By Harriet Hodgson —

Nobody expects multiple losses.  If and when they come the pain is unbearable.  ?Who should you grieve first?  How long will you grieve?  Will you ever be happy again?  You want to escape the pain, but it is this pain – a journey through darkness – that leads to healing.

Pat McNees makes this point in her book, “Dying: A Book of Comfort.”   McNees includes one of her own articles in the anthology, “Grief: The Only Way Out is Through.”  As she explains, “The work of grieving, and the only way to get through mourning, is to experience your feelings fully.”  In other words, you start where you are, in emotional pain.

I know about the pain of multiple losses.  In 2007 four loved ones – my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law – died within nine months.  My daughter and father-in-law died the same weekend.  Their obituaries were on the same page of the newspaper and I sobbed uncontrollably when I saw their photos.

My daughter’s death was the most painful because she was only 45 years old.  Accepting my father-in-law’s death at age 98 was easier because he had lived a good, long life.  I felt double grief about my brother’s death.  We had been estranged for 10 years and I not only mourned his passing, I mourned these lost years.  After my former son-in-law died my husband and I became instant GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren.

“Who has the Worst Pain?”  Grief expert Andrea Gambill uses this question for the title of an article on the Good Grief Resources website.  No matter when death occurred or how it occurred, Gambill thinks the pain of grief is agony.  “Mourners feel the pain of grief in direct proportion to their perception of how important the loved one was in their life,” she says, “and that value is entirely subjective.”

Coping with multiple losses takes longer than coping with one. It will take months for you to understand the role each loved one played in your life.  This brings you back to pain.  To survive multiple losses, you need to accept the pain and give yourself permission to sob.  You also need to be on the alert for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Mayo Clinic details this disorder in a website article, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder, triggered by an extremely tragic event, according to Mayo. Symptoms include flashbacks, disturbing dreams, avoidance thinking, feeling emotionally numb, irritability and anger, self-destructive behavior, sleep problems, memory problems, lack of enjoyment, and hallucinations.  You may wish to get grief counseling if you have several of these symptoms.  Do not medicate yourself with alcohol or drugs; they make the pain worse.

Disregard any grief myths that you may hear.  Melinda Smith, MA, Ellen Jaffe-Gill, MA, and Jeanne Segal PhD cite some common myths in their article, “Coping With Grief and Loss.”  The myths:? 1) Ignoring pain makes it go away faster; 2) You must be strong all the time; 3) Lack of tears means you are not sorry and grieving; 4) Grief lasts about a year.  All of these myths are false.

I didn’t succumb to any of these myths.  Thanks to experience, I knew it was better to go with the pain.  Pain pushed me along the recovery path – gentle nudges at first, then stronger ones, then forceful pushes to a new life.  I planned this life and continue to fine-tune my plans.  The pain of multiple losses is like no other and you will get through this pain.  It is what you create from pain that really matters.

Copyright 2009 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet 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 Calendar.”

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four 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 healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, 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 The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her 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 grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit

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