The 6 things no one tells you about grief and loss

Grieving is very personal, but there are a handful of things that I wish I had known to expect during the height of my grief

There is no standard reaction

It’s hard to guess just how you may react when someone you love dies. Everyone manages their grief in different ways, but from my recent loss I can say that no one around me reacted in a terribly unsurprising way. I can only describe it as: whatever your normal reaction to sadness and stress… prepare for that to be amplified.

I’m a crier. I cried a lot. Almost every time I was alone and the podcast I had been listening to ended, I would find myself with a very unpleasant quiet that if I didn’t fill with noise quickly, would induce the waterworks.

Grieving can manifest through physical symptoms

This was the biggest problem for me. My appetite was out of whack. I eat a lot… so when I was finding that I was accidentally skipping meals because hunger just never really hit, I knew I was in trouble. I’m not sure why I was spared, but every time I go too long without eating, it kicks me into a pretty gnarly headache — but my body gave me a pass during this period.

I also had more zits over the 6 week period (of my loved one’s decline and passing) than I’ve had in my entire adult life combined. Rigorous cleaning, and a rose clay mask kept them from getting really bad, but I couldn’t figure out what the cause was until I did some Googling.

Exhaustion

I told a coworker that I wasn’t sleeping and he told me to immediately seek medical help. He had spent a long time in the health and wellness field, so I promised that if I didn’t sleep that night, I would call my doctor.

Melatoin gummies worked for me. That evening, I stopped at a local Target and got a supplement, and it worked really well. It gave me just enough of a gentle push to sleep that I wasn’t victim to the bedtime “sad memories reel” playing in my head over and over that had been keeping me awake.

Good luck focusing for more than 2.5 seconds

Even when I was at work, it took me forever to get through tasks. Even if I wasn’t having pervasive thoughts about my family or the loss, I still lacked the ability to really focus on what was in front of me. It felt as if a small piece of my brain had gone on vacation, and the other pieces were doing an okay job of picking up the slack, but it was taking a whole lot of effort.

It sucked way more than I thought it would

I knew I would be in bad shape with this particular loss, but I didn’t know just how profoundly sad I would be — and for how long.

You can see friends and family going through this sort of pain, but you never really understand it until you go through it yourself. I feel like I have a new, greater capacity for empathy when it comes to death and loss.

There is no clear timeline for when grief starts or ends

I started my process at the point when it became clear that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. Though I am a very emotional person, I’m also very logical — so I didn’t need that extra little buffer period of denial that some people can tap into to get a few extra days of internal peace.

Now that a few weeks have gone by, the tear tidal waves have subsided. I do, however, find myself choking up when I thing of “the next first” I’ll (we’ll) have to face with a notably missing presence. Birthdays, random family gatherings, Christmas, and eventually the one-year mark that falls right around Easter. It’s incredibly sobering to think about; and think about it I do. A lot.

I feel better today than I did a few weeks ago, but I have a hard time with “feel better” — because that doesn’t exactly fit how I feel. My sadness is less acute and has ebbed a little to make space for the new normal. Sometimes the emotional tide resists our (my) new normal and the sadness washes over me again. I suspect it’ll be like this for a little while… until the “new normal” just becomes just…. “normal.”