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 nearly a decade 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.
233 thoughts on “The Grieving Need You Most After the Funeral”
Thank you for the article….it is so true.. I lost my mother just a year ago. She was ill for only 12 days. Everything happens so fast. Her condition worsened day by day. Before we realized it…she was gone. I survived my first year a lot better than I had imagined. But now…I’m having a harder time. I feel as if. I have slept-walked for a full year and I am now finally waking up to the pain and loneliness of not having my mother: my guide, my security.
Not one days goes buy were my kids dont post about mental illness as there sister comitted suicide ,to me its all in oure Gods hands he will comfort you ,talking helps them and me but we are in different cities all we can do is try,grief dont go away but we have Christ call apon him and dont be afraid to go on youre knees
I just lost my son less than 2 weeks ago on November 20. He had just turned 18 in September. I am going through a divorce so it was just him and I at home still. I don’t think it is ever possible to have closure. I do understand the grieving afterwards. I just feel numb. I heard my grandson call my daughter mama and tried to hold back the tears but couldn’t realizing I never get to hear him walk through the door and say hey ma and hug me. I will never ever be the same person. One of the biggest chunks of my heart is gone. It seems sooo unbearable but the outpouring of people has stopped. I do have a very few friends that are still here and check on me but it is now I need them most. I have always had to be the strong one and I just can’t be. I don’t know how to be. Any suggestions?
I thought losing so many of my family that I took care of as they were dying was the worst but now it’s losing myself to illnesses that nobody will listen that no body even try to find some answers to give me a call your life as I leave my memory I can’t live like this I don’t want to live like this anymore watching someone lose their memory is horrible but it’s not as horrible as when you’re losing your own
Dear Arica ,
I am so sorry to hear your heart wrenching story. I too just lost my husband in September, and so we are both going through the grieving process. A son is a son is a son. There is no getting away from that. You will always have an aching hole in your heart. Hopefully, G_d willing, the aching will be less servere in time, but having recently spoken to an acquaintance of mine who lost her son as well, it never goes away. But life has to continue for us left behind. I am very lucky that I have family, friends and a community that have been amazing, and that has helped so much. I’m saddened to hear that you have otherwise.
I have learned to try and do things which make me happy, keeping busy works for me as well.
Wishing you strength and all the best.
So very sorry for your great loss. Please consider a grief support group, through your church or your community. You will be amongst those that are going through a long, painful process. They will be able to understand you, and you them. You will make new friendships that will last and support you for years. Prayers and hugs to you!
We lost our son Matthew in a house fire at his best friends’ house on June 10, 2018. Though it hurts deeply to this day, I still tell people to talk about him, tell me stories about how he influenced their lives, how he improved their world, tell me EVERYTHING they can think of!!! I long to hear it all! Keeping his memory, his spirit alive in the hearts of people, and mine, is now the best gift of caring we can give. He leaves behind 3 small children and a fiancee he was to marry on 9-29-18. Crushing……..
I lost my 25 year old son to suicide on May 30, 2018. You are right about how many people show up for the funeral service or memorial service and never hear from then again. I haven’t heard from either of my 2 brothers since June. My friend of 45 years has not contacted me since the memorial service. I know the world goes on but to not have heard from my brothers or this friend is heartbreaking.
They distant themselves from you because it’s a reminder that but for the grace of God go I .
I’m so sorry for your loss Debra. My heart truly breaks for this loss. I just lost my father and am grieving daily. However, I can’t even imagine the pain of losing a child . Please know I will pray for your comfort and peace.
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I lost both my Mother and Father in 2018 a few months a part both were very sick dieing from driffrent illnesses the only time I hear from some family members and some so call friends by phone or text if they want something they don’t care about how me and my Brother feel my brother is disabled and my Mother was taken care of him before she died things have been very hard
What if you are there for the grieving person for 9yrs and they choose to not accept your invitations,never have you over.Remain in their home tell you they are lonely but never initiate anything.Feel as though we lost both of them.I won’t give up but it is painful.
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Thank you for this, This post couldn’t tell more of the truth. The influx of love and support was unimaginable when my mom passed away. In the days a weeks to come, the emptiness was so real that I couldn’t deal with it. You learn how to start dealing with it, but it takes time, A lot of time.
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This sums it up. It has been nearly 20 yrs since I lost Colin. The months surrounding his sudden illness, death and funeral are still a blur. I do know that the Met Police and my colleagues propped me up, and to this day, are an integral part of my well-being. Sadly, family, from both sides, basically told me to pull my socks up and get on with life. I believe that grief is absolutely allowed at anytime. Bottling it up serves no purpose. Thank you for your support!!
My husband died 2 years ago. I never want him to be forgotten. I talk about him regularly, sometimes as if he is still with us, because I believe he is.
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