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10 Things No One Tells You When a Loved One Dies

I was standing at my son’s funeral luncheon surrounded by family members, the same family who never, not once, left the hospital or my side for an entire week. I got up and addressed the room. I thanked them all for coming and for providing comfort and support during my difficult time.

“Please don’t forget about me. I need you.”

I do not know how I would have survived this ordeal without them. But I did know one thing. I knew in a few days they would all go back to their “normal” lives, and I would be left alone to figure out what my new “normal” would be.

What happens after you experience loss is something you will never be prepared for. Here’s a list of what to expect when the unexpected happens.

1. It gets quiet.

In the first few months, you are often overwhelmed with love and support from friends and family. Everyone checks on you … until one day, they don’t. People go on with their lives, but that is something that you, the grieving person, will never be able to do.  This is when you have to reach out to your family members and say, “I am not OK.” The truth is most people who have not experienced loss do not know how it feels. Instead of saying, “They are not here for me,” you need to teach people how to be there for you. The ones who love you will understand and give you what you need. Talk to them.

2. You will find friends in unexpected places.

I have a friend who was not around when my son passed, but six months after his passing, she called and said: “I know it is quiet now, and you’re not surrounded by as many people as you were in the beginning.” She went on to explain she was giving me room to heal, and now that she knew I needed her support, she offered it. Chances are, friends like her have experienced loss. I could have been angry because she showed up six months later, but the truth is, she showed up when I needed her. Be thankful for anyone who wants to be there for you, regardless of how much time has passed. Some friends will join you and weather the storm while others will decide to evacuate.

3. You will lose friends.

The friends you expect to be there for you may not be, and some of your close friends might abandon you. A lot of my friends could not bear to see me in pain. They were wondering when the “old” me would return; you know, the fun-loving person I was before life hit me like a ton of bricks. They did not know I would never be the same person.

4. You will never be the same person.

One day you will look in the mirror and not recognize yourself.  You will notice bags under your eyes and gray hairs. You will look around your place and realize the plants have not been watered, the mail has not been sorted and your bills have not been paid. You will struggle to keep a clean house, or maybe you will clean your house so spotless you can eat off the floor. Either way, you will struggle through daily tasks without realizing how much time has passed.

5. Time does not heal all wounds.

When someone you love passes away, it gets harder. When I told people my son passed away a few months ago, they were very compassionate.  Now, when I tell people it has been two years, they simply say they are “sorry,” as if somehow year two is easier than the first few months. It’s not! In fact, the more time that passes, the harder it gets because you have not seen your loved one’s face or heard their laugh. You have not heard their voice in two years. Reality sets in, and you realize they are not coming back.

6. They are not coming back.

In the first year, I went through the motions. I celebrated my son’s life by honoring him any way I could. I made donations in his name, and I also started a charity in his name. I celebrated every holiday with him in mind and even left an open seat at the table for him. But he has not returned, nor will he. When we hit year two, I had to figure out how I was going to celebrate holidays and birthdays without him. The realization hit and my life now feels like it has been turned upside-down.

7. Your whole world will be lifted up like a tornado and spun around.

Your ideas will change. You have to decide which direction you want to go. My daughter works in customer service. After her brother passed, she started to hate her job and became angry at people who acted like their life was over because something did not go their way. My daughter felt they were entitled and ungrateful people because the world, her world, had more significant issues. I also work in a customer service job. When people complained and acted as if it was the end of the world, I simply smiled and thanked God these people are so blessed that anything that went wrong would ruin their whole day. My daughter was angry, and I was grateful. There is no right or wrong because only you can decide how to pick up the pieces after a tornado. Trust me, there will be good days.

8. You will have good days.

Good days are when you wake up and open your eyes in the morning your first thought is, “It was not a dream.”  You will manage to get up, brush your teeth, shower, go about your day and manage to make it back home only to crumble like a sugar cookie as soon as your key goes into the front door. You will go to bed, thinking it was a good day because you only cried once.

9. Some days will be unbearable.

There are good days when you only cry once, and there are days when the whole world seems like it is falling apart. The pain of losing someone hurts. It hurts so much it becomes a physical pain for which there is no medication. On those days, you have to feel it, because trust me, there is nothing that will numb the pain. The pain subsides long enough for you to be able to open your eyes again tomorrow.

10. It sucks!

For lack of better words, it sucks!  You will wonder, “Why me?” You will ask God, or the universe or whatever higher power may get you through the day, “Why?” You may find yourself crying and screaming, “It’s not fair, it’s just not fair.” The truth is it is simply just not fair.

The truth about grieving is you will never be over it. You will live the rest of your life trying to be happy, and then maybe feeling guilty when you laugh for a few minutes. There is no right or wrong with grief. I made a lot of bad decisions, and when my friends and family called me out on these decision, I simply said, “I do not know what I am doing, or what I am going through, but I need you to love me through it. And they did, they still do. 

Be present with every emotion. Cry when you feel like it, and laugh when things are funny. Turn to your friends and family for support. Most importantly, be present every day. Stop to smell the roses. Be kind to random strangers, and smile as much as possible because now you know life can change at the blink of an eye and you never want to take anything for granted, and I suppose that is the blessing in grieving.

Original photo by author