Your unique grief will depend, in part, on your relationship with the person who died.
The stronger your attachment to the person who died, the more difficult your grief journey will likely be. It only makes sense that the closer you felt to the person who died, the more torn apart you will feel after the death.
Ambivalent relationships can also cause complicated grief. You may feel a strong sense of “unfinished business”—things you wanted to say but never did, or conflicts you wanted to resolve but couldn’t or didn’t.
“In life, everyone grieves. But their grief journeys are never the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own special way. Be careful about comparing your experience with that of other people.
“Also, do not adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just consider taking a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach. Doing so allows you to mourn at your own pace.” — Dr. Alan Wolfelt
How do you survive after your partner and best friend is no longer by your side? After all, your heart is broken. Your everyday world has come apart, shattered in myriad ways.
For many people, the relationship they have with a spouse is the closest and often longest-lasting relationship they will have in their lives. Was this true for you? If so, be gentle and patient with yourself as you encounter your naturally profound grief. The stronger the bond in any relationship, the stronger the grief the surviving partner will likely experience. For grieving spouses, grief is often a long and painful journey.
Still, I have had the privilege of meeting hundreds of widows and widowers in my decades as a grief counselor. They come to me with their stories of loss—and, ultimately, healing—and I bear witness to and learn from them. I pass their messages of hope and healing onto you now. They want you to know that you will survive. How? Through actively and openly expressing your grief, one day at a time. If you mourn well, over time and with the support of others, your grief will soften. No, it will never end, but your grief will become less sharp and all-consuming. You can go forward in your life with meaning and purpose.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Yourself Heal When Your Spouse Dies”
Read the book: “Healing a Spouse’s Grieving Heart”
When your child dies, it’s as if a deep hole implodes inside of you. It’s as if the hole penetrates you and leaves you gasping for air. As you mourn the death of your precious daughter or son, your agony slowly subsides but never disappears. On the outside edges of that gaping hole, things begin to heal. Scars form. The hole is still present, but instead of only emptying out, it allows things to begin to enter in again.
A parent’s grief is uniquely painful because a parent’s love is uniquely strong. Parents not only love their children unconditionally, wholeheartedly, and selflessly, but they are also responsible for them. When someone you love so very deeply and feel responsible for dies, your grief is naturally profound.
Veteran grieving parents have taught me that through active mourning, they not only survived, they eventually learned to embrace life again. It was not easy. But over time and with the support of others, their grief softened. It became a bittersweet part of their lives, still and always essential yet no longer all-consuming. You, too, can grieve and mourn fully so that one day you will live and love fully again.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Yourself Heal When Your Child Dies”
Read the book: “Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart”
Your parent has died, perhaps even your last parent, leaving you an “orphan.” You are in mourning. You are bereft. To be “bereaved” literally means “to be torn apart.” No matter how old you are when your parent dies, you are still your parent’s child. The parent-child relationship often serves as a “mirror” that helps reflect who you are in this big world. It only makes sense that the death of your mother or father leaves you with a broken heart.
Even if your parent lived a long, full life, you still need to grieve and mourn. The death of someone you love deeply, who played such a big part in your life, is a profound loss. Whether your parent was very old or middle-aged, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, someone with whom you had an extremely fundamental bond will never be physically present to you again.
Active and open mourning will help you move through your time of grief and eventually reconcile your parent’s death. Really feel and express your thoughts and feelings. Take advantage of opportunities to remember your parent. Invite and accept the support of others.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Yourself Heal When a Parent Dies”
Read the book: “Healing the Adult Child’s Grieving Heart”
Your brother or sister has died. Whether your sibling was younger or older, whether the death was sudden or anticipated, whether you were very close to your sibling throughout your lives or experienced periods of separation, you are now grieving.
To grieve is to experience thoughts and feelings of loss inside you. If you loved your sibling, you will grieve. Even if you had a difficult or ambivalent relationship with your sibling, you will grieve. In fact, after the death of a brother or sister, many adults feel deep pain and a profound sense of loss. If you were close with your sibling, your grief will likely be strong. And if you were not close with your sibling recently, you still shared a history. Your stories began together and were intimately intertwined for many years.
Now your job is to take the grief you feel inside and express it outside of yourself. Talk to others about your thoughts and feelings. Consider writing in a journal or sending notes to your sibling’s close friends or family members. Share memories and stories. Through active mourning, over time your grief will begin to soften, and you will learn to reconcile your loss even as you keep your love for your sibling alive in your heart.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Yourself Heal When an Adult Sibling Dies”
Read the book: “Healing the Adult Sibling’s Grieving Heart”
When someone dies, we often think of their immediate family as the primary mourners. But the truth is, anyone who had a relationship with the person who died will grieve. And the stronger the attachment was, the stronger the grief will likely be. This means that sometimes friends grieve even more deeply than family members.
If you are experiencing thoughts and feelings about the death of your friend, you are grieving. And if you are grieving, the path to healing is through mourning—the active, outward expression of your grief.
Talk about your grief to your partner, family members, or friends—anyone you know to be a good listener. The best support comes from people who will listen without feeling the need to give advice or judge. Also, consider sharing your thoughts, feelings, and memories with the family of the person who died. Call, visit, or write letters. You will be giving them a gift—the gift of new memories as well as the assurance that their family member was indeed loved.
Accompanying Article: “Healing Yourself Heal When Someone Dies”
Read the book: “Healing a Friend’s Grieving Heart”
Loss is a natural part of life, as is work. This means that grief and work will naturally overlap sometimes. Grief should be acknowledged as part of the workplace. What’s more, the healthy of expression of grief—even during the workday—is essential to healing.
When a coworker dies, the strength of your grief will depend on the closeness of your relationship. In the workplace, a close relationship can mean someone you worked and communicated with often but may or may not have spent time with outside of work. Sometimes workplace relationships are strictly work-focused, and sometimes they are more personal. Either way, if your coworker was part of your day-to-day life, you will naturally grieve.
Find ways to express your grief, both at work and outside of work. Talk to other coworkers about your thoughts and feelings. Help create an open, mutually supportive environment. You all need each other right now. Outside of work, when you find yourself thinking about your coworker, share your feelings with your family and friends.
Accompanying Article:“Helping a Grieving Friend in the Workplace”
Read the book: “Healing Grief at Work”
Grandparents grieve doubly. You grieve for the loss of your grandchild, and you grieve for your child whose child has died. The word “grandparent” comes from the French word grand, which means “great” or “big.” The word as well as the customs of many cultures tell us that grandparents are the “great” parents—this is, they are the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family. So even as you are grieving twice, you may well feel that you need to be “strong” and “in control.”
Grieving grandparents are often neglected mourners. The parents and siblings of the child who died are usually considered the primary mourners, and when it comes to offering empathy and support, the grandparents can be forgotten. Has this happened to you?
If your family members are understandably consumed by their own grief, seek support outside the family. Share your thoughts, feelings, and memories with your friends. Continue to help your child and remaining grandchildren if you can, but also get help for yourself. Give yourself permission to mourn openly and fully.
Accompanying Article: “Healing a Grandparent Who is Grieving?”
Read the book: “Healing a Grandparent’s Grieving Heart”
Miscarriage is a significant loss. It is normal and natural to hurt deeply after a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Your grief is real. Your grief is justified. And the depth of your grief has less to do with the number of weeks you were pregnant and more to do with the attachment you felt to this developing baby or the idea of your future with a child.
The more you wanted this baby, the more invested you were in your hopes and dreams for a child, the more painful your grief journey will likely be.
Actively and outwardly expressing your grief, which is all your thoughts and feelings about the pregnancy loss, is essential to your healing. Talk to your partner, your other children if you have any, and your friends and family. Because our culture often minimizes and misunderstands miscarriage grief, you may also need to seek the support of other mothers who have had similar experiences or of a pregnancy loss support group.
Accompanying Article: “Healing Your Family After Miscarriage”
Read the book: “Healing Your Grieving Heart After Miscarriage”
A stillborn baby
The stillbirth of your precious daughter or son is an inexplicable loss of hopes and dreams for a new life. The impact of this overwhelming loss is profound and life-changing. Because your baby never had the chance to live in the world, to be seen and held and kissed and cherished by everyone, the death can seem surreal. You are forced to grieve the loss of a life that—so unfairly!—had not yet begun.
You are probably finding that many people around you don’t know what to say or do to provide you with support and comfort. There are no cultural norms for mourning the loss of someone who never lived outside the womb and didn’t have a chance to be formally welcomed into your larger community of family and friends. You can model openly talking about your baby, and you can be plainspoken about how others can and cannot help you.
Acknowledging your heart is broken is the beginning of your healing. As you authentically experience and express your pain, over time and with the support of others you will begin to heal. Along the way, be gentle and patient with yourself and your family. Self-compassion is essential to your survival.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Your Family After Stillbirth”
Read the book: “Healing your Grieving Heart After Stillbirth”
Soulmates are two people who feel a deep affinity for and closeness with one another. They are usually lovers and spouses or life partners—but not always. Soulmates are sometimes parent and child, siblings, or close friends. What matters is the strength and qualities of the bond in the relationship as experienced from inside it. The shorthand soulmates often use to describe one another is “the love of my life.”
When soulmates are separated by death, the surviving partners often describe their grief as much more devastating than any other loss they have encountered in their lives. Their grief is oversized and overwhelming. The intensely close relationship gives rise to intensely deep grief. The stronger the attachment in life, the stronger the grief after the death.
Healing soulmate grief takes what I have coined “heroic mourning.” What does this mean? It means that you must mourn as you well and as deeply as you loved. It takes medieval-style bravery. It also requires larger-than-life levels of faith, sacrifice, loyalty, commitment, adventure, and honor.
Read the book: “When Your Soulmate Dies”
Your beloved companion animal has died. When a pet dies, it is normal to feel the loss very strongly. You may even feel overwhelmed by the depth of your sadness. Others may not understand your feelings. They might even imply that you are overreacting.
But you are not overreacting. You are grieving naturally, in proportion to the love you shared with your pet. Your grief is a measure of your attachment to your pet. The more strongly you were attached to your companion animal that died, the stronger your grief will be. This is normal.
Never let anyone shame you over feelings of love and loss for a companion animal. Find fellow pet lovers to talk to about your grief. Cry when you need to cry. Remember your pet by displaying photos and sharing stories.
Accompanying Article: “Helping Yourself Heal When a Pet Dies”
Read the book: “When Your Pet Dies”
The more we feel connected to someone famous, the more likely we are to experience grief when they die.
Our feelings of connection to celebrities are not based on personal relationships but instead on our own identities. It’s common for us to admire and grow attached to famous people whose work, personalities, and lifestyles we aspire to ourselves. We like them—or at least their public personas. And often we dream of becoming more like them.
Generally, our culture isn’t very good at mourning. We tend to believe that people should keep their grief to themselves (a harmful and wrongheaded misconception). But after a celebrity dies, we expect and encourage public mourning. This is a good thing. It helps us heal both as a society and as individuals.
If you’re grieving the death of a celebrity, I encourage you to join in the public mourning rituals. Discuss the death with other fans. Share thoughts, feelings, and tributes in social media. If possible, visit the place of death and add your contribution to the memorial display of flowers, notes, photos, and mementos.
Of course, mourning more privately will also help you heal. You might want to write a letter to the celebrity’s family, for example, telling them how much she meant to you. Or perhaps you would like to honor your shared history by creating a keepsake box or shadow box to store your personal mementos related to the person who died.
Accompanying Article: “Grieving the Death of a Celebrity”