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 you learn as you grieve: that grief has no shelf life; that you will feel this loss 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 been five 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

  1. Pingback: A heartfelt and illuminating discussion about grief.

  2. Omg.. the 3 year anniversary of my spouses death just passed, and this part “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.”… I was 5 months pregnant when he died and our oldest had just turned 5. I function because I have to, because I am still their mother, and I still have to take care of them to the best of my ability, but when they sleep, or visit grandma.. is when I have my time alone, and I still grieve and cry and get angry, but in hindsight, it’s also my time to pray about what has come from this tragic time in our lives.

  3. My problem… My son has been missing for 2 years now. He wanted to take his life and not be found because he felt he was a burden. I’m pretty sure he jumped Niagara Falls. This is where I live. Ambiguous Loss is harder then a “normal” grief. I have no closure, no funeral, nothing. My grief is everyday when I wake up until my eyes close at night. Even then I dream about my son. No one knows what to say to me. I don’t even know how to live…..:-(

    • Monique I am truly sorry for your continued grief. I do hope you get some kind of closure and as much peace as one could have with losing a child.

    • As a mother who just lost her daughter to a sudden and tragic death I offer you my heartfelt sympathy. Closure is more important than people realize. I don’t know what to say except please accept my love and support from one grieving mother to another.

    • Sad for you…and son, also. May you be comforted by this article, responses, ( tho from strangers) and your surrounding folks/family, your higher power…

      Grief will live in your heart.but take care it doesn’t consume it. I acknowledge twinges (at 10 years since sudden loss of husband who died in his sleep, otherwise healthy & athletic) . Tho I had ‘ closure’ and do not know the ambiguous loss you suffer, I had one of those moments for no apparent reason yesterday. Are you able to talk with a prefessional or grief group? That often helps, even many years in when you are still vulne able….a relative said mere months later, ‘ you’re over the grief thing by mow, right?’ ( ironically on Easter Sunday, weird enough, and I became hysterical. Distance separated us for the 9 year still a recent visit: some people are Job’s comforters….avoid, even if you are desperately beggy.

    • I am so sorry for your loss of your son how you manage the loss and pain everyday I don’t know.please take care ❤️❤️

  4. I agree but his last line I can’t agree with. Grief is process that must be walked through, it gets you to a new state of being and allows the wound to heal. Post grief is an awareness state in which you can miss the person, miss the relationship but be OK and not relive the emergent state of present grief. If your grief wounds are still so raw 4 years later you need help. Bioenergetics can help stabilize that. I have worked with numerous clients and seen the shifts. I have been through grief with both my parents. Staying stuck in the rawness is not the only option.

    • Grief changes you. I’ll never get over the loss of my husband, nor would I want to. I’ve seen so many posts about grief but one of my favorites was it’s like a ship wreck. At first you are barely holding on and the waves are huge and keep coming. After a time the waters are calm but you never know when another wave will hit. Another was how at first grief fills your life and you build a bigger life around it but it is always there and sometimes it will touch the edges of your bigger life. I didn’t explain that very well. Grief wells up but you go on. Tears are liquid love.

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  7. I have lost both parents, all of my grandparents, down to Aunts and Uncles and a brother, but I have to say, the hardest 2 were my mother and my husband. I want so much to speak to them daily. Our concept of life after death is a comfort to many of us. Believeing our loved ones will greet us is reassuring, for me at least. Loving someone “Till death do we part” is for all of our loved ones. No matter who they are. Its hard to turn your heart toward tomorrow when l have to get through today, but I do it every day. And when tomorrow comes, I will be ready for it, as well.

    • This is the time of the year when grief can come upon one very strongly. The holidays just aren’t the same without my mommy. She was so excited it was contagious. She loved menu prep, shopping, and the cooking. And everything tasted so good. Dinner conversation was light and humorous. After dinner, board games and football topped off with delicious cakes and pies and sometimes, homemade ice cream. God knows I try but for heavens sake, it’s only been 20 months but people have moved on as best as I can tell. My husband no longer acknowledges my comment when I say that I miss my mom. Grief is lonely and you wonder why you can’t move on when it appears others have. The other thing I’ve noticed is that people won’t engage in a conversation about the deceased. I think I used to be that way, too. Lord forgive me. It’s like, “oh well, she’s dead. No need to talk about her anymore.” So as to not let this be a venting session, here’s some advice to those who want to comfort others. Keep the departed soul alive by talking about them if the person grieving wants to — it’s not going to make them sadder. It will help. Like John said, don’t cut off visits and calls after a month. The loss is just settling in. Be compassionate and caring and don’t use pat phrases like, “time heals all pain” or “give it to the Lord.” Saying nothing accompanied by a hug or held hand means a lot. And of course, pray for the person. I’ll pray for each of you who have written here.

  8. Thanks for posting this inside…so many people don’t know what to say or how to act to once who lost a loved one, because sometimes awareness takes over…I so agree with you that after a funeral it’s important to reach out and stay in contact with the grieving person…I just experienced losing a special individual reasently which was very sad for me… I felt so awkward when I said my condolences to the family… What eased me and the grieving wife that I promised her to keep stopping by her house to have coffee…she really liked the idea and I will make sure that I’ll keep my prommise…💙

  9. What is the best thing to say to a friend who is grieving?

    I have been fortunate to have not yet experienced grief myself, so I always feel like I’m going to say the wrong thing.

    If it has been a few months since your friend lost their parent, what do you say when you see your friend who is grieving?

    • The best thing to say is, “How are you doing, really?” and really mean it and be willing to listen. Not many people want to ask the question and are willing to listen to the answer.

      My advice which I share at the end of each funeral/memorial service devotional is for friends to make contact with those who are grieving, and then after such as the above greeting, to close your mouth, open your ears, and open your heart.

  10. I love your article; it is all so true. One of my brothers told me three years after my husband’s death that I should be “over it.” My step mother even said I should be doing better. At four years I had knee replacement surgery just after I found out I had an acoustic neuroma, which is a tumor in my left ear that will cause me to go deaf in that ear within 5-10 years. I was only 56 at the time and was really missing my husband, and my brother told me I needed to go into a mental health facility. I found out who I could not confide in. Reading articles like yours helps affirm that I am not crazy after all. Grief has no time limit.

  11. This is a very well written article and is so true. I struggled for a long time because I lost my husband when I was only 53 and my sons were only in their 20’s. I was concerned about them and spent time trying to help them deal with things they had to go through and delayed the inevitable process of what I had to go through myself. After three years, my brother told me I should “be over it” and my step mother said about the same thing. I learned who I could and could not confide in , and it made for lonely times. By the way, my brother had been married four years and then divorced. I was married 30 years and six months and was suddenly left with no adult family support. My other brother lives only two hours away but his wife keeps him from having much to do with our side of the family, so he has not been able to be with me much since my husband died. She has never lost a close family member and doesn’t know what value it would be to have the family support. Fortunately, I have a good friend support system. It is a shame that those I thought would be the most help have been the most distant to me during the last almost five years.

  12. 4/21/18

    First of all I would like to say that I am sorry for your loss. You have hit a nerve with your insight and experience as far as needing love and support after the funeral. The time aftera funeral is the most difficult because this is when you are left alone with nothing but your own thoughts and reflections.
    I lost my common law husband of 20 plus years who died suddenly and unexpectedly right in front of me, and a year later I lost my rock, ….-my mother.
    One other thing I would like to point out is the grief we experience losing a pet. I kept myself together (barely) through both deaths, but when my mothers dog had to be put down during this time, I fell apart. Even now I over grieve when some one’s beloved dog or cat dies.
    Thank you for your book and thank you for allowing us all to comment.
    Laura

  13. Friends of ours lost their 14 year old son in an accident, and it was really hard not knowing what to say to them. I opened up to the Mother and she told me that the one thing she worried about was that her son would be forgotten. When she saw folks she knew, they avoided mentioning her son. What she wanted most was for people to talk about him and recount memories of him and things he did, whether they were funny, sad or just ordinary comments. She wanted to keep his memory alive! It has really helped her grieving hearing things that she had never known about his life when she was not with him.

  14. I was surprised how my friend’s recent passing knocked the wind out of me so to speak. And then as a pastor I still had to officiate the memorial service. Thankfully that has now occurred but the road ahead is far from easy for the husband and family remaining.
    This article was an excellent reminder to continue to connect in the days ahead with those who have lost a loved one.
    A very helpful website for those grieving and those who wish to understand and help is Grief Journey http://griefjourney.com/.

  15. Pingback: Grief has no shelf life « Remembering Not To Forget

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  18. Wow, John! Your comments about grief were beautifully eloquent and right on target with my experiences after losing my wife and life partner of 38 years! Your post is a “How To” guide for everyone who experiences the grief of losing a loved one, as we all will and must. I shared my experiences in an essay, “A Grief Conversation” on my blog, http://www.JamesOsborneNovels.com. Hope its okay to post the link here.

  19. I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but I have to say that I believe there is no such thing as “closure.” Everyone uses this word like it’s some magical event that will remove the grief, sadness, and depression after a death of a loved one. My experience with deaths is that I won’t ever “get over it.” I may get better with dealing with grief, but it won’t ever go away. My life will continue to have a huge hole where the deceased once was in my existence. Yes, time eases the pain. But, there is never closure. Closure means, “the act of being closed.” And, I say again, that hole will NEVER be closed. Not as long as I have my memory, heart, and soul.

    • Janet, I simply agree. The sadness ebbs & flows, even years later. I walk into another room but the door never really closes……

  20. My church , my family and friends now are my life and God is always close to me. I have so many memories that help me on the Grief Road and so much that I am involved that helps my mind and body. My husband passed away almost ten years ago and I dream about him so much almost like he is near. There will be a sunny day if you believe in your Lord and Savior. He will bring you over the mountains of grief. It will really never end until you meet again in your Eternal Home but their suffering and pain has ended . God does understand each of us in our way of grieving. God Bless.

  21. So good. My Dad died while on vacation, just 6 months after my father in law had died. And I was pregnant with baby #3. The funeral was soul-crushing but the days & months after the funeral? Brutal. Thanks for sharing this! It’s definitely taught us how to comfort others after loss!

  22. SO good. My Dad died while on vacation, just 6 months after my father in law had died. And I was pregnant with baby #3. The funeral was soul-crushing, but the days & months after? Brutal. It definitely taught us a lot about how to comfort others after loss!

  23. My cousin sent me a condolence card about 6 weeks after my mother had passed away. It meant almost more to me than the ones I received at the time of her passing because my mother was still in her thoughts also.

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