Grief Is Not A Disease

After my fiance, Dan, committed suicide, my grief became extreme. None of the people around me understood my grief, including myself. Most of the people I knew had very little experience with the grief of losing a loved one. Of the few who had, none of them had experienced the tragic loss of someone so close, like a spouse or child. A very few had lost parents, but none of them at an early point in their lives.

For my part, I had lost two grandparents that I loved dearly, but the grief I experienced after their death‘s paled in comparison to what I experienced after Dan’s.

Quote frankly, no one knew what to do with me.

It can almost seem comical now, twelve years later. But then the pain of remembering my isolation reminds me that there wasn’t anything funny about it.

People didn’t know what to say to me, so they didn’t say anything at all. People were uncomfortable around me, so they avoided being near me. A few people tried to reach out and help, but they didn’t understand the kind of grief I was experiencing, so they said things like, “You’ve got to get over this” and “It’s time to move on”. More than once I was told that I was suffering from depression and should see a doctor about getting on anti-depressants.

For my part, I tried at first to make them understand. I said, “this isn’t depression, it’s grief. A pill won’t fix it.” I got a long look and a slow shake of the head. Yes, they understood that, they would say. But they thought enough time had passed that I should be moving on by now. There seemed to be some magical date, after which I should “move on”. But, I seemed to be taking longer than I should, and people were starting to become annoyed. It had been one month since Dan died.

Move on, move on. I got so tired of hearing it. What did it mean? I came to think of it as meaning life is just an ever-forward-moving machine. And we are all swept along with it, irresolutely marching on and on, forward to our own destruction. And after we finally fall, crushed beneath the throng of a cruel and heartless life, the living must, inexorably, keep marching along, pushed ahead by the sting of the whip held by their master – this thing we call “life”.

But, Dan had fallen. The throng had knocked him down and crushed him into the mud under the heels of their ever marching feet. And instead of moving forward with the rest of the mob, I seemed to sit down with him in the mud that was soaked with the blood and tears of all the other fallen victims.

Those around me were swept along, and most seemed to just be staring at me, eyes wide with shock, as they moved forward without me, unable, it seemed, to even have time to say something before they disappeared with a blink into the distance. Some others, it seemed, had enough forethought to try to reach out and grab me. They fumbled around, groping for me, screaming at me to get up and “move on” with them. But the throng, of course, over took them, carried them away from me as their arms stretched out toward me. They yelled at me to get up, and shook their heads, and sympathy filled their eyes. But still, they left me. Alone in the mud. With a dead body laying beside me.

In all honesty, I almost died there, beside Dan. I almost killed myself. One of the most tragic ironies of suicide is that it often begets more suicide.

And then, a friend came along who wasn’t afraid to get down in the mud with me, get his hands dirty and try to pull me out. But as much as he tried, he still didn’t understand what was wrong with me. And since I didn’t understand either, I couldn’t tell him how to help me.

As much as I will forever be indebted to my best friend for trying, it took the help of another grieving person to finally get me on my feet. The man who would later become my husband had lost his fiance, Kim just two weeks after I lost Dan.

Finally, I found someone who understood me. Who would listen to me tell the same stories over and over. Who let me cry as much as I wanted. Who never once told me to move on, or get over it, or see a doctor, or take anti-depressants. Who wasn’t afraid to touch me, or look in my eyes, or mention Dan’s name. When he told me he knew exactly how I felt, I knew it was true because he HAD experienced the same thing.

Whether you are experiencing grief, or you care about someone who is, please check out my post on Understanding and Surviving Grief. Also, check out my Resources/Support page.  If you know of other wonderful grief support sources, please feel free to comment.

If you are grieving, please get support from others who have been there, or are there right now. There are many local support groups in your area. As much as those around you DO love you and DO want to help you, if they have never experienced what you are going through, they will have a very limited ability to provide you with what you truly need.

If you know someone who is grieving, here are some quick tips. Don’t tell them to move on, don’t tell them to get over it, don’t try to “snap them out of it” with tough love. There is nothing you can do to “fix it”.

Don’t be afraid to mention the deceased. You may think by bringing up the deceased you will remind the grieving person of what they have lost. Believe me, they are thinking of the deceased even as you are wondering if you should mention their name. The only thing you will remind them of, is that you remember their loss and you care about them.

Encourage them to talk about the deceased. Listen to them tell the same stories over and over. Don’t tell them you understand unless you have suffered the exact same kind of loss. I understand now that the tendency people have to “compare grief” is born out of a true desire to help and provide comfort. But after Dan died, I had many people want to tell me the stories of their own grief. Grief after the loss of a grand parent. Or stories of adults losing their elderly parents or siblings.

Now, the last thing I want to ever do is “compare grief” myself. I understand the devastating consequences. I personally can’t imagine the pain of losing a parent, even though I am now an adult. Or a sibling. I will simply suffice to say that these kinds of losses CAN’T be compared. Don’t try. Unless you have truly been in the exact situation your loved one is in, the best thing you can say to them is, “I can’t imagine how devastating this must be for you.” These are the words that will allow the grieving person to open up to you. To tell you what it is like for them.

Put your arms around them. Make them feel safe. Listen to their pain. Encourage them to seek out a support group. For as long as it takes.

Grief can, and often DOES, lead to clinical depression. Especially if the grieving person does not understand the grieving process and does not have support from those around them.

Please read my post on Understanding and Surviving Grief.

If you are worried that you or someone you love may be clinically depressed, check out my post on Fighting Depression.

Help is available 24/7 at the

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What do you think? Have you suffered from grief? What was your experience like? What advice do you have for those who are grieving, or who are trying to support a grieving person? Are there any wonderful support organization that you recommend? Sharing is caring!  😉

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23 thoughts on “Grief Is Not A Disease

  1. Carrie, this was a poignant post, with sound advise. Thank you.

    “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.”

    ~Henri Nouwen

  2. What a wonderful post on grief. I have never lost anyone close to myself but I have a very good friend who lost her father (to suicide) as well and walking with her through it the last few months has really taught me a lot about what it means to support someone while they are grieving.

    You are so right… there is never a set date by which you will just magically “move on” with your life. That person has a piece of your heart and your life and people can’t expect you to just “get over it” one day when they played such a significant part in your life and in who you are today.

    Thank you so much for this very enlightening post! Be blessed and continue encouraging others through your words and your life!

    • thank you for the supportive comment! And bless you for supporting your dear friend. She will always remember you as a blessing in her life. These are the opportunities we have to impact someone’s life forever. 😉

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  4. Hi Carrie, thanks for a very powerful post. It’s one with which I can identify to a large extent as I lost the love of my life to a very virulent form of cancer when I was in my early twenties. It was a devastating experience and I felt I had more in common with widows in their 70s than people who were in their 20s.
    In hindsight, I think I made a serious mistake in trying to lose myself in study and work and live the sort of life my boyfriend would have wanted for me. There is just no getting away with grief and it all came back to haunt me years later. Like you, I was fortunate to meet someone who truly understood and was prepared to listen and not prescribe. It was that sense of being understood that made all the difference and came many years later. Counselling was of some benefit to me but was more like first aid than the sort of deep healing I needed.
    I suspect everyone has their own unique ways of coping but to my mind nothing can beat the understanding of someone who truly cares. There is obviously an element of luck involved in meeting such a person but the important thing seems to be to never give up hope of finding him/her.

      • Thanks! Couldn’t agree more. ‘Getting over it’ is certainly not part of my vocabulary either. I think, for what it’s worth’ that ‘presence’ is important in terms of the ‘moving on’ ~ somehow knowing that the loved one who has died has left a legacy of love that is in itself sustaining in all sorts of ways and at the strangest times. I don’t mean presence in the sense of ‘appearing’ or anything like that.

  5. What a wonderful post, and how brave you are. I am writing my thesis on suicide, with a view to eventually publishing something from it. From all the many hours I have spent reading and listening (and my own experience of losing a friend to suicide some years ago), I do believe the grief that comes from the suicide of a loved one is quite different to that from other deaths. I think any kind of violent, unexpected or sudden kind of death is different, but the way suicide is discussed (or not as the case so often is) leaves the bereaved with an extra sense of isolation and despair. The complicated greif is not at all unreasonable, and we should never be prescriptive about how others should grieve, nor for how long. As you say, just sit, be, listen and accept. Be patient, and be kind. It’s ironic that in a world where we see death everyday, en masse in the media, so much so that it’s almost taken for granted, we have lost the ability to just be with the bereaved when the death happens close to home. I’m so glad you found someone to help you through it all.

    • what a wonderful and supportive comment, thank you! I have always found it so ironic that death is so much a part of life. It’s one of the few things we ALL do, yet why do we have such little experience with it?

  6. Thank you for sharing this post!
    Bless you, you beautiful woman. I’m truly sorry for your loss and for how hard it has been for you. Kimmy

  7. I love your open and honest in your face get out of mine you have no idea what I’m going through so remember what you’re mother told you, if you can’t say something nice say nothing at all approach. People say dumb crap when they are uncomfortable with grief. Love what you have to say.

  8. almost 7 years ago

    my wife and I

    held, named, said good-bye

    to our still-born son

    ~

    our loss

    taught us so much

    about the boundaries

    of ourselves

    the possibilities

    of love

    ~

    we learned

    we had to withhold

    our expectations

    on each other

    ourselves

    ~

    as some learn differently

    we also grieved

    in different ways

    ~

    through

    patience, commitment, trust,

    trying to listen openly

    we’ve managed

    to regain

    our lives

    ~

    there will always

    be a raw pain

    we visit

    and share sometimes

    ~

    but everyday

    knowing someone is there

    caring

    makes life

    a little easier

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