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janbb's avatar

What did you not know about grieving a loss before you went through one?

Asked by janbb (51624points) December 4th, 2012

I am surprised by the peaks and valleys of grieving the loss of my marriage. I thought it would be a fairly steady process through the five stages that Kubler-Ross describes but instead have found that it is much more of a roller-coaster. I can be doing fine and then a ghostly memory will haunt me or a dream of my former life will have me in tears. Is there anything you have learned about loss that could help others?

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32 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

It is a very individual journey. That is the only piece of advice I have to offer. Kubler-Ross gives some codified ideas, but they are only ideas and not orthodoxy.

Let what needs to happen happen. Don’t stifle anything.

If you are having fun, don’t feel guilty.

In fact, don’t feel guilty over any feelings.

Mama_Cakes's avatar

I would love to hear others thoughts on this.

This is from a book that was sent to me called “Motherless Daughters” (after I loss my Mom). Talking about Kulber-Ross’ stages of grief:

“We’re an impatient culture, accustomed to gratifying most of our needs quickly. But mourning requires a certain resignation to the forces of time. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, so popular as a bereavement model in the 1980s and 1990s, were originally developed for terminally ill patients receiving news of their grim diagnoses, not for the family members they would leave behind. (One grief counseling website now suggests renaming them “The Five Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News” and ditching them as a bereavement model because they’ve done mourners more harm than good). I prefer J. William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning: accepting the loss (task 1); dealing with reality of the loss (task 2); adjusting to the new environment (task 3); and emotionally relocating the lost loved one (task 4). But truly, I’ve found there are really only two stages of grief that matter: the one in which you feel really, really bad, followed by the one in which you feel better. The transition from one to the other is bound to be slow, sloppy, and emotional, and neither has hard-and-fast rules.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It is a big roller coaster and it last a lot of years. Gradually the valleys get less frequent and less deep. But they’ll be there, probably for the rest of your life. You just gave me small one remembering some of my lost ones from a long time ago.

burntbonez's avatar

Loss is really hard. It’s probably related to the amount of time you were in the relationship and, to some degree, to the quality of the relationship and the amount of your identity that was tied up in the relationship. I tend to make attachments easily, but usually with people who can’t trust me or are unavailable in some way. Even though some of these relationships last for only hours, I might still be mourning their loss for weeks. How can I predict what it will be like before it happens?

marinelife's avatar

I think of it as similar to helix. Things (issues) come back at you in stages as you go through the process.

Nothing comes that you can’t handle though.

Also, grief if very phsyically taxing.

picante's avatar

All really good observations above. With my losses, it was always important for me to feel—to feel very intensely. The early stages of loss are physically painful; and it was important for me to cry out in pain. The pain can often turn to a bittersweet sensation over time.

I have observed with my own losses that I do need to look back at grief milestones and mark my distance from those milestones. I liken it to watching oneself heal. There is relief in that for me. Little triggers will always exist, and I almost look forward to them. It means I can still feel.

JLeslie's avatar


I had been through the death of my grandfather in my early teens, which was very upsetting to me. At the service I wept and when they lowered his coffin into the ground I was out of control crying. For several days I wanted to talk about my memories of him, and then in short order I was fine. This loss did nothing to prepare me for my break up with a long term boyfriend and nothing my parents had ever done or talked about prepared me either.

The loss of that relationship was like losing part of my body. Like an arm being cut off. It was emotional and physical, I felt it in every part of me. I trembled uncontrollably at times. Had dry heaves for days when I woke in the morning when I first learned he was seeing someone else. I lost my appetite, cried without notice. It went on for months. I remember after a few months realizing around noon one day that I had not thought about the breakup or him until that moment. It was the first I had not woken up with obsessive thoughts and ditsress regarding the whole ordeal.

I started doing better finally, emotionally and daily life. Then a situation would trigger my anxiety and depression regarding the issue and send me back to the bottom of the pit for hours, days, could be weeks depending on getting away from the triggers. I had been doing really really well, and then I graduated school and moved back home, and being back in the same town where he lived, where we lived while dating, sent me into a tailspin. I moved to Florida within a few weeks, and literally it was like all the misery lifted. New start.

I guess the experience of my grandfather’s death had been extreme sadness. But, the break up with my boyfriend had been intense anxiety and some depression. Both were processes of grieving in my opinion, but the experience was very different in the length of each stage of grieving and how disruptive it was to my life.

I think probably the biggest thing that influences how hard we are hit is whether the person is in our daily life or not, and how much we depend on that person for emotional support. But, I am sure it is different for everyone.

Sunny2's avatar

I didn’t know that the pain of loss could be a physical feeling. I felt like I had a steel bar going through my body. And grieving doesn’t stop until it finally gives way and you slowly can forget for longer periods of time. Then you can start appreciating the positives you experienced instead of the loss.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

How it doesn’t necessarily happen in the beginning…how grieving can take years to begin.

augustlan's avatar

That it’s an awful experience, no matter what. That, in time, it gets better, no matter what. {hugs}

bkcunningham's avatar

I didn’t know that to this very day, there will be an instant-as quick as a heartbeat-that I think I can pick up the phone and call my loved one, or I will have the emotion that when I see them I’ll ask them or show them or tell them something that I know only they would appreciate or know. It is sooo fast and fleeting a feeling and every time it happens, even now after many years without them in my life, it still feels like the wind has been knocked out of my sails for a nanosecond and I feel raw.

Jeruba's avatar

I didn’t know how long it could take.

I didn’t know how it could start afresh when you thought it was behind you.

I didn’t know how it could catch you by the throat in a sudden and completely unexpected moment and open you up like a gutted fish.

I didn’t know you could laugh in the midst of it, really laugh, and give yourself to the laughter, and yet still feel the grief enclosing your mind every minute.

I didn’t know that it’s possible, paradoxically, to cling to your loss, to treasure your grief and hold onto it as a known thing out of fear of what comes next, and that you can and must learn to let it go before it comes to define you.

janbb's avatar

Wow! All really helpful stuff! Thank you all.

Ron_C's avatar

I’m an old guy and my dad was thirty years older than me…a really old guy. He died while I was spending the day with him. I went out on an errand and he was sitting in his recliner and seemed asleep. When he didn’t wake up I felt the deepest sorrow that and broke down and cried. Crying isn’t something guys in our family do. I called 911 and then my wife. I could barely talk to either of them. It was so bad that a lady EMT held me until I calmed down a little. I never expected any of this.

I thought I would get over it in a month or two, after all, both of us were old guys. In truth it doesn’t matter whether you’re 5 or 50 the loss of someone you love and depended on hurts for a very very long time.

Bellatrix's avatar

That there is no ‘right’ way to grieve. We all do it in our own way and depending upon our own circumstances. For me it was a bit of a ‘one step forward- two (or more) steps back’ process. I was surprised at how suddenly ‘grief’ would be upon me again. I would think I was fine and then suddenly I crying and in pain. I have observed a very close friend grieve following the loss of her son. At times she has seemed (to me) to be stuck and unable to move on. No surprise but particular times of the year have been worse for me and seem to be harder for her. Christmas, birthdays, special occasions. For you, thanksgiving is I am sure one of those periods.

JLeslie's avatar

I wanted to add something. Knowing my ex was still alive and doing his own thing was like a torture. When someone dies I guess maybe the stage of acceptance happens more rapidly. I never wanted to kill him, never had a serious homocidal thought, but I did wish he would be hit by a bus. It wasn’t revenge, it was the pain of knowing he was here, but not here with me.

And, another thing was I did not know friends would be amazing and patient there for me in the way that they were. I had a few family members who had no patience for how long I was a mess, especially my father, but overall people were very understanding. At the beginning of feeling so out of control, totally new feelings of grief for me, a few people said some amazing things that helped. The things that stood out were one, “It took me 4–6 months to be able to feel close to normal.” Many people said that same thing totally independent of each other, and it helped me not to be hard on myself about not being able to overcome the devastation quickly. Others said, “it takes one to two years to really be completely over it usually.” Meaning not to feel the waves and surprising dips that can happen even 10 months after the fact when you thought you were doing fine. So, I guess overall people being realistic with me about how shitty it might be for a long time was what I needed to not be critical of how I dealt with it, and I was not alone, not the only one who had so much trouble holding it together.

One thing I do wish was I had started taking xanax sooner. I took it for about 6 weeks. I didn’t take ig when it was first prescribed to me because I am rather antidrug, but the physical suffering I went through was unnecessary to such extremes when I think about the situation in retrospect. I still don’t like to take meds, and I don’t take them as a general rule.. It’s been years since I have had any such pill. But, an accute situation I would take them again, I would ask for them.

LuckyGuy's avatar

This is not the loss of a person but it was/is a loss to me…
It took me a while to grieve for the loss of my prostate and all it represented. Making love was/is an important part of my life. And it hurts to know that it will never be the same as it was before the surgery. There were many nights when I would dream about it, wake up and begin to cry when I realized it was just a dream.
Sure, I can make it work; sure it feels the same; sure I can orgasm… blah blah blah but I still miss the spontaneity of yore… It’s… just…different…. And that makes me sad sometimes.
I know grieving over a rotten prostate does not carry the same weight as the pain of losing a loved one but it still hurts.

Even after 3+ years I still have the “normal” dreams occasionally and wake up disappointed.
I don’t cry about it any more.

tranquilsea's avatar

I didn’t know how intense the feelings of loss could be still after 5 years. They aren’t as frequent but they can be every bit as intense.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I recently had a dream where I had a dream and woke up disappointed but it was just a dream and I was actually OK but,.... I woke up – disappointed.
(Can anyone follow all that?)

I wonder if people who have lost loved ones have similar dreams.

OfAwesome's avatar

@LuckyGuy I can follow that- you had a dream inside of a dream inside of a dream.
Some might have dreams like that… if they lost a loved one. Except they would be dreaming about their times with that particular loved one lost.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@OfAwesome You get the idea. It was a dream about having a dream and waking up disappointed but actually being ok but waking up and seeing it wasa dream disappointed…. How did I come up with that? I’ll have to watch what I eat before going to bed.
Welcome to Fluther!

OpryLeigh's avatar

I never knew how physical painful grief can be until I went through it. It’s such a cliche when songs claim that it’s “hard to breathe” but it’s also true.

newtscamander's avatar

I never knew how much it would hurt to acknowledge the fact that you are never going to see this person again. Whomever you have lost will never come back.
That struck me really badly and it’s a horrible realisation.

janbb's avatar

@scuniper That’s true. With the loss of a relationship however, it can be as hard to acknowledge that that person is still around and is never going to have the feelings for you that they once did.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@LuckyGuy I hate those dreams where everything is back to normal and then you wake up and the realisation that everything is not “normal” is like a stab in the chest. I found the mornings a lot worse when I was grieving as for a split second after waking I would feel fine and then it would dawn on me that it wasn’t fine and it would be like relieving the trauma all over again.

Shippy's avatar

Over the last few years, I have lost people through death, divorce, ending of a relationship and also three people who were still here, but not. The latter from brain damage, Alzheimer’s and one from severe psychotic illness. Now I am losing all that is familiar to me, the blue sky, my carpets, my home. I know though, the feeling never goes away. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. But the sound of it become duller. Its no longer at a full ten but some are now at a mild 5. I do know though that when something goes, something else replaces it. In time if that goes we realize how much we miss that. Nothing is forever, not even grief.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Yikes @Shippy ! That is more burden than anyone should have to carry.
May this change lighten your load.

Jeruba's avatar

> Nothing is forever, not even grief.

Well said, @Shippy.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, it is a very personal journey, no one size fits all.
My separation/divorce is 10 years behind me as of Dec. 26. :-D
I think I went through most of my grieving while still in the marriage over the final 4 years.
The “denial & bargaining” phases were short lived, the usual, denial of the big issues, get some marriage counseling which had only the smallest band aide effect for a few months.

When I finally became aware that there was NO WAY I was ever going to be able to stay in the marriage the anger came. 20 something years of repressed rage and boy, it was not a pretty thing. I scared myself at the depths of my anger.
I was really, really, REALLY, ANGRY! lol

Angry that I had to make the decision, but knowing, with all my heart and soul I had to go!
By the time we finally separated I was just flat lined emotionally, but, after a few months the acceptance came, easier I think because I was the one that initiated the divorce.
Then, I went into the most amazing, liberating and enlightening phase of pure, unadulterated JOY!
I was “born again” in the truest sense of the word!

I went to work joyfully setting up my new little home, and relished, for the first time in my adult life, at age 43, just diggin’ myself, doing for myself, loving myself, celebrating my new life. Of course the big bang of it all has mellowed, but, I can still say with absolute certainty that it was the BEST thing I ever did and the joy was palpable for YEARS afterwards!

Time does heal all wounds, and it also wounds all heels. :-)

LuckyGuy's avatar

^ Perfect! Absolutely perfect!

Shippy's avatar

@Coloma I so hear you. I once ended an 8 year relationship with a very possessive female. I was so drained and so confused and of course so co-dependant. Moving into my tiny little home, felt so peaceful. But yes, I was lost for a while, but that soon passed and I really do now, enjoy my space.

newtscamander's avatar

@janbb I can imagine, but haven’t had the experience yet, not having had an “important” relationship before the one I’m in now.
But I can see how my mother struggles with this after my dad left her last year, you can see her wishing that he would care for her again, it looks really painful :(

Edit: I read the details more thoroughly this time- I’m sorry, I just noticed that the first answer I gave wasn’t exactly what you asked for…oops :-/

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