Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Delayed Grief

There are good reasons for not dealing with grief. The children have to be assembled and taken to school. We have to go to work. We have to go shopping, cook meals, and wash the dishes.

We have to do the laundry. Pets have to be walked. There is work to be done in the yard and on the house. Bills to be paid. Cars repaired. And somehow we have to find enough time to sleep. We don’t have time left to grieve.

Grief doesn’t give us that option. Grief is a community event.

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

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

Unfortunately, our society has forgotten what it used to do to help people cope. There is one really good reason for not delaying grief: 

People are willing to help us now. They won’t be later.

If we bury ourselves in our work and put off grieving for one, five, 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 will think the 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 are 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 grief down, we may also shut down all our emotions, and our interactions with people will become hard and brittle, our compassion for the suffering of others will go flat, we will turn our backs on love and end up isolated, alone, and bitter.

When her husband died, my friend Kimberly 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 has a community of friends supporting her as she travels grief’s road.

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


  1. Thank you, Mark, for this wise post. I learned this lesson from my mother. She refused to talk about my dad after he died because she didn't want to weep or fall apart. She went back to her teaching job immediately and somehow kept herself together--but she lost emotional contact with my brother and me at a time when we needed her badly. That was 1959. Forty years later, when she began showing signs of Alzheimer's, her grief for my dad poured out, as well as the soft sweetness I'd remembered from my mom before my dad died. I'm grateful we had a few months of grieving together, but it was 40 years too late. I vowed to never do that to myself or my family. I kept my vow and, after almost 9 years, we still grieve together by creating rituals and talking about the person we love and miss.

    1. I'm sorry you had to go through this, Elaine. My parents wouldn't take about their grief, either.

  2. Thank you... I needed to read this..coming up to 2 years since losing James and it seems to get harder to deal with and definitely fewer people around for support.
    Thanks again x

    1. You're welcome, Sarah. Definitely fewer people around. For me the 2nd year wasn't at all what I expected. Just a nowhere year, and harder is some ways. My third year was finally better.

  3. When I lost my husband I was sure that I, being known for being strong in crisis and a "survivor," would not need to do the usual "grieving thing," as I referred to it. It only took about a month to realize that something was very wrong and fortunately I paid attention to a letter I received from the Stanford Hospital Grief Support Group listing signs of the need for grief support. Since every one of them fit like a glove I signed up and spent 4 months with a wonderful group of fellow grievers on the road to recovery.