When someone experiences the loss of a close loved one they may think they know what to expect. There’s typically sadness amidst an initial flurry of arrangements and support from well-wishers. What comes after is often more complicated. When asked “What unexpected things happened after the death of a loved one?” some people had thoughts to share about what caught them by surprise.
The time leading up to a funeral can be very busy. Not only are there logistical details to plan for the funeral service, there are also often legal matters regarding property, life insurance, and other estate-related details to sort through. These details can take an extended amount of time to be resolved, and some people have observed that this delayed their grieving process. Once everything was settled, weeks or months later, they discovered they never had time to process their complicated emotions. These feelings often surface at a point when the well-wishers have stopped calling and showing their support because they think the bereaved is no longer in need. The isolation and the stillness in the face of the raw emotion can be overwhelming.
Another person shared that she was so busy supporting her mother following the death of her father, and helping her mother face her sadness over the loss of her spouse, that she never was never able to grieve herself. She realized the importance of taking time for herself, and finding space to experience those emotions. Self-care can also be a vital part of the grieving process, and can help someone find strength to continue to move forward after a loss.
A memorial service for a family member can help someone heal and process, but for one person it was unexpectedly exhausting. They said that speaking at a funeral offers an outlet for your pain, and also an opportunity to share so many fun and fond memories. The joy and sadness are equally important, and reminds you of all the living that you experienced together.
It is also surprising to many that grief can have different emotions involved, often simultaneously. Family members going through the same loss may also experience grief very differently, and need to give each other the space they need to feel and process in their own way. Some may feel angry, some may feel sadness, exhaustion, or even numbness. There can also be joy at the recollection of happy memories with the departed, and that can cause confusion and guilt as to how happiness is even possible during such a time. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and every person experiences grief differently and in their own time.
One person shared that the best advice they received after losing a spouse was to never let anyone tell you how to or not to grieve. That you have to give the grieving process time and allow yourself to go through it, not rushing it or try to order what form of grief to go through next. The stages of grief are not a checklist, and don’t always happen in the same order. Once you think you have gotten to the acceptance phase you may unexpectedly find yourself back at anger again years later. Grief is stealthy and can come in waves. It can often feel just as raw as the day they died, which can really catch a person off guard. The advice shared was to just let that wave wash over you and feel it, because to suppress it would cause even more damage. To feel those emotions again later doesn’t mean you failed at grief, it just means you still love someone who is no longer with you on earth.
More than one person shared that they still instinctively look for their loved one or want to reach out to them years later. Scanning a crowd for their face, picking up the phone to call them, or thinking, “I need to tell them about this.” Then the realization hits that they are gone, and so do the emotions.
Life milestones can also trigger a fresh wave of emotion. Moments they should have shared with you make their absence keenly missed. These milestones can make it feel like the loss just happened. Seeing others experience moments with their loved ones that you cannot can make a person angry or sad. There may also be jealousy and resentment towards those who can share those moments with their loved ones, or anger at the person who left you.
Songs or pictures can also trigger sudden memories that can hit hard. A person shared that along with sadness they can also be a reminder of all the wonderful things. That can help smooth the road out a little bit, because “Grief always lurks but then happiness follows.”
Our love will never end for those who have passed on, which means that on some level our grief will never leave us completely. One person wrote, “I call it the practice of grief because it must be experienced in all situations. It’s not a one-time thing or a one moment thing or a one season thing, but a lifetime of learning how to live with the loss.” The answer as to how to accomplish that is different for each person. We have to find a way to continue to exist in that space between love and loss, and not just exist but actually live and thrive. Allowing ourselves to feel, whatever that may be, is the first step towards healing and living again.
~Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870