The Grieving Need You Most After the Funeral

My father died suddenly while on vacation three years ago. The event rattled the bedrock of my life in ways that are difficult to describe, and taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way.

One of the truths I discovered, is that when you lose someone you love—people show up.

Almost immediately they surround you with social media condolences and texts and visits and meals and flowers. They come with good hearts, with genuine compassion, and they truly want to support you in those moments. The problem, is that you’re neither prepared nor particularly helped by the volume then.

The early days of grief are a hazy, dizzying, moment by moment response to a trauma that your mind simply can’t wrap itself around. You are, what I like to call a Grief Zombie; outwardly moving but barely there. You aren’t really functioning normally by any reasonable measurement, and so that huge crush of people is like diverting thousands of cars into a one lane back road—it all overwhelms the system. You can’t absorb it all. Often it actually hurts.

This usually happens until the day of the funeral, when almost immediately the flood of support begins to subside. Over the coming days the calls and visits gradually become less frequent as people begin to return to their normal lives already in progress—right about the time the bottom drops out for you.

Just as the shock begins to wear off and the haze is lifted and you start to feel the full gravity of the loss; just as you get a clear look at the massive crater in your heart—you find yourself alone.

People don’t leave you because they’re callous or unconcerned, they’re just unaware. Most people understand grief as an event, not as the permanent alteration to life that it is, and so they stay up until the funeral and imagine that when the service ends, that somehow you too can move ahead; that there is some finishing to your mourning.

That’s the thing about grief that you learn as you grieve: that it has no shelf life; that you will grieve as long as you breathe, which is far after the memorial service and long after most people are prepared to stay. Again, they still love you dearly, they just have their own roads to walk.

Sometimes people leave because they suddenly feel estranged by the death. They may have been used to knowing you as part of a couple or as a family, and they aren’t able to navigate the new dynamic the loss has created. They simply don’t know how to relate to you the way they once did, and so they withdraw.

Or sometimes people see you from a distance and mistake your visible stability for the absence of need, as if the fact that you’re functioning in public doesn’t mean you don’t fall apart all the time when you’re alone—and you do. We all carry the grief as bravely and competently as we can in public, but none of us are strong enough to shoulder it alone. People often say of a grieving person, “They’re so strong”, but they’re not. They’re doing what they have to in order to survive. They need you to come alongside them.  

Other times people avoid you because they believe that they will say the wrong thing; that somehow they will remind you of your loved one and cause you unnecessary pain. Trust me, the grieving don’t lack for reminders. They are intimately aware of the absence in their lives, and you acknowledging it actually makes them feel better. It gives them consent to live with the grief, and to know that they can be both wounded and normal.

Friends, what I’m saying is that it’s wonderful to be present for people when tragedy occurs. It’s a beautiful thing to express your love and support for those you love in any way you feel is right in those first few days. It does matter. No compassion is ever wasted.

But if there’s anything I would tell you, as someone who’s walked through the Grief Valley, is that the time your presence is most needed and most powerful, is in those days and weeks and months and years after the funeral; when most people have withdrawn and the road is most isolating. It is in the countless ordinary moments that follow, when grief sucker punches you and you again feel it all fully.

It’s three years since I lost my father, and on many days the pain is as present and profound as that first day.

Remind yourself to reach out to people long after the services and memorials have concluded. 

Death is a date in the calendar, but grief is the calendar.









82 thoughts on “The Grieving Need You Most After the Funeral

  1. This is just a message to let all your grieving folks know that Jesus and nonfundie Christian America stand beside you in your grief. Here are a few things that may help you:

    1) Your beloved one did not die because God needed him or her home in Heaven or because it was their God-appointed time to die. God is not a murderer. We humans live in a world where bad things happen. to both bad people and good people.

    2) Grieving is a natural brain process that probably developed through human evolution across a vast expanse of time covering millions of years when family members and friends died much more often than they do today. Trust the grieving process to work its way out. If you lost a spouse or child, it may take as much a 1.5 years or more to begin getting over the worst of it.

    3) You can get help. Your doctor can prescribe antidepressant medication that works really well. Talk therapy works well, and your health insurance company will pay for most of it.

    4) Loving people at a local nonfundie church can extend love and advice to you. Avoid seeking help at Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches. Why? Fundies think you should be “happy all the time” because of Jesus. Many fundie churches are cruel to people who lose loved ones. One of the standard fundie speeches to grieving people runs something like this:

    “Did you see Mel Gibson’s movie about the passion of Christ? If you did, you will recall how brutally Jesus was treated at the hands of the Roman prison guards. All that blood and whipping—it was really gross!!! Jesus went through all of that misery to pay the price for your sins. He suffered like no human being on this Earth has ever suffered—and all for you. In light of that, how dare you come in here to church this morning in so much pain over something so small and commonplace as a dead relative. You are a child of Christ—so buck up, put a smile on your face, and show it. Besides, if your dead relative was a Christian, she is in Heaven right now, That should make you happy.”

    Yes. I have read complaints from grieving fundies who actually got this heartless, noncaring speech—and an ass kick out the door— from their pastor at a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church. This might not happen at a Southern Baptist Convention church. It is much more likely to happen at an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church or another purely fundie church of that ilk.

    Most people inside and outside of the universal church really do care about the grief you are experiencing—and both sympathize and empathize with it.

    • Charles, what a hate filled comment toward churches. Your comment detracts from a beautiful article. You are entitled to your opinion, but this isn’t the place for it.

      • Charles stated ‘Grieving is a natural brain process that probably developed through human evolution across a vast expanse of time covering millions of years when family members and friends died much more often than they do today.” You have to realize he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Everyone dies, and it has nothing to do with evolution. Take what he said with a grain of salt.

        • My daughter died in Jan 2016. One year later I still feel a massive hole in my heart. Ironically one day while at s sports event, I started a conversation up w a lady who was out sitting in the sun, returning phone calls. She looked over at me & said “I just wish people would let me have a vacation!!” I asked what was her profession? She said “Grief Counselor”. I laughed & said “I probably should make an appointment”, then we got to talking. She told me that “Everyone has an expiration date, we just don’t know when it is”.
          It’s been months since I’ve seen that lady but I don’t look at death like she does. I have faith….I do believe that GOD KNOWS THE TIME OF OUR DEATH. We don’t. I don’t like thinking that God is standing back, saying “ok, your time is up!!!!” I’d rather know Him as a God of Love.
          I didn’t have a close relationship with my daughter. Maybe that’s why I’m so sad, and can cry at the drop of a hat.
          Thank you for the article.
          Did you know the title is misspelled ? Thanks

      • Although normally I would agree with you that all comments have an appropriate time and a place, as I read his comments, I began to appreciate them. I found myself thinking I wish there was a way I could have read this prior to the passing of my father. Unfortunately, what he discribed, was exactly what I endured. I began to believe that somehow I must have been doing not only this grieving thing incorrectly, but my Christian faith as well. During the loss of a loved one, is no time to begin questioning either one of those, I thought I was going to lose my mind and my faith. Perhaps maybe someone, somewhere, needs to read these comments, and Charles was made to be a vessel. Perhaps not your vessel, but someones. I personally saw no hate in anything he said. In fact I have found that when words come from your heart, intended without harm, only love is displayed. Even in love, God did and said so many things that could have been viewed as anything but love. The hateful things came from those who questioned him and his actions.

      • I agree
        The definitions placed upon burdened grievers is most difficult, when the eye of judgment erases compassion. Trauma informed comments lend understanding, whereas opinion without experience causes me to tremble, to duck, and to avoid. Many church based communications attempt to address deep grief cause more harm than good, as they try to hard to seek a certain righteous way that doesn’t fit. Give it up, preachers. If you have to try so hard, you haven’t been there.

    • I like what Charles said about the difference in some churches and their approach to death and dying. It’s sad but true that some churches worship the man and not his timeless message.

      • I get a kick out of people who are not in a relationship with Jesus, He is hated, ignored, despised, mocked, yet they do not know the high price He paid so we would not have to be judged by God the Father.
        It is one of the most prized gifts a person could accept, yet most people are without common sense enough to reach out and accept it. See God doesn’t force anyone to love and accept Him. He didn’t want robots, so the only ones who will be in Heaven with Him are those who truly appreciate Him.
        In this life here we choose life or spiritual death, as for me and my house I choose life while it is available.

    • Charles,
      I understand where you are coming from….maybe you are depending on MAN more than you are GOD to help you with your grieving.
      I used to be very active in church over 20 years ago. Moving out of state & never finding another church, busy life in general kept me from going to another church. Then in Jan this past year my daughter died and I’ve felt that HUGE hole in my heart and I feel so alone most of the time, But I’ve also used this time to try to get closer to God because HE HAS NEVER LEFT MY SIDE.

    • Where did you get your info? I believe if you group people by their fundamental church, then you are implying that all people from that church are the same. Just saying, that sounds the same as being racist.

    • Strange comments, but the strangest is “family members and friends died much more often than they do today.” Hello? Everyone dies.

  2. Thanks for the reminder to continue to extend love and support to those who grieve even after the funeral. It couldn’t hurt to remember the day someone died or maybe their birthday because next year, and maybe for many years, those days are likely to be difficult for your friend or family member, though they won’t be the only difficult days. My brother died from cancer in September and his birthday is next week. It’s really tough to see that coming and know he’s not here. A hug can do a lot for someone who is hurting.
    I know how you feel. Sending a hug to you John.

  3. I lost my wife 19 years ago and one of my two sons 15 years ago, I have never recovered. My life has been pretty empty ever since. Some company and support would be nice.

    • John, when my daughter died, my new husband has NEVER lent me his shoulder to cry on. I’ll be somewhere walking and the tears will just COME. Or I will be at my business (I’m self employed) and a customer will come in & we will start a conversation & I’ll find out that THEY had lost a loved one, that we both were going through grief. First thing I know we are both crying & leaning on each other.
      I lost both of my dogs and then my daughter. I feel the pain like crazy. I know that friends are always afraid to bring my daughters name up. But it’s helps in healing your heart when you can talk about them. I too feel alone in my grief.

      • I’m so sorry for your trouble. I have. Come to learn unless it happpens to them, it’s not important. I lost my beautiful granddaughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I should have pulled the plug on my life right there but have my daughter to take care of and her wonderful husband. It was 12 years this Christmas. I’ll never be totally happy again, but I’m one of those fortunate people who have support at home. Friends don’t want to talk about it. That’s just life. And as I say, I feel so badly for you. Take one day as it comes, do things on your schedule and don’t worry about what others think, God bless you.

  4. I lost the love of my life in a divorcee. That separation feels like death as well. So much loss. I feel like I am abandoned without an anchor. It’s been difficult because I don’t think I will ever find anyone like her again, who helped me be a better person, love is not always enough.

  5. You are wrong with your opinion on Christian fundamental churches. If you’ve had a bad experience with one, please don’t let your experience speak for all. That is being very judgmental. Some of the most caring and praying people I have known have come from a fundamental church.

  6. John, you speak the truth. What you said about being a couple, is what I have experienced. I lost my husbamd, Steve, just over a year and a half ago. We did almost everything together. He was very gregarious and funny. I played the straight man, setting up his stories and jokes. It is so hard to not have my other half to be with and talk to. Even people we knew most of our adult lives do not know howuch a call, visit or text would mean. Especially hugs. God, I miss his hugs! I do not know how I can keep this up. It’s my job trying to keep so busy that I don’t have to think about it until I go up to that empty bed where we would share all the days happenings. Grief will follow me for all my waking days, I assume.
    How has your mother coped, John?

  7. There are some losses worse than death. For 50 years my wife was a loving companion. Then a seemingly irreversible condition stole her mind and has resulted in my being forced to be her care giver 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I grieve and weep every day over the loss of my beautiful wife. When I finally lay her to rest I know it will be a relief to us both. I will have no more tears to shed nor grief to feel. However, neither will I feel regret for having given her the loving tender care that I promised until “death do us part”.

    • Bless you for being there for her as caregiver. That would be extremely difficult since you are grieving her loss while she is still physically there. Know that while her love for you has been stolen from her mind, it is still in her heart. Though she may not seem to remember who you are, you can still honor her by knowing that she is still the woman you gave your heart to. Best of luck to you!

  8. There are some losses worse than death. For 50 years my wife was a loving companion. Then a seemingly irreversible condition stole her mind and has resulted in my being forced to be her care giver 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I grieve and weep every day over the loss of my beautiful wife. When I finally lay her to rest I know it will be a relief to us both. I will have no more tears to shed nor grief to feel. However, neither will I feel regret for having given her the loving tender care that I promised until “death do us part”.

  9. Dear John Pavlovitz:

    …grieve as long as you breathe

    I have often told divided, fractious congregations to look around and realize that far more than they could ever imagine, they need the people they see.

    We can never be done with grief. But we can understand joy [not ‘happiness’] as the salve which we rub over the wound of grief. Faith holds both joy and grief with trust in God.


  10. My son and daughter in law died 2 months ago . We’re still devastated. Not much out there to help you cope with grieving, managing estate, caring for grandchildren at the same time. We’re doing our best taking one day at a time.

    • Hi Cheryl,
      When my daughter passed away, my exhusband signed us both up for “Grief Share” which is a daily email “mini counseling session” that’s in your inbox daily. I’ve since learned thru looking at their website that there are free counseling groups at different churches etc that meet weekly . Look up , look at the bottom of the page for where they meet up in your area. I must confess that I went a few times but it seemed that every single person in my group was dealing with someone who committed suicide, & I felt somehow “guilty” that my daughter died from a heart attack.
      Hang in there…..I wish I could tell you that it’s gets better but it’s a roller coaster ride on emotions. Bless you !

    • So sorry for you double loss. No words can make it easier. I’m thankful for you that you have grandchildren, as my daughter died suddenly before having children. Her death was in a foreign country, and the details you speak of, all the after death business, was extremely hard, and the supportive burst at first was over. I handled much detail overseas, alone, and have had much time alone. Sometimes I feel crazy, sometimes blessed to have had so much Love with my firstborn daughter. None of the words can help ease the grief, so I’ll say again anyway, I understand. Hugs to all of you.

  11. Thank you. I lost my husband on January 8, 2017. I have spent much of this week wandering lost our son’s are doing their best to help while lost in their grief. I thought I was prepared because he had been sick for a long time and I am discovering that as much as I was prepared (I thought) I am lost. We had been together for 39 years married for 37 of them I’m happy that he is no longer in pain but I’m lost trying to figure out this new “identity ” I’ve been a wife and mom for over half my life. My friends have lives that they need to get back to and I have a life to figure out.

    • Cherrie, find something to get yourself involved in,so you can be around others… will then find people that are ALSO walking through that valley that we are all in….you’ll find that you are NOT ALONE. Hang in there

    • Cherrie,
      I am sorry for your loss. A friend of mine lost her husband and I see how much pain she is in. I’m praying for you right now. That you will find rest as you heal your broken heart.

    • Hugs. This is a hard time. I’m figuring out a new life too. It can be interesting. I went to Europe alone, and saw amazing places. Since I was alone, I wrote my experiences, which is one way to share what I witnessed. I also met people along the way, very interesting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I wish great courage for you in your new endeavors, when you are ready.

    • Oh my, Cherie. You haven’t even hit two months yet, you’re still in the shell-shocked stage…much less figuring out your new identity and purpose for the rest of your life. I’ve been a widow for 10 months. And I don’t mean to discourage you at all, but just so you know it’s normal, it’s harder now than at first. In my reading I’m seeing this is a similar experience for many. I feel for you. I was married to my husband for 36 years, we knew each other almost 40. Have patience with yourself and cut yourself a wide…a veerrryyyy wide swath of grace. The aftermath of this kind of loss has been likened to the experience of PTSD. Functioning well is going to take time.

      Debbie C.

  12. I aldo have lost both my parents. But I am grateful for a church that loved me through my grieving. The support that came to me through these dear friends did much to calm my wounded heart. But the real peace in my heart comes from my Heavenly Father and those who share my love for Him. If I had not known deep love for those I lost would not have grieved as deeply as I did. I am so glad I experienced their love.

  13. My sister died 2015, she was younger than me. It was sudden and unexpected I am still grieving loosing her. My dad was ill and turned for the worst suddenly and passed away. All this pain I feel inside. Everyone says that they are in a better place. They are I believe but it does not lessen how I feel. I still miss them and I ache inside. I cry all the time when I am alone. I hope one day I will feel less pain and just think about the good times with them but I know it will never be that easy.

    • When people say thing like that I go blank. I know my daughter didn’t want to die at age 27. She isn’t with us. How can anyone define a “better place?” Death is such a mystery. Defining where the dead are with one believe system limits parameters, attempting to limit grief, which makes no sense to one who cries so deeply that their chest and heart no longer function well. There are no words of comfort. Grief is real, and we feel it. I stare at the surface of water, seeing the contrast of light & dark flashing across, moving, changing. Soon after her death, my daughter showed up on a dark quiet night as an energy force, and revealed to me a brilliant flash of light, as if a black curtain raised in the wind, offering one quick glimpse of where she was going. After that, the only place I see where thousands of souls could be is there, where the changing surface between element worlds reveals a mystery undefined. I am full of wonder at the mystery.

      • When people tell me my husband is in a better place I tell them I can’t think of a better place than being with people you love and who love you. But he is no longer suffering and I’m grateful for that.

  14. My Grandmother passed away last July, so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind and my Grandfather passed over four years ago and I’m still mourning him, so knowing now that what I feel is normal is a big help. My Mother I don’t think will ever recover as both passings hit her pretty hard since she was never really independent from her parents and now that they’re both gone she doesn’t seem to know how to move on and that makes me sad 🙁

  15. I did not get that God was the subject here. I love God and Jesus but my relationship with Him or Them is just that my relationship so now that that is said mostly because I get so tired of all this social media stuff about God it makes me sick. Do as you want we do have the choice so go to church or dont go to church it is up to you. As far as the grieving I do not think it will ever go away I dont think it should ever go away I loved my Father in Life and I still Love Him I missed him when he went to work and I miss him now I love to talk to him about him, I am and always will be a proud daughter, I spent months watching him go and even knowing it was going to be hard I am like you I was in such shock and so deeply confused by all this that I waited to cry and I still cry 6 years later and I hope I never stop because if I do stop wont it mean that I have forgotten what I miss so much. Having no one to lean on is a bit difficult but it seems to me they always say dont worry things will be okay you will feel better. I think to myself no I wont and no things wont get better as I age more and more of the people in my life are leaving and going on it hurts and I am thankful that it does I have a heart I am Human. It is okay to be sad. However it hurts to think that all of us walking around out there are in some way sad for the same reasons. Love your life and love those who love you never forget.

  16. I am well acquainted with grief. I’ve lost my mother when I was only sixteen, my dad 8 years later. I’ve lost a sister to domestic violence, two of my three brothers. And most recently I’ve lost a granddaughter who was only 14 months old. I agree with what you’ve said about grief and I believe that people really do not understand what a griever needs. I’m glad that I know God personally, or I think these losses would have made me go crazy. I also believe that grief does not just go away. The pain is there, but I think we learn how to live with it. And we also have the decision if we will become angry, or if we will accept this as part of our life. I choose the latter. I am thankful for every day I had with my loved ones I have lost. I wish I had more, but for that I’ll have to wait.

  17. I had a son who was severely disabled (cerebral palsy) and who passed away a couple of weeks ago after at least a year of illness and complications. I understand what William meant. It tears your heart out to watch someone you love die a little piece at a time, all the while you are powerless to do anything to stop it. Our grieving is a little different than someone who was taken suddenly because there is an element of just being relieved, for all of us, that it is over. Then there is the guilt of being relieved. And I still miss him.

    I understand what Charles meant too. I grew up in one of the churches he was talking about. It’s the main reason I haven’t attended a church in over a decade. It is worse than useless to be up in someone’s face, telling them that their loved one is in the arms of Jesus, he is out of pain, blah blah blah. Even if we do believe that (and for the record I do) it does nothing to ease the pain I feel right now. When you try to cheer someone up with this drivel, all it does is tells them that they are not entitled to their grief.

    If you really want to be helpful, respect their grief. A simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” is far more comforting than “You shouldn’t be sad because they are in Heaven now.”

  18. I want to thank all of you for sharing your experiences here. You have reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for – my siblings, children, grandchildren and husband are all still with me. On the other hand, painful thoughts of losing one of my loved ones come all to often – and you have let me know I need to appreciate every precious moment we have.

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  20. I think each death is a different story. For myself, My mom had Alzheimer’s disease and suffered for years until she fell and broke her hip while the caregiver was watching her she ended up in a comma for almost 2 months an died from an infection where the feeding tube was while in the hospital. I felt little remorse or sorrow at the time she died as she suffered so much for so long, My dad on the other hand had a heart attack and was gone’ instantly six years later. It took a year or more to get relief of his death and still it bothers me. I loved the parents both the same but the way they each died affected me so differently and sometimes I feel guilty that I didn’t grieve more for my mom but honestly thought she was finally at peace.

  21. Please correct your title!! It is so bad I could not read the article……’the grieving need you most after the funeral?!!!’ What are you trying to say?

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  23. My motherdied when I was fifteen. And much like you say, we were surrounded by food, condolences, and support, as often as people were able. I was in complete shock, but in my haze I still heard people whispering about what a brave young woman I was.

    It wasn’t bravery. It was complete, mind nubing shock.

    My mother died without warning. One day she was there, the next she was gone. Forever.

    Once the activities of planning for, and going through with the funeral were over, people were few and far between.

    Don’t get me wrong, I had support throughout my remaining teen years (although not from my father because he was lost in his own grief), but those days right after everything was put to rest were unbearable.

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  26. There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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