Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Behaviour of the Bereaved

A little quote today on one of the stages of grief:

"Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be 'talked out of it' by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair".

I include this quote today as a gentle reminder to others that when a griever seems to want to be alone, that is perfectly normal and acceptable. It is nothing to do with you or what they think of you as a person. They are not trying to subtly tell you they dislike you or prefer the company of someone else. They are simply grieving and behaving normally for someone in that much pain. Sometimes being alone is the most helpful thing for them.

When the magnitude of the loss becomes too great, it can bring us to our knees. We need time to think, to ponder, to go over the details of our loved one's life and death over and over again in our minds until we can find some measure of resolution on some aspect of it.

Please understand that asking the griever to do the work - to call you or to stop by your place or to make all the effort to connect - is asking too much. They are the ones hurting and will need you to make the effort.

Even in times of isolation and sadness it is important to let the griever know you care. While they may not want to see anyone, a simple email, note, or phone call saying you are thinking about them and still care can make a huge difference. I myself kept every phone message and email I received from people, including the ones I never had the chance to reply to. I still read/listen to these from time to time when I am feeling low.

Rather than looking at the griever's behaviour and trying to decide if it is normal or not compared to your own, understand that they are in a position you cannot even imagine. Your ideas about what is 'normal' behaviour for them are misguided, at best. You may think you can imagine what 'you would do in their position' but that is actually impossible. Instead accept them for where they are at knowing that their pain is too deep and overwhelming for you to understand without having walked in their shoes. Be the listener they need rather than the giver of advice. Remember, they know far more about grieving than you do at this point.

And above all, do not hold this behaviour against them later on down the road. While you may never understand why they chose to be alone at certain times or why they seemed so sad for so long, their behaviour was still completely normal.

As difficult as it may be, you must remind yourself that it is not about you. It is about the loss of their spouse.


  1. Wow! This is perfectly said...hope you don't mind but I'm going to direct people from my blog to yours to view this post.

  2. I agree with Brooke - you nailed it! I would also like to mention on my blog.

  3. Thank you em. I'm stealing this if you don't mind. ALot of people don't understand what I am going through at 1 year out. This sums it up perfectly.

  4. Excellent write! I have also just lost my husband and desire so much to be alone. I am sure it appears odd and is certainly 'not me' but I know that this is the only way I will have a hope of recovery. My husband died in November but I think I am finding some peace now, although it's back and forth and the pain is so bad at times I cannot breathe with missing him so much. Bless you for this and I wish you further joy and much peace.

  5. Thank you, everyone! Feel free to pass this along and repost/link to it. I hope others find it helpful as well.

  6. This is so very well said, Emily! Thanks for the permission to share this too...
    Thinking of you today, Kendra Funk

  7. I don't know how I found your blog, but I am glad I did. My husband passed on September 4, 2010... I could give you the exact time... He had cancer and fought for 2.5 years. We were married for 4 years and 2 days. We had been together for almost 11 years. He was my best friend. I read your entire blog. I cried. I am not a young widow like you. I am 41 years old. My husband was 53. He was my best friend. You write so beautifully and everything you have said is so perfect. Thank you...

  8. Emily. I found your blog through Kendra's blog and I started reading it from the beginning. Through your story I have found hope in my situation. You have made me feel like me again. It's not anything close to your situation, we're having money problems, but through you're blogs I can see that love can get you through anything and i still have him if nothing else. I can't even begin to imagine how you are feeling but I hope that knowing you have helped me with your story brings a little light into your life.

  9. Just found your blog... Wish I'd come by here earlier!

    I'm also a young widow (at 29) and 6 months in, I have so much trouble with words. I either don't have any, or I have too many - I just want to sit and listen to other people's words, because I don't know what to do with my own.

    Yours are beautiful, gorgeous, and perfectly fitting. Please keep writing them. If you ever put a book together, sign me up for your first copy!

    best wishes x