“That is what grieving is like.”

By Barbara Karnes

Updated: April 20, 2020

Posted: October 4, 2016

I’m going to talk about normal, natural grief in about 25 words or less. Well actually a few more than that. Visualize a table in front of an open window. There are stacks of paper on the table, tidy, organized stacks. A slight breeze comes through the window and rustles the papers, now a strong wind comes through and scatters the papers everywhere.

That is what grieving is like. Some days you do just fine, have it all together, other days you feel restless, uneasy but go about your day. Then some days you can’t even get out of bed without crying. You look through all the pictures, have a crying, I feel sorry for me day. The next day, you brush yourself off and begin again.

Grief is a lot of emotions rolled into the one package. I’m sad and lonely because you are not in my life anymore. Lonely is the result of isolation. That isolation is two fold. One, I don’t have the energy to reach out to others for support, comfort or in friendship. Two,because others tend to stay away from me. They are uncomfortable around me because they don’t know what to say. They are afraid they might say something that will make me feel worse.

I am confused and adrift. My life has changed and I don’t know where to start or what to do to create a new one. My direction and focus in life has to be different now.

I’m angry. I liked my life the way it was. Everything was great and then you died. Now you are gone and I have to change. I’m angry about that. I’m angry with you for dying. You’re gone and I am the one who has to deal with everything. I’m the one that has to start over.

I’m angry with God for letting this happen. Why did this happen to me? Oh, I had better not tell anyone how angry I am. People will think I am a bad person so I hold the anger inside of myself and become depressed.

I’m so depressed. (Anger held inward becomes depression.) I’m so depressed I can’t leave the house, some days I can’t even get dressed. I can’t eat or I eat too much. I can’t sleep or I sleep too much. I am so depressed.

I’m frightened. We did everything we were supposed to. We ate the right foods, exercised, did all the right treatments and you died anyway. I am not as in control of my life as I thought I was. These feelings tell me I and others close to me could die too. Death takes the idea that we are immortal away. This realization is frightening.

I’m sad, I’m lonely, I’m isolated, I’m confused and adrift, I’m angry, I’m depressed, I’m scared. All of these start with I. Grief is very self centered. It is not about the person that has died. It is how we are feeling about the situation life has put us in. I don’t mean this in a negative way. It is just how it is.

Most religious belief systems teach that when you are dead you are in a better place. With that belief we are not worried about the person that has died. They are better off than we are. Living is hard work, being dead is easy. I point this out because most of us think our feelings, our grief, is about the person that died. It is not, it is about us, about how our life has to change and how we are going to adapt to those changes.

We don’t heal from grief. We don’t recover from grief. We learn how to live with grief. Our life will never be the same again but time will begin to fill in the space between the pain that we feel over our loss.

Barbara Karnes

About the author

Barbara Karnes, RN, is an internationally respected speaker, educator, author and thought leader on matters of end of life. She is a renowned authority to explain the dying process to families, healthcare professionals and the community at large. Barbara has held both clinical and leadership positions, including staff nurse, clinical supervisor and executive director at Hospice Care of Mid America in Kansas City, Missouri, as well as Olathe Medical Center Hospice and Home Health in Olathe, Kansas. An award-winning nurse and end of life educator, Barbara received THE HEART OF HEALTH CARE AWARD from Kansas University Nursing, THE HORIZON AWARD for Education from Nebraska Methodist College and THE INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN WOMAN OF THE YEAR 2015 from the World Humanitarian Awards. She is the expert that hospice and other healthcare professionals count on to teach them how to explain the dying process to families.

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