Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Delayed Grieving

One of my essays was just published by Modern Loss. It’s about camping with rock climbers in Yosemite and all of the things I left unsaid when they headed off to climb, knowing that sometimes climbers die. You can read it at - http://modernloss.com/looking-el-capitan/

There are good reasons for not dealing with grief. We have to go to work if we want to keep our job. The children have to be taken to school and helped with their homework. We have to go shopping and cook if we want to eat.

We have to do the laundry. Pets have to be walked. There is work to be done in the yard. Bills have to be paid, cars repaired, and somehow we have to find time to sleep. We don’t have any time left to grieve.

In the face of adversity, we are taught to stand up. We are told to appear decisive and in control in front of our children. We are told to be full of faith and believe that everything happens for a reason. And male or female, we feel we should be strong enough to handle grief on our own.

Grief doesn’t give us that option.

Ignoring grief is like a leak in our roof. We can take care of it now, or we can wait as it seeps through the ceiling, gets into the walls, and warps the floors.

Grief is not a wound that will heal on its own. It will not fade away over time. We can say that we’re too busy, too distraught, or just don’t want to deal with it, but grief is going to hang around until we open its box and deal with its contents.

Unfortunately, our society has forgotten what it used to do to help people cope. Death is huge, and there are two really good reasons for not delaying grief:

1. Grief won’t go away until it’s faced.
2. People are willing to help us now. They won’t be later, and we need them.

If we bury ourselves in our work, and put off grieving for one, ten, or twenty years, don’t expect people to be as understanding as they were at the beginning. In the minds of most people, time equates to recovery, whether or not we’ve actually done any grieving.

People expect us to grieve in the first month, and be moody, angry, sad, and depressed. We have their permission to cry and fall apart, and no one thinks less of us. In the first month, people will respond with compassion and bring over food, help with chores, and listen to us talk. Then they go back to their busy lives, and we’re left on our own.

We’re going to be broken for a while. If we’re feeling emotional, then we should be emotional, otherwise people will think we’re unfeeling automatons. We need to share what’s going on inside if people ask. They wouldn’t inquire if they weren’t willing to listen. We need to set our pride aside and let people help if it’s something we’d like.

If we shut our grief down, we may also shut down all our emotions. Then our interactions with people become hard and brittle, our compassion for the suffering of others goes flat, we turn our backs on love and on the people who are trying to help, and we end up isolated, alone, and bitter.

When her husband died, a friend of mine said she wanted to face everything that grief had in the first year---all the crying, despair, and loneliness, all the holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays---and then she wanted to move on. I think she will because she is determined and she has a community of friends supporting her as she travels along grief’s road.

If we ignore grief and put it on the back burner, it will simmer, get thicker and harder, and it will be a royal mess to clean up.


  1. Hi, I'd love to crosspost this to HuffPost; please do email me at sahaj.kohli@huffingtonpost.com if you're interested!

  2. Thank you for taking time to share this. My mother died 5 years ago and I only now am dealing with it and it is hard to cry in front of people who love you but don't understand why now? I feel like I am dying inside but I am not afraid and know it will pass. I am relieved when I read about delayed grief in articles such as yours.

    1. Liana, thank you for writing. Yes, there are still too many people who think that grief will heal on its own, given time. But it sits there like a hard coconut waiting for us to open it up and deal with unresolved issues. I don't know how old you were when your mother died. It's hard at any age, but harder if she died when you were young. Take it slow. Find one or two friends your age who have lost a mother, and just start sharing. Or find someone older. Grief never goes completely away, but we learn how to deal with it and go on living.