When Your Loved One Dies Again


My father died today.

This wasn’t the first time, though. I initially lost him almost twenty months ago, and when the news first reached me it literally brought me to my knees on our front lawn. In the early morning sun of an ordinary September Saturday, my unsuspecting body fell to the ground as the vicious tidal wave came and leveled me.

I still remember the dizzying flood of thoughts and questions and emotions as it all hit; my brain trying desperately and unsuccessfully to keep up with everything coming in. There’s no way to adequately describe those next few frantic, disorienting seconds and the hours and weeks that followed for anyone who hasn’t experienced it, other than to say it was a terrible personal Hell that I’d never hope for another living soul.

And yet for those of us who have lost someone we so love, it’s a Hell that endures.

The thing about grief that people rarely tell you is how it repeats itself, how cruelly it cuts you again and again and again. You can go days, sometimes weeks feeling as if you’ve gotten the upper hand, that you’ve made some kind of tenuous peace with it all, that you’ve finally truly accepted the reality of the situation. Life can even seem quite normal, and you can foolishly find yourself genuinely believing you’ve turned a corner.

And then it happens.

Something randomly trips that invisible land mine buried just beneath the surface of your mundane; a song or a scent or a date on the calendar, or worst of all seemingly nothing, and you feel like the one you love has just died—again. The pain of separation comes as violently and clearly as it did in that very first second and you find yourself reeling once more.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve relived my father’s death since that first horrible September morning, and yet the ferocity of the feeling never dissipates. Though it’s been nearly two years, a new city, and a new job since then, this week I once again found my knees on that front lawn, my mind struggling to make sense of anything, my tears pouring through heavy sobs. It was sorrow rebooting itself in my heart; another brutal Groundhog Day of grieving.

And yet the worst part of all of this, is that although I feel well right now, I’m quite certain that it will happen again. I may enjoy another season of apparent resignation perhaps even for a considerable amount of time, and then out of nowhere the pain will return with ferocity and suddenness, and my father will die again.

Grief yields a perennial pain; one that continues to do its invasive work within us for as long as we live.

It, like the love we have for those we are now without, never ends. This is both a beautiful tribute and a heavy toll.

And I guess that’s the other great truth about grief, that hope perseveres too. As many times as the hurt comes to blindside you, healing does as well. Without warning or reason or sense you suddenly begin to feel the unmistakable lightness of unexpected joy, and you get enough strength to keep going.

Not only that, but you somehow actually find life again. There, your beloved is ever-present; the beautiful bond of your relationship with them is not at all severed and you are connected intimately anew. Once more, there is gratitude and sweetness in remembering.

That is my prayer and wish for you; that for every time you relive your loss and for every day the one you love dies again, may you receive enduring comfort and a peace that is equally relentless in its coming to you.

Be encouraged.







42 thoughts on “When Your Loved One Dies Again

  1. This may be the most affecting piece on grief I have ever read. Thank you. Earlier today, I decided that one mistake we make is thinking that grief is a skill to be learned. It’s not; it’s the teacher.

  2. John,
    This is so true. My husband Michael died 3 1/2 years ago 1 day before his 57th birthday. We spent 35 wonderful years together. Endured some very hard times and came through it holding hands. He was every breath that I took. We never went anywhere without the other. Everywhere we went we held hands, even in the car. He had developed a cold, took antibiotics and developed CDiff. He went in the hospital on a Tuesday and died the following Tuesday. It was like living in a nightmare. After he died I kept asking my children if it was real. I still find myself sometimes waking up and feeling over on the other side of the bed to see if he is there. But that side is cold. Most days I am fine, but you are right then there are days where I think, God why have you taken away my reason for living. I found Michael when my life was at a low point, I had prayed and prayed for God to send someone to me and there he was. It was like coming home. This house had so much life in it and now there is only silence. But I keep moving on through every day working and doing what I am supposed to do. People constantly tell me I need to move on, to meet someone new. But all I want is to wait for Michael.
    Thank you for writing this article, it was so helpful.


  3. I understand. I’ve lost my Mom and my Dad. I’ve lost 2 babies through miscarriage. And recently, I’ve experienced yet another grief. I’ve lost my daughter because she has chosen to alienate herself from her family. This grief is deep. Reminds me of death. While some might say there is hope that she might return someday, there is also the unrelenting knife of rejection in my heart. The grief is real and I mourn for her daily.

    • Donna, I lost my husband 3 1/2 years ago, my oldest son and his family moved 3 months later and now my daughter also moved and because of problems her and her husband are having she has totally cut herself off from me. I have not seen or heard from her in a year. She has blocked me and both her brothers from her facebook page and won’t communicate with anyone. I am lost and don’t know what to do about it. My oldest son reminds me that she is 36 years old and I have to let her be. I just don’t know how to stop being a Mom. I feel your pain and understand what you are going through. May God Bless you with His peace.

  4. Doesn’t always have to be a person. My ex and I had talked about having kids but we split before it happened. She had 2 with someone else and I never had any. She is the only one I ever wanted that experience with and when I think of that loss it takes my breathe away and I get a pain in my heart and its been 14 years. Its a pain that returns when I see her or hear the stories of her kids growing up and all the things we never got to do together.

  5. I lost my teenage son six months ago. it’s a nightmare. every night I go to sleep hoping I don’t wake. every morning I begin counting the hours until I can sleep. this is hell. Hope is gone. I’m angry, devastated, destitute, exhausted.

  6. John, this is such a greatly written article about our endless grief. I am part of the grieving parents community. I lost my only child. Chris to cancer at the age of 13. Regardless of who we lost there are universal aspects of grieving. Like this one in your article. I re-live my son’s dying everyday. Then I get involved with working on our Foundation, raising funds, delivering iPads to kids with cancer, or paint a picture or make a piece of jewelry. The tiny joys and hopes.
    Do you mind if I republish it in our The Compassionate Friends local newsletter for the Northern
    Virginia chapter? Thanks, this is a very helpful article. Many people comment and share on my FB page linking to this article. Ilona

  7. Thanksgiving makes the 31st anniversary of my husband’s death. Our daughter, our only child, passe 2 1/2 years ago. My family is gone. I have lots of extended family, but; my family is gone. I heart is in pain. My sister says that I need to make up my mind to be happy. Not that easy.
    Going through the motion.

  8. I miss my parents everyday. Everyday . I have decided that my grief represents the love they gave us – their children. To be totally loved as a child- even in their imperfection-is my holy spot that overshadows my grief. And I am grateful and humbled .

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