save brought tears to my eyes because it is so true. In two days we take our granddaughter to college and my grandson leaves in a week. Though my husband and I will miss them terribly, we have the satisfaction of knowing they are happy and hopeful about the future.
Multiple losses are really hard I’m finding out. Lost my father in October 2008, his brother Jan 2009 and his sister and sister in law in the space of 1 week in November 2009. It’s like I don’t always know which end is up. Who am I grieving for and what am I grieving… after all that’s the end of that generation of that family. Which makes the current generation… mine.
Grief over my dad’s been taking a long time as the secondary losses are quite large compared to the others.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply about multiple losses. In my experience, accepting them takes a long time. Like you, my thoughts were all over the place. I examined my relationship with each deceased loved one and it was helpful because I was able to clarify my feelings. The secondary losses associated with our daughter’s death have been huge and we are constantly reeling with shock. Thankfully, things are calming down. I wish you the best.
I feel your pain, i have also lost loved ones my father in law, then 9 months later my mother in law, then one year later my father and 3 months later my sister. I am not myself at all i use to be so happy and now i cannot find happiness anywhere. I do hope it is out there again somewhere.
I am sincerely sorry for your multiple losses, Tammy. Your comment about hoping happiness is “out there again” struck a chord with me. My latest book, Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss, may help you. It is in production now and should be available in a few weeks from Centering Corporation and WriteLife Press.
I am so deeply sorry for your losses and humbled and amazed by your strength in picking up the torch to raise your grandchildren.
Thank you for this article – it touches on a subject that certainly needs more light shed on it.
I have lost 13 people in the last 3 years (and number 13, my Grandmother, just passed away Wednesday) and it has been extremely isolating. It is so nice to read an article directly relating to something I feel every day. Hearing it outlined here brings a sense of validation and deeper understanding to my own experience, and I hope it sheds light for others as well.
Now, my question is, how do we help those around us understand what people like us need after multiple losses? Can we slowly begin to shift American culture & it’s views on grief, or not? I myself, have worked to find all I need within, not without. But, I would also love to see more awareness and physical/emotional support for people like us who’ve lost so much in such a short time.
I am thankful for this community to bring us together. Perhaps we are already beginning the shift here.
Thank you for your comment, Megan. You have certainly been burdened with losses. In time, we may be able to make American cultre more aware of multiple losses, the secondary losses that go with them, and the recovery challenge. I’m trying to help by writing about multiple losses. You can I can both help by using the term “multiple losses” and our recovery challenges. Most important, we can be grateful for the loved ones we have had in our lives.
Thank you for this. I just lost my father to a sudden heart attack and we were very close. While I haven’t lost anyone else to death recently, I did lose my husband to a very painful divorce, and I’ve lost big parts of my identity to a sudden physical disability I developed 10 years ago. I quite literally went from happy, healthy 22 year old newlywed to bedridden overnight. Just went to bed fine and woke up in too much pain to even function.
The illness was traumatic, but losing my husband was more so. He had been my primary caretaker and sole source of support for years, until I was blindsided by the discovery that he’d been betraying me on multiple levels for most of the marriage. He was an addict and a classicly two-faced manipulator with an excellent mask. After getting out and finally telling a few people what I’d been through, I realized how he had been covertly but intensely abusive for most of the relationship; he isolated me from any outside support and then controlled my exposure to the real world. There were several physical assaults that I denied and minimized in order to survive–thinking we were married, so it couldn’t be “real” assault. The situation and pain of betrayal hit me hard when the blinders fell off and I’ve been dealing with ptsd from the fallout.
My father was one of the most instrumental figures in my ptsd recovery, one of my biggest sources of support, and one of the only people I’ve felt any safety with. The expression and nature of ptsd means I have to fight so hard not to isolate myself. My trauma leaves me feeling so unsafe emotionally and my painful illness leaves me feeling unsafe in my body. Dissociation is how I survived both. I was just beginning to manage some of my symptoms when my dad passed away.
I can’t find any resources on how to deal with grief if you’ve already got ptsd or a trauma history. This article comes the closest. I had a hard time being with my family during the funeral period, as grieving is such a vulnerable experience and I just don’t feel safe. I see a therapist, but I’m really terrified of being isolated again by this grief. I don’t know how to get a healthy balance and it’s so scary to wonder if I’ll lose what progress I’ve made by withdrawing.
I wish I could find more info like this. If you know of anything that may help, please let me know. I’m not afraid of doing the hard work of recovery. But I’m afraid of being alone again.
My losses are in such mass, I won’t even speak of them all. Just the most important ones.
My grandpa, my best friends step dad murdered, and my boyfriends dad died in 3 months of eachother, the following month, my cousin died in a wreck 5days before christmas, one of my oldest life long friends dies the next easter, my step mom that june, my god mom 11 months after my grand mom, and my real mom died in my hands 2months before her. 3weeks later, my cousin was killed, then my dad died in a motorcycle crash, my aunt choked to death 9months after that, then my other grandma died 11 months after them. Then, my moms best friend, one of my best friends and my great aunt in the last year. My other grandpa passed away, and his wife hid his death from me for the last 6 months, and now shes dead. Died june 1st. I found out the 15th, through her obituary, that my grandpa died too!
, I’m at a point where I am afraid to go outside. I have become dissociated with everyone. I don’t care about anything. I am so overwhelmed, its not something I can ever seem to put into words.
I’m not crazy. I’m mentally stalled because of everything but not crazy. I don’t want pills. So what can I do?
I had a stress heart attack two ueRs ago. Followed by foot surgery that left me in pain, nerve damage, and a shrinkng calf muscle and I was told I have bone on bone in my foot. My loved one cared for me but had 3 surgeries one biospy and was told he didn’t have cancer. I called the lab took him right back to the Dr that told him he had aggressive cancer of the bladder. I obtained CT scans that showed renal cancer that had spread to liver and lymph nodes. He died one month later with me by his side in hospice. I cared for him using my knee walker. After he died I had exhaustion and bronchitis for one month. I was then a passenger in a car accident where the vehicle was totalled. The other driver cited for careless driving. I have chronic pain depression anxiety grief and my foot Dr told me I am in no condition to work. Two children financially helped for a few months. Although I am waiting for a disability hearing review and being told I am in no condition to work my 2 children insist I job search and get a job. I have had interviews for 4 jobs but didn’t get an offer. I have another interview next week. Live in house manager with 6 pregnant women 5 days a week pay 340 a week plus food church based program. I am in chronic pain can t stand in foot too long and lack understanding from children. My son said well you can’t afford not to work and many ppl who are disabled work. At time if car accident I asked for ECG shows possible heart attack although I only had hips x-rayed and discharged despite palpitations hx of heart attacks and 100 per blocked right coranary have worked the past 5 years for a lady dr as her Nanny and now my hours have been cut to less than 15 hrs a month. Neurologist said adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression. Accident dr said anxiety and depression. Neurologist said com.plicared case was nerve damage trauma or medical from foot surgery. I have a crappy hmo will see primary in Oct ask for psych referral? Very depressed about my situation , social isolation and lack of understanding from family. Used all my retirement money to pay for health care and 500 month health insurance monthly premiums past two years. Now very poor healthcare hmo running out of money up a creek without a paddle.
I am truly sorry for all you’ve gone through, but glad you could find the words to tell you story. Since I’m not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or grief counselor, I am unable to advise you on the next step to take in life. My writing and responses to posts come from ongoing research and extensive grief experience. It seems to me that the best thing you could do for yourself right now is to see a licensed health professional. I think it would also be helpful to continue to write about your experiences.
Your article touched me as I too have suffered multiple losses in less than one year. I do find myself grieving in isolation as my sisters have all drifted apart and my husband and friends don’t really know what to do or say. The pain is difficult especially at night when you are awaken by bad dreams and find the night then only filled with loneliness and anxiety. All four of my parents died , biological mom and dad, and the step parents. I wish there were more support groups for cumulative grief as it can be very difficult to negotiate through while trying to have a “normal” life.
Your idea of a cumulative grief support group is an excellent one. Maybe you should start it! You could send out feelers in your community via a letter to the editor, a church announcement, or social media. Talking with only one person who has walked the same walk can help tremendously.
Multiple losses are extremely difficult. I lost my husband 26 years ago. Finished raising our 3 children. All are married now. My father died in 2010. My mother came to live with me.all children and families have moved far away my mother passed away last year. Have lost several friends due to death or a move. Had to have my corgi put down suddenly a month ago. While my mother was living with me my sister took an incredible amount of money from her accounts. This betrayal is like another loss. I am now very confused..depressed..feel isolated.
You’ve had quite a journey, Susan, and I’m sending you virtual hugs. It sounds like you did the best you could at the time, and that’s all anyone can do. Painful as it is, you’re not responsible for your sister’s actions. Dogs are marvelous companions, always trying to please people, and you may wish to get another Corgi. He/she won’t replace your former one, but may bring you comfort. These ideas come from a grandmother and experienced caregiver, not a licensed counselor, yet they may be helpful. Do something for yourself in the New Year. You deserve it!
All of my losses have truly opened up my eyes to my community. After my Brother died 18 moths ago, people said “oh I’m so sorrry” online but no one bothered themselves enough to stop by my house. Not one single person. Maybe they were thinking they didn’t want to disturb me but since I’m the type of person that will kick down your door to hug it out if your cat died, I was a little surprised no one even offered to come sit and talk with me.
My closest Aunt died 3 months later and a couple more “sad faces” got posted to my social media wall but not one visitor. Not even a phone call for that one.
My Mother died 8 months ago which a couple people were moved to the point of an actual phone call and offering to get together…if I go to them. Not one person came by to check on me.
To be clear, I don’t live on a mountain peak or a remote island reachable in only certain parts of the year. I live in a highly populated and easy to reach town by private or public transportation.
I’m unmarried with no kids but have traveled a lot with my big dogs who mean the world to me. Of course one of them unexpectedly dies 4 months ago because let’s face it, the Reaper is on some sort of personal vendetta. Not one visit from a friend. I know plenty of friends that don’t like people but love animals and nope, not even the animal crowd can be bothered to say “let’s grab a coffee.”
My Dad died in December. Guess what didn’t happen? Five major losses in just over a year and no one knocked on my door to just check in or sit with me. If I was willing to go to them, they would be happy to schedule out time for me but not one person could be bothered to come to where they know I’m all alone and just be here with me so I’m not sitting in silence by myself for a minute.
I’ve been vocal to my friends that I’m struggling but that doesn’t change their behavior at all. Finally I’ve stopped pretending and calling them back and making them feel like it’s ok. All of the sudden everyone keeps texting, “what’s wrong? are you ok, why are you upset?”
I actually answered one person saying I was upset about everyone dying, my financial situation because of it, my stress, and how hard it is being alone through all of it with a recent surgery. Her response was to ask about the bandages for the surgery. Not “I’m coming over to help you.”
This is our society now. Why should I be upset? The sound bite of those deaths are over, everyone else scrolled past it, why am I still thinking about it? How dare I stop making them feel comfortable? Of course everything is fine in the mass extinction of my family. Who cares if my grief means it takes me 4 hours to crawl out of bed sobbing in the morning, I should definitely get dressed to go out to each person’s residence to go see them to visit if I want to disturb them to talk about my grief…
After all…I am not alone right? Isn’t that everyone’s favorite useless post?
I’m sincerely sorry for your losses Jennifer. The only help I can suggest is to write about your multiple losses. You may do this in a blank journal or on the computer. I’ve found it helpful to set up what I call Action Memorials. First, I identified one outstanding characteristic in each of my departed loved ones. Then I made this characteristic part of my life. For example, my brother loved books so I volunteered at the public library in his memory. Action Memorials keep my loved ones in my life.
I too have suffered multiple losses, my 9 year old son died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1971. We had 5 children then. Then 7 years later my husband died of an aneurysm from a genetic disease called Marian Syndrome. I remarried 3 years later to a wonderful man who was a wonderful step-father. After 22 years happy years together, he died of COPD. I remarried a couple of years later to another wonderful man. We had 12 years together before he died of complications from kidney and dialysis. It’s been less than 2 years since he died and I had to move from SD to MN and is hard explaining my losses to people as it’s overwhelming for them. I seem to be getting more sad as I talk about my losses at a grief support group. Thank you for your time.
I hope life gets brighter for you. I live in Rochester, MN and have for many years. We may meet some day.