"Honestly, I can't tell you why writing helps. When Matt died, I quit almost everything - except writing. I wasn't writing to heal. I wasn't writing to communicate to others. I wasn't writing to find peace or resolution or acceptance. I was writing because I had to. Because words leaked out of me, whether I had paper in front of me or not. " -Megan Devine
I never wanted to be an unofficial "expert" on grief (aka experience it firsthand), but here I am.
When I experience something or someone close to us experiences something, I dive in and read and read and read. My mom was the same way. We comb through the helpful advice and discard the unhelpful advice.
When I got pregnant, I read pretty much every parenting blog and book out there. I did the same when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and then started to experience insomnia. When I learned that being non-racist wasn't good enough, and I had to be an antiracist, I read.
Now, I'm grieving, and I'm doing the same. Reading books. Going to grief support group. Joining Facebook Groups. Poring through Instagram posts on grief. I want to know if what I'm feeling and thinking is crazy. I want to find that I'm not alone. I want some hope that things aren't always going to feel this bad.
Here's the thing. There are a lot of people out there who are silently grieving a loss of someone.
So, I decided to put together a list of what grief can feel like after someone dies. These are common thoughts that, not only I'm thinking and feeling, but I've read and heard that other people have experienced too.
These thoughts are mostly for out-of-order deaths. Deaths when a parent dies too young and when their children are still too young. Deaths when siblings die too young. Deaths when a spouse dies too young. Deaths when a close friend dies too young. Deaths when a child dies before a parent much too young. Deaths when the person who died should have had 20, 30, 40, 50 + more years.
I'm recording all this now while it is still very fresh and early. It'll be interesting to look back on this years from now and see how I've changed.
It might sound like I'm rambling when I record these thoughts and feelings down below. But that is what grief is. It isn't neat and orderly. It's messy and chaotic and sporadic and incoherent and illogical most of the time.
I hope you find a tiny bit of solace that you aren't alone. And if you aren't grieving, I hope it helps you understand what your loved one is going through.
Grief, at least in the very early stages, is all consuming. You think about little else. You have no idea what is going on in the news (except that Taylor Swift watched Travis Kelce play). You have really no idea what is going on in other people's lives. It feels selfish. But it isn't that you don't care. It's that your brain isn't capable right now of taking on much of anything else. Your brain is protecting you.
Grief feels like a hole in your chest and stomach. It throbs. It lingers. It feels empty. It longs for the past and the way things were.
Grief looks differently for everyone. It has no timeline. It has no stages. Year 2 might be harder than Year 1.
Your life is now very distinctly divided into two parts: BEFORE and AFTER. Sometimes you spend hours trying to live in the before.
I usually look for the lesson during hard times, but my mom didn't need to die for me to be taught a lesson. I already appreciate life. I already didn't take her for granted. I already immensely enjoyed our time together. What was the lesson? Sometimes there is no lesson. Sometimes we just aren't meant to know the answers. It's God's Plan, and we will know once we die and it will all make sense.
I'm really happy for my mom. I know she is in Heaven. But I'm so, so sad for me. I miss her. So much.
Your mission becomes getting to Heaven and everyone you know to Heaven. Hopefully, though, not for a long, long time.
People say that my mom wouldn't want be to me unhappy. I say back to that, "Well, I didn't want my mom to die, so we can't get everything we want now can we, Mom." 😉
I'm not just mourning the loss of my mom. I'm grieving the loss of our family dynamics. Our future. Our dreams. My mom and dad's relationship. My mom's relationship with my brother. My mom's relationship with my son. The other kids who I thought I would have had by now and whom my mom will never meet. And I'm grieving so much more.
I'm also grieving the loss of me. I realize that I'll never be the same person I once was.
You also mourn the death that you thought you would have had with her. In my mind, I pictured it 20+ years down the road. She is lying in bed with the sun streaming in. We play her favorite music. We all hold her hands and share happy memories. It's sad, but we relish in the fact that she had a long, happy life with us. In reality, I got none of that. It was quick. It was traumatic. There were no sounds except for the haunting noises of the hospital. I couldn't breathe. And I couldn't even look at her while she died because I thought I would have a panic attack and couldn't accept the fact that this was really happening. Like maybe if I shut my eyes real tight that this would all just be a nightmare.
You replay the events leading up to the death over and over. The call. The wait. The drive. The first look. The crying. The anger. The looks on everyone's faces as they one-by-one come into the hospital room. The decisions. The watching her die. The slow walk back to the car when you look out and realize the world didn't stop after the worst thing that's ever happened to you happened.
You go over all the things, and I mean all the things, you did during the last month together and try to make sense how someone so alive is now dead. Trip to waterfall. Picnic. Lake. Hiking. Swimming. Family dinners. Mini Golf. Science Museum. Sleepovers. Eye Spy in the Car. Sitting on her bed laughing. Mall. Dinner. Concert. Beach. Laughing in Church at My Dad's Getting Sunscreen in His Eyes. More dinner. Ice Cream. Ferry ride. Phone Calls. FaceTime. Trivia. Hug. Dead.
You try to assign a reason to why she died. For me, I thought maybe she was going to get diagnosed with dementia shortly after and she wouldn't want us to see that in her. But this is fruitless. It's unfair. We still should have had so many good times left.
You scroll through pictures, videos, texts, cards, journals constantly. Realizing that this is all you have. All you have left of their voice. All you have left of their words. All you have left are the memories and love.
You don't want to get rid of anything. Her laundry because it still smells like her. The clothes she wore to the hospital that day. The food she had to eat. Her phone number pinned to the top of your phone. Everything that is hers. You want to keep it all.
You want to be kinder and more compassionate to anyone who has ever gone through this or something similar.
You want to talk about the person you loved who died every second of every day. The memories. The death. All of it.
You allow yourself to be happy for just a little. Then, you immediately feel bad when it's over. How can I feel happy when my mom is dead?
Sometimes you're fine or appear to be fine. You carry on. You have normal conversations. You laugh. You make jokes about death and how you no longer have a mom alive. You do everyday tasks. You truly do feel fine in that moment. Grieving people don't need to be analyzed. Sometimes you really are fine. And sometimes you just want to pretend to be fine in that moment. BUT it doesn't mean that you are "over it" or have "moved on." It doesn't mean that you are no longer deeply sad. There is none of that. Grief will always be there.
You want to make the most of the time you have left on Earth AND you want to stay sad forever because being sad means you still feel close to her.
You are so scared to forget. Right now I can hear her voice, know what she would say in a certain situation, picture the way she walked and what her body looked like, her mannerisms. I can look into a room, a place, etc and visualize clearly her being there. Forgetting all of that is terrifying. Knowing my son won't really remember her besides the memories we share of her is even more so.
The pain is my reminder of our amazing times together.
You become scared more people you love will die premature deaths.
You now want to capture every moment.
You don't want to die. You realize that you have so many people to live for and experience life with. BUT you aren't afraid to die anymore.
You'll never "get over" this. It isn't something to conquer.
You are hyperaware of your loved one's absence in everything you do. For a split second or minute you forget, and the reminder punches you in the gut.
Knowing that you might live 50+ years without your loved one knocks the breath out of you. Sometimes it gets so hard to breathe. You feel like you're suffocating. You scream inside of your head, "Please, Mom, God, please please help me calm down in this moment."
A lot of people grieving have silent screams trapped inside of their heads all day.
Saying their names doesn't remind us that they died. It reminds us that they lived. Say their names. Share memories of them. We might cry. We might tear up. That's okay.
We aren't sorry for talking about our loved one or writing about them or posting about them. We aren't sorry if people feel uncomfortable with our sadness.
Knowing that I won't see my mom again the rest of my life on Earth is an impossible thought.
So sometimes I have to pretend that she isn't dead. She's just away somewhere where she can't communicate, so I write letters to her everyday to send to her.
Hope does come. It comes in the form of my son's laughing and playing. My husband's sharing a memory of my mom. My brother's and dad's texts that I look forward to everyday. It comes from family members and friends checking in. It comes from my support group and freely being able to talk about my mom with people who understand. It comes from seeing signs from my mom.
You realize that everything that will make you happy in this life will also make you a little bit sad because you can't share it with your loved one anymore. You actually don't ever want to stop being sad.
You have guilt. Guilt of any fight you've ever had. Guilt of anytime you didn't want to answer her call or said "no" to doing something with her. Because now you know just how short life truly is. But it isn't fair because everyone has fights. Everyone cancels plans. Everyone can't answer every call and FaceTime. Forgive yourself.
You worry about your child. You worry they will forget your loved one. You worry that your child will think of you as the sad mom. You worry that you are relying on them too much because they make you so happy in a world right now that is so sad. It isn't their responsibility to make you happy. You know this. However, you can't help wanting to hug them all the time.
You realize that there is no recovery. Recovery means a return to your normal state. Your normal state is no more. It can't be. And that's okay.
Grief is lonely no matter how many people you have around you who love and support you. Because only you can truly go through your own grief. Only you had the kind of relationship you had with your loved one. No one else.
But being around people who understand helps. A lot. And having a support team helps. A lot.
Grief doesn't need to be fixed and distracted all the time. Grief isn't a disorder. Sometimes it's good to just be sad.
But distractions are nice from time to time. Your brain can't think about death 24/7.
Grief can make you quiet. Very quiet. Large social settings are even tougher.
Emotions change hourly in grief.
Seeing life move on is so, so hard. You know that it has to, but it doesn't make it any easier.
You worry that people won't stick around while you are still so sad. You worry that one day they will tell you to stop writing about your mom. Stop posting about her. Stop talking about her. They want and expect you to "move on." Their uncomfortableness around you is evident. They stop asking you to do things. They stop calling and texting you. Your grief makes them too sad, like grief is contagious or something. You pray that that doesn't happen. Because you can't stop writing about her. Can't stop talking about her. And you absolutely can't move on. You know that life won't always look like it does now. But the love my mom and I have for each other is. It's not our love was. The love will always be kept alive in your heart and how can you not talk about something that is alive in your heart?
Reaching out is hard. It requires a lot of effort to express what you need. And sometimes you don't have it in you to talk about anything other than your loved one or what happened. You really appreciate the people who just "show up" and continue to reach out.
And I will finish with a quote from Megan Devine, "Here is what grieving people want you to know: We love you. We still love you, even if our lives have gone completely dark, and you can't seem to reach us. Please stay. It's an immense relief to spend time with people who can be with the reality of grief without saying much. It's a relief to be with people who can roll with whatever comes up - from laughing maniacally to sobbing uncontrollably in the space of a few minutes....you can't do this perfectly, and we don't expect you to. You can only aim toward more love."
Lauren Barrett is a multi-passionate mom working to help all parents become their best selves and build positive relationships with their kids through mindful parenting. She has a degree in deaf education and a Master’s in Reading Education. She is a high school teacher of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing by day, a cross country coach by the afternoon, a writer/author by her son's nap times, and a full time mom to an amazing 4-year old. Lauren is a 3x author of the Add One-A-Day 30 Day Challenge, children's book, Henry's Hiccups, and parenting guide Now What? Mindful Checklists for Life's Hard Parenting Moments, a blogger at Lauren Barrett Writes, and has been published on sites like A Fine Parent, Pregnant Chicken, Pop Sugar, Her View From Home, and Scary Mommy. She loves her faith, running, visiting MLB stadiums with her husband, chocolate, scrapbooking, pretending she would actually do well on the Amazing Race, re-watching The Office, listening to Bobby Bones, and helping out all moms. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, James, and son, Henry. Follow her on Instagram at @laurenbarrettwrites, and get her free guide on what to do during the middle of a tantrum.
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