Holiday Grief Is Heavy

Grief is Heavy

The holiday season is upon us…again. I wanted to write something that is meaningful, insightful, and comforting. I find that it makes more sense, perhaps, to share something that is validating. Something that might help you feel seen in your grief. Something that might make the weight you carry feel just a little lighter because grief is heavy. A mother who lost her son tragically to suicide described her grief as heavy...

In the beginning, you don’t have those first thoughts like this is forever. At first, you are dealing with the trauma and the shock and disbelief. Later, you realize that the longer you hold something the heavier it gets and the reality sets in that he’s not here and it is just wrong. You realize the weight of this is forever.

Grief is heavy. It can be especially heavy over the holidays. We often look forward to the holidays with dread and the anticipation of them being over. There are reminders everywhere we turn that someone we love is no longer with us. This makes our grief feel even heavier. The decision to decorate, heavy. Holiday shopping, heavy. Holiday gatherings, meals, heavy. Holiday songs, heavy.

Our hearts feel heavy. It may feel like too heavy of a weight to carry. Maybe, just maybe, that some of that heaviness is the love that we carry, and always will carry, for those that we have lost. Maybe that is what we can carry into this holiday season, the heaviness of love.

-Lisa Zoll, LCSW

(Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull)

How Can I Honor Someone Who I Am Grieving?

My mom had a pretty serious stroke in November of 2013. Not the kind that takes you right away, but the kind that gives you a little bit of time to try to prepare for the inevitable. We visited her and tried to communicate the things that we felt needed to be communicated. One thing that I told her was that her spirit of generosity would live on. She was lying in her bed in the skilled nursing section of a nursing home. She wasn’t able to talk, but her face and her expression told me that she understood what I was saying to her.

Both my mom and dad were generous. When you went out to eat with my mom, you did not pay nor did the friends that you brought along. And to that end you did not argue about it – she paid. She and my dad took life-long care of a fellow teacher, Mrs. Smiley, after her husband died. She didn’t have a family to look after her or make decisions for her when they needed to be made. My parents made a promise to be that family. I remember my mom telling me about a teacher that she worked with many years ago who asked her for a loan. I remember that she and my dad decided that they were in position to help her and they did. These stories left a significant impact on me.

Occasionally, I will pay for the person behind me when I go through the McDonald’s drive-thru in the morning on my way to work. I usually get a large iced tea, maybe an egg McMuffin, or maybe a medium coke. One morning, the person in front of me paid for my order. It was a nice surprise. I decided that I would be more consistent about paying for the person behind me in the mornings when I go through the drive thru. It felt so nice when someone did it for me. So, I started doing it on a regular basis. One morning, my office manager came in with her daily cup of McDonald’s coffee. She said, “You paid for the person behind you this morning and she paid for the person behind her. That was me!”

Perhaps they passed some sort of gene down to me. Perhaps it was the example they set of seeing a need, like Mrs. Smiley or like the struggling teacher, and deciding to respond to that need in ways that left the recipient in a better place than they had been before. Perhaps it is a combination of both. Whatever the case, I’d like to think that I am living up to that promise.

Honoring someone who we have loved is an ongoing way of making meaning for those of us left to carry on their legacy. I encourage you to find a way to honor someone you have loved and has left an impact on your life in some small way that may not only make you feel good; but may also make someone else feel good too.

If we can be of any help at Grief Relief Counseling Services, please contact us through our website at or at 717-522-6111.


What is Traumatic Grief?

Since I started Grief Relief, I have seen many people reach out for help in dealing with the death of a significant person in their life. Often, those who reach out do so because that significant person died under tragic circumstances. This often makes the grieving process more complicated. I began to observe that not only are they dealing with grief but trauma as well. Let’s look at how each are described. Trauma can be experienced when something unexpected happens; there is a real/actual or perceived threat to a person’s safety that threatens to cause a physical and/or psychological injury or death. The threat is perceived to be inescapable. Grief is the loss of someone or something to which there is an emotional connection. When the two happen together, the result is traumatic grief. The unexpected nature of the loss causes grief and is combined with significant emotional distress that is compounded by the trauma experience.

Sudden deaths occur abruptly and without warning and are often shocking to the person receiving the news of the death. The death can be a result of natural or unnatural causes. Some examples of unnatural deaths include an overdose, suicide, murder, or a vehicle accident, or in some cases natural disasters, rioting, terrorism, or war. Natural causes of sudden death might include heart attack, stroke, seizure, hemorrhage, and currently COVID-19. In other cases, there are prolonged and complicated illnesses that steal the loved one away from a spouse, a child, or a parent. There are terminal childhood illnesses that can steal a child away from his or her parents way too soon. You are not ready for the person to be gone. It is a shock to the system. I noticed that people coming into the office who witnessed the death, tended to relive the horrific images. Those who did not witness the death would imagine how the person died and question if and how they might have suffered.

Sometimes it helps to know that there is a name for what we are experiencing. The grief that these individuals may experience is defined as traumatic grief. It is where trauma and grief intersect. When they occur together, subsequent reactions can be prolonged, distressing and complicated. It is difficult to separate the trauma from the grief. Traumatic grief is defined as the death of a significant other that usually includes distressing thoughts of the event. Whenever someone deals with a sudden death, they are, in fact, dealing a traumatic death because of the suddenness and lack of warning. Traumatic grief, following a sudden death, is often present for the mourner for at least a period of time.

As you can see from the chart, there are areas where the two do overlap. Both trauma and grief involve intrusive thoughts and memories of the event. Traumatic memories focus on the negative aspects of the event while grief memories may be either negative or positive in nature. Both involve the sensation of anxiety. The anxiety in trauma is related to fear or the threat to one’s safety while the anxiety experienced in grief is related to the separation from the significant person in your life and the severing of the physical bond to that person. When people experience trauma, they tend to withdraw and avoid situations or reminders of the event. People experiencing grief tend to seek out reminders of their loved one and try to connect with their support system of family and friends. Unresolved issues related to the traumatic event or to grief can lead to distress that may need attention from a professional. There are essentially two categories of distress, separation distress (relating to missing deceased) and traumatic distress (feelings of shock, disbelief, anger, etc.).

Both experiences tend to interrupt the daily rhythm, routine, and structure of our lives. Both can leave us feeling vulnerable. It can also challenge our belief system and may affect how we view the world. There is the world as we saw and experienced it before the event and now there is the world as we see and experience it after the event.

So now what? You may be asking now that you have this information, what do you do with it?

Please stay tuned for the series on traumatic grief, next week we will be talking about the A framework for traumatic grief.


Realizing Christmas

To my dear friends during Christmas 2020,

I guess I never realized how much I needed them. Perhaps I always took them for granted, although they’ve been a part of the celebration for as long as I could remember. It’s those flickering candles on the Advent wreath. Sure, they’ve been a part of the celebration since forever…but I don’t think I ever needed them more than I do this year. You see, those candles tell me a story that I always THOUGHT was true; that God cannot be kept out. They told me that just the tiniest bit of light can chase away absolutely ANY amount of darkness. I guess I just never had that theory tested in such a comprehensive way as it has been tested this year. But here’s the best news: it’s absolutely true.

Throughout the year, our community and many others have been tested like never before. We have said goodbye to far too many loved ones without a proper “sendoff”. We have celebrated weddings in near isolation, when a house or a church or an outdoor tent should have been filled with well-wishers, family and friends. And yet…here we are…celebrating the fact that God cannot be kept out. Here we are celebrating the fact that the tiniest bit of light can overcome ANY amount of darkness. Here we are celebrating the fact that God does indeed SHOW UP and God indeed is present.

What has always astounded me is that God showing up does not depend on some supernatural experience or audible voice. I believe that God shows up through the wise words of a friend, the embrace of a loved one, the quiet moments where we pause to remember, and everything in between. Why? Because God cannot be kept out! God shows up when someone simply is present with you, like God is present with us at Christmas.

For many, this is the most difficult time of year and for many more, this has been one of the most difficult years in memory. I will not dispute either of those facts. I simply hope and pray that in the midst of difficulty, in the midst of hurt and pain that you feel the fact that God shows up. I hope that That someone will walk alongside of you in order to share hope, love, peace and joy in your life. Merry Christmas, friends. May your light shine.



Where Can I Find Relief from My Grief this Christmas?

I read this headline this morning in the New York Times weekend briefing...

“A season typically defined by joy is increasingly defined by grief.”

It described how the pandemic “continued its deadly ascent on America this week” and how holiday gatherings are likely to spread the virus. It ended with this daunting fact: “total infections around the world have now topped 76 million.”

I also thought of all the people that I know who are living with grief in the midst of this season. It seems we are all amid grieving someone or something we have lost this year. I had the opportunity to talk with a good friend of mine about the grief he is experiencing. He has an older friend who was relocated from dependent living to a “COVID-19 Rehab” and there are so many levels of grief to her situation for him. He lists them:

Grieving that I cannot visit her and give her gifts of chocolate, music, and human connection,

Grieving that I have not seen her since February,

Grieving the Christmas tradition that will not take place this year,

Grieving that I cannot keep a promise to look after my friend’s widow,

Grieving that I am human and am powerless at this moment in time,

Grieving that I may never see her again.

He suspects that what he is feeling about this is just the tip of the iceberg in comparison to what so many other people are experiencing. I tell him that we can’t compare our grief to others, that grief is grief, and he is entitled to his grief about this situation. It is indeed sad. We need things to help us get through not only the holidays but the coming days of the new year.

There is a song I have been listening to over the past months. These words were written by Dolly Parton as a song of deliverance. She felt like she was stuck in a situation and needed to be freed. She remembers thinking of the words, “It been a long dark night” as she drove into the rain back to her home in Tennessee. She notes that “all of a sudden the clouds started parting and the sun was coming out.” She thought, “Well, if that ain’t a sign, I don’t know what is.” She had the song written in her head by the time she got home. While the words were written in 1977, they resonated with me when I heard it recently:

It's been a long dark night

And I've been a waitin' for the morning

It's been a long hard fight

But I see a brand-new day a dawning

I've been looking for the sunshine

You know I ain't seen it in so long...

I can only imagine that many of us feel this way right now. While I am no Dolly Parton, here are a few words that I wrote hoping they will be of some help as we move into the coming days and weeks...

In the Midst

In the midst of a season that is heavy with sorrow, may we find strength to look toward tomorrow.

In the midst of season that is clouded by sadness, may we find vision to see some of its gladness.

In the midst a season that is mired with strife, may we find courage to face each day of this life.

In the midst of a season that that is masked with grief, may we embrace the moments that bring us relief.

In the midst of a season where we are too tired to fight, may we all find that thing that delivers us light…

A light that will carry us into a new year;

A light that will help us live without fear;

A light that reminds us of those we hold dear;

A light that in darkness finally reappears.

Christmas carols and songs can be hard to listen to in a good year. I invite you to click on the link and listen to a video montage set to the lyrics of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” and let those words resonate in your soul for now (Songwriter: Dolly Parton. Photo Credits: Lorie Shaull, Lisa Zoll, Diane Leonard. Special Guest Appearance by Junior Moshier).

Light of a Clear Blue Morning with Dolly Parton link:


How Do I Get Through The Holiday Season: The Empty Chair


How Do I Get Through the Holidays: Grief and COVID?

Joy seems like a pretty lofty goal as we move into the holiday season. There is the surge of the coronavirus and the threat of closures, lockdowns, and limited opportunities to spend time with our friends and family as the holiday season approaches. Many plans for family gatherings have been canceled. Holiday events have been canceled in many places such as schools and churches. Joy does seem like a pretty lofty goal.

I was sitting with a client who hasn’t been able to see her husband who is in an nursing facility. There has been an outbreak of COVID in the facility that shut down even the window visits they were having. She, like many others, are facing the holiday season separated from her loved one. I struggled to find something to say, to offer, to suggest.

I have come up with a concept that may be more realistic. EnJOYment. I have been asking my clients to think about things that bring them enJOYment. They have talked about reading (Nora Roberts), movies (The Queen’s Gambit) music (Spotify and Podcasts), and food (Lobster Fried Rice). I am encouraging them to take time to notice and be mindful of those things. I want them to find moments of enJOYment in their days. I want you to find moments of enJOYment in your days. I want to find moments of enJOYment in my days.

I spent the past weekend working on a project that consumed two days. I found some wood at a wood mill in Somerset County and proceeded to spend the weekend sanding it, cutting it into pieces that I envisioned would become shelves (I had to call a friend to bring over his chainsaw), staining it, and putting hardware on it. I had made “Memory Shelves.” I put a shelf up in my office under a picture of an empty chair that represents the empty chairs at our tables for loved ones that are not with us. There will be a lot of empty chairs this holiday season. On my shelf, I put a picture of my mom, my dad, and a fossil from my nephew Abe. I found enJOYment in the process even though my hands have a blister, I was covered in saw dust, and my arms were sore. The days were beautiful for this time of the year (the sky was blue and the sun was shining). I played Dolly Parton music (“Light of a Clear Blue Day” is my favorite). I drank a Coke (my favorite beverage). All of that brought me moments of enJOYment. Perhaps that is the best we can do right now.

Grief doesn’t take a holiday. It appears that the coronavirus will not either. You have permission to find moments of enJOYment. They may be fleeting and that is okay. I challenge you to find those moments and enJOY them.

EnJOYment to the World.

If we can be of any assistance to you or someone you know as you navigate the holidays, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.



How does grief become complicated?

“Nothing that grieves us can be called little; by the external laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size” Which was the Dream (1898) Mark Twain.

Normative losses are losses that are expected to occur throughout the life span. Early losses may include the loss of a caregiver, friendships, the death of grandparent, a parent, or a beloved pet, parental divorce or separation, or an adolescent child leaving the home for the first time. In adulthood we may experience the loss of parent, death of friends, chronic and life threatening illnesses, loss of job, loss of a sibling, miscarriage(s), and or divorce. Older adults may experience the loss of a partner, death of friends, loss of home or relocation, loss of independency, chronic life threatening illnesses, and or retirement. One of the most significant losses that my mom experienced was the loss of her home of 50 years. My dad became ill and needed more care. His condition made it difficult to manage him in the home they lived in for 50 years and where they raised both me my sister. My mom grieved the loss of her home, neighbors, and community. She saw leaving the house as loss of her independence because they went to a long term care community where my dad could get the level of care that he needed as his condition worsened.

Some people experience losses that are considered off time losses. These losses occur outside of losses that are experienced in the typical course of a life span. For example, one of the most common off-time losses is the loss of a child for parents. These losses tend to be unexpected and are often traumatic in nature. Grief can be experienced in many different way as a result of these losses. It seems it is easier to reconcile nominative losses or losses that we expect to experience throughout our life than off-time losses. We can look at our grandparents and say that they lived a long life and we expect to lose them before we lose our parents or our children.

While we grieve these losses, we likely move through them with some of the common reactions to grief such as sadness and missing them especially on special occasions. Off time losses are far more difficult to reconcile. Parents are not supposed to bury their children and often when they do it is under tragic or traumatic circumstances such as suicide, drug overdoses, or terminal illnesses. This tends to lead to complicated grief reaction. It is when grief becomes complicated that people often seek out help to assist them in working through the grief process.

It is not uncommon for losses to stack up over the course of our lives. Some people experience more than others. Never the less, grief can be experienced with any kind of loss whether it is normative or off time. If you need help working through our grief process please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 717-522-6111 or visit our website at


Part I: Why did my loved one die?

One of the first questions that we learned to ask as children was “Why?” Why can’t I have cake for breakfast? Why can’t I have that toy? Why do I have to brush my teeth? The answer we often got was, “Because, I said so.” That answer doesn’t go nearly far enough to answer most of our questions now. We become frustrated when we can’t find reasons and answers for why something happened. During grief, especially when it comes to sudden and unexpected deaths; we are often asking the question of “why?” “Why did my son, daughter, sister, brother, mom, dad, die?” The questions might be directed at doctors. Medical professionals can give us the medical reasons that a person died. Your loved one had cancer or a heart condition or any number of medical conditions that can cause a “permanent cessation of a person’s vital functions” or simply, the end of life. We may direct the question at ourselves when someone we love dies by suicide or an overdose, “Why didn’t I see it coming? Should I have done more?” The questions may be directed at God, “Why did God take them? Why did God allow this?” These questions can get stuck in an endless loop in our mind.

We can look to blame any number of people: the drug dealer who sold the drugs to the daughter who died of an overdose, the enemy on the battlefield, the commander who sent the solider into battle, the shooter in the school shooting, or the driver of the car who was texting when the accident happened. Finding someone or something to blame may make us feel better in the short term, but it does little to soothe our grief in the long term. When someone dies of cancer, we can blame cancer. However, when someone dies by suicide or an overdose, there is a tendency to blame the victim.

There are some questions that we simply can’t answer or for which there is no acceptable answer. When I taught a practice class to graduate students in a Master of Social Work program, I would tell them that there are questions that we can’t answer and that we shouldn’t answer. Simply because, there are no answers or, at least, no acceptable answers. This didn’t come from a textbook, it came from the experience of sitting with people and finding that no matter how much I wanted to try to answer that question for them, I couldn’t.

The mother who taught me this lesson lost her son after he had been deployed to Iraq. He came home, got sick with an unknown illness, and subsequently died. She came to see me quite often. Every time she came to my office she asked that question, “Why?” One day, I replied that if we could invite Jesus into this session and he could tell us the reason your son died, even that would not be a good enough answer. My guess it that my answer wasn’t exactly theologically sound – I’m not a pastor nor do I play one in my office – however, she agreed that even an answer from him would not suffice. That was when I learned, there really are no answers to some of the toughest questions. Another mother wanted to know why her son died by suicide. I reasoned that he must have been in a great deal of pain. But, still, she wanted to know “Why?” I replied, and I was guessing, that even if he could come back and tell you for himself, that would still not be a good enough answer. She agreed.

I had a student in one of my loss and grief classes who was a Marine. He said very little in class until one night when he told this story that he had been carrying with him for years. He was stationed in Turkey. One night they were on a training mission. There were two helicopters that he and his fellow soldiers were being assigned to for the mission. His commander pointed to one of the choppers and then changed his mind about where he wanted this student to go. Moments later, the chopper that he was initially assigned to crashed and burst into flames. They couldn’t get to any of the soldiers to pull them out of the wreckage. Nobody on that helicopter survived. He too had been asking himself “why?” Why did his commander change his mind about which chopper he was supposed to be on at the last minute? Why was he fortunate enough to be on the helicopter that did not crash? Why was he still here to tell the story?

A patient who lost her husband to cancer within the last year, said she doesn’t ask “why?” rather, she asks “why not?” She reasons that things happen to everybody, why do we have to blame anybody? “Blame won’t bring my husband back” she says. However, there are cases where people do need to be held accountable for their actions. Even when justice is said to be served, it does little to change the grief that we feel. It may help us to live forward into a different phase of grief, but we may look back from time to time searching the horizon for “why?”

It appears, from my research on the internet, that “10 out of 10 people die of death.” The best answer I could find is that bad things happen for the same reason anything happens. There is a randomness to life. I typed in the title Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” to try to find a way to end this blog. Here is what I found. It’s the best I can do…“Let me suggest that the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. . . . But we can redeem these tragedies from senselessness by imposing meaning on them. . . . A better question would be “Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?”

I have been a collector of quotes and inspirational sayings for years. I found this saying in Robert Fulghum’s book “Words I Wish I Wrote” in 1997. It has stayed with me and I have referred to it over the years. I include it as the conclusion of this post…








If we can be of any help at Grief Relief Counseling Services, please contact us through our website at or at 717-522-6111.


How are Grief and the Coronavirus Similar?

This week, I was struck by some of the similarities between grief and the coronavirus. I was talking with a mother whose son died by suicide. She was trying to find answers about why he did it. He didn’t leave a note and there weren’t any warning signs before he took his life. She feels like she should have been able to prevent it. We talked about how she seemed to be “working against” her grief. I suggested that perhaps there was a way to “work with” it instead. When she asked what that meant, I had to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure. I thought about how the same could be said for us during the coronavirus crisis; do we “work against” it or do we “work with” it? I found myself in my backyard with wooden pallets, a hammer, and nails. I have spent the last week building a “She Shack.” It has become my way of “working with” the coronavirus.

When we “work against” something, we are trying to control things that we can’t control. When it comes to grief, at least initially, control and predictability can be difficult to find. Each day may bring challenges that we didn’t see coming. With grief, we try to find ways to live with difficult emotions such as sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, feelings of being stunned, dazed, or shocked, emptiness, feeling the death was unfair, emptiness…you get the picture. We may be dealing with similar feelings when it comes to the coronavirus and our need social distancing, to stay at home, in some cases to shelter in place. I have seen posts about how people are grieving the loss of many things during this time. There are families that have and will lose loved ones to this virus. They grieve. There are other losses that people are grieving such as canceled trips, a long-awaited graduation ceremony, being able to visit elderly parents, being able to gather with family and friends to celebrate special occasions, going to church or the mall or a restaurant...again, you get the picture. There are times when we feel like maybe we have these feelings under control, only to be blindsided by another feeling that we didn’t see coming. Grief can come in bursts – it can be expected, or it can come out of the blue. While I was building my “She Shack,” I thought of all the forts that I built in my backyard growing up. It was a fond memory of my expert fort building skills! Here I am, some 40 years later, with wood, nails, and a hammer. But not just a hammer, that hammer was my dad’s hammer that I inherited or maybe “borrowed” from his toolbox. Ouch. That wasn’t because I missed a nail and hit my finger, it was because, at that moment, I missed my dad. I wish I could hold on to him instead of the hammer.

When we “work with” something, we try to find ways to take some control back. We try to build meaning into our experience. Victor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, says that we discover meaning in three different ways: by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. The things that we do or that others do for us during our time of grief become a part of our grief narrative or story. My husband and I met a woman in the grocery store just after her mother died. Her family was coming, and she was cooking a meal that their mom used to make for them. When they got to the checkout, we bought the groceries for her precisely so that her grief narrative would include a story about somebody doing something nice for them in their time of grief. I remember the thoughtfulness and kindness that people showed me when my parents died. I remember that some people called to check on me, some people sent me beautiful cards, and some people just listened to me tell and retell my stories. I wanted to pay that kindness forward. I also made a promise to my mom that her spirit of generosity would live on in me. These deeds, these experiences, these encounters, build meaning into our experience of grief.

The things that we do now or that others do for us, likewise, become part of our coronavirus story. I was picking up take out at a local Chinese restaurant. A woman had come to pick up her favorite lunch because it was her birthday and she couldn’t get together with her family to celebrate it. She was celebrating for herself. I covertly bought her lunch for her, before she could protest, so that part of her narrative of this time would be one in which someone was there to celebrate her birthday. Going forward, we will remember the thoughtfulness and kindness that people showed us. We will remember that people called to check in on us, that people offered to pick up things from the grocery store for us, that people listened to us tell and retell our stories of how we are trying to make the best of this difficult and challenging time. These deeds, these experiences, and these encounters help us to build meaning during this time.

For me, my “She Shack” is building meaning into this challenging time; my dad’s hammer in hand, my mom’s generous spirit living on. My grief journey continues in these unexpected ways. Now, maybe I can try to explain to my client what I meant by “working with” her grief and what that might look like. I might tell her that it could mean not being so hard on herself as she tries to navigate the unknown territory of her grief. The same goes for us, we need to not be too hard on ourselves as we navigate this unknown territory of uncertainty, unpredictability, and social distancing. I heard this said in an evening devotion on Facebook Live, it is from the Book of Common Prayer…It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be…Let us look expectantly to a new day…new possibilities. “Work with.”

You don’t need to go to the lengths of building a “She Shack” to “work with.” Find the things or the people that you connect with in times of uncertainty – make your favorite recipe like the woman at the grocery store did to connect with her mother or get take out or delivery of your favorite food, but don’t wait for your birthday! One of the best things it seems we can do is to stay connected. Be the one to reach out. I’m calling my friends in Florida who were our next-door neighbors when all those forts were built as soon as I finish writing this. If we can be of any help at Grief Relief Counseling Services, please contact us through our website at or at 717-522-6111.


Will my grief always be this intense?

The answer is “no.” That, however, may be hard to believe at first. Grief can be defined as a natural reaction you feel when someone you love is taken away. Reactions can vary from person to person and can feel overwhelming. Some common reactions include, but are not limited to, guilt concerning the circumstances of the death, feeling the death was unfair, exhaustion, frequent crying, difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks, avoidance of people and situations that remind you of your loved one, longing to be with your loved one, sadness, missing the loved one, loss of enjoyment, difficulty sleeping or eating, and anger at self, the deceased person, and/or God. You may experience a melting pot of these emotions and they are all normal reactions to loss. The more significant, sudden, or unexpected the loss, the more intense your grief reaction may be.

There aren’t specific stages, timeframes, or tasks that fit each person and each person’s journey is unique. In fact, timeframes often reflect the wishes and discomfort of those witnessing a person’s grief, rather than the natural process of grief itself. Grief can feel like a roller coaster, full of ups and downs and curves. It’s a rough ride in the beginning. As time goes by, the difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time passes. While closure seems to be somewhat of a myth when it comes to the grief process, at some point, the grief that lingers after the loss will not control or consume your life. Your grief will not always be as intense as it was in the beginning. Nor, will your life look the same. Life often becomes divided into two parts, the before and the after.

The reactions you experience may feel intense and overwhelming right after the loss. The first reaction to the news of these kinds of deaths is often shock. I have heard people say that they don’t remember very much about the time immediately following the loss. They tend to go through the motions and do what they need to do, but often have difficulty remembering what they did or how they did it. One person I worked with, remembered exactly what he was wearing when the police came to his door to inform him of the tragic death of his daughter and granddaughter. He remembers very little after that including what was said at the funeral, who was there, and what he did from day to day.

For a period of time, the loss tends to control and consume the griever’s life and thoughts. It may be difficult to think about much else. Memories may cause more pain than comfort for some time. There is work to be done to establish a new reality that does not physically include your loved one. The work of grief involves doing things that honor them. This work often includes finding ways to keep the deceased in your life by talking about them, talking to them, sensing their presence, and deciding how your relationship with them can continue. When grievers tell their stories, they are often struggling to make sense of the loss. Storytelling, and retelling, is often an important part of the grieving process. It can be an empowering way for grievers to find their voice as they search for ways to accept the loss and to cope with the emotions that have left them feeling out of control and struggling with what has been stripped away from their life. People often look for signs from their loved ones such as cardinals, feathers, dragonflies, butterflies, ladybugs, and coins. I have worked with many people who visit psychics. They want reassurance that their loved one is okay. These, and many other rituals, can help alleviate some of the intense feelings that can accompany a traumatic loss.

It takes time to figure out how to cope with the loss and figure out how to weave it into your life. There are firsts to deal with such as first anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc. Even years later, a birth in the family, a wedding, or a friend experiencing a similar loss can cause you to experience a strong grief reaction. Grieving a loss may never come to a definitive end, it does not mean that you cannot and will not return to a meaningful life by finding ways to accommodate the loss and adjust to a new reality.


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