Avoiding Grief: Why It Doesn’t Work

No one wants to be sad. In fact, we spend a good part of our life in the general pursuit of happiness, doing anything we can to avoid sadness, heartache, discomfort and pain. That is, until someone we love dies. And suddenly, not only does happiness feel so far out of reach, we may find ourselves actively (if not always consciously) avoiding grief.

Avoiding Grief

The thing is, it’s not just about losing someone we love. This was someone we counted on. This was the one who helped us make decisions, or who supported us no matter what we did. This was someone who knew us like no one else, and who loved us anyway. Someone who was such a part of our daily life, that when their life ended, our life feels like it ended too.

So who would want to think about that? With so much lost and so much sadness, isn’t avoiding grief, or at least trying desperately to push down or push away the overwhelming emotions, the only thing that would make sense?

Of course there is the other end of the spectrum – those people who feel a prisoner to the grieving thoughts. Who would welcome some avoidance, or even just a short respite from the grief, if only they knew how.

Somewhere between avoidance and floundering there could be a place that allows a griever to sit with their grief without being totally and completely swept away by it.

But before we get to that, let’s look at some of the ways people may be avoiding grief and why it doesn’t work:

  1. Work/Daily Tasksa lot of us have to work, right? So making work sound like an option won’t sit well with a lot. And it’s important to note how many people I speak with who find work to be a wonderful respite at times. If they’re lucky it may be filled with people whom they consider friends. It may also be an opportunity to feel productive and capable. But there is another side to this. Because I have also met a son who admitted to working 16 hour days, just to avoid going home after his mother died. He was exhausted, and I mean the kind of exhausted that had him so overtired and strung out that he wasn’t even able to sleep or rest when he was finally home. He’s not alone: a lot of grievers choose to dive into their day-to-day routine as a way of distracting them from their thoughts. After all, there’s not a lot of time to think if we’re always working and moving. And while there can be some comfort in the familiarity (and frankly just a necessity to it as well), a never-ending to-do list doesn’t allow a lot of time for rest or quiet, which is something every griever needs.
  2. Caring for othersagain, not necessarily an option for many. Maybe it’s because one parent dies and the adult child is left to care for the other. Or perhaps following the loss of a spouse, the remaining spouse still has young children in the home to take care of. While taking time to get out of our own head while caring for others can be a healthy outlet for the griever (and also because it can give them an opportunity to do what they may do best, being a caregiver) there still has to be an emotional boundary. Caring for others can’t mean putting all of your own needs aside. I can’t tell you how often I speak to a person who has recently lost a parent, and when I ask how they’re doing they say, “I haven’t even had time to think about, I’m so busy taking care of mom now”. While it may not be intentional, this is its own form of avoiding grief. This group eventually loses the second parent, and the wave of grief that comes is double in size as they finally grieve the loss of the first parent who died, along with their most recent loss.
  3. Drugs or Alcoholthis is a tricky one, especially since abusing drugs or alcohol means a problem was already in place, perhaps long before the loss. And there’s certainly no question that loss can exacerbate this abuse. For some that may mean those in recovery returning to their addiction, or for others it may mean an addiction spinning further out of control. But what about those who didn’t have “an issue” prior to the loss, who find themselves now drinking heavily or taking medication to help them soften the edges of pain? This group will be less likely to seek the treatment available to those in recovery (like Alcoholics Anonymous for example), yet the potential for disaster is just as great.
  4. TravelThere’s a wonderful book on mindfulness (actually perfect for the grieving heart) called, “Wherever You Go: There You Are”. It’s not only a good book, but the title itself is a reminder that we can’t escape our thoughts, our problems or our grief. Can some time away after loss be beneficial? Of course. Time with family, or a chance to be in nature can be very healing for the soul. As long as the griever remembers that when they’re packing their suitcase they should leave space for their grief to come along with them. Because whether we like it or not, wherever we go there we are, and our grief will be traveling with us.
  5. Isolating/Avoiding all triggers: let’s say you’ve lost a spouse. And like a lot of couples, a good amount of your socializing was with other couples. For most, their first instinct is to avoid spending time with their friends now that they’re single. Of course some don’t have this opportunity, as they feel friends and couples have drifted away…but there are those grievers who are making the choice to stay away even if invited. It’s perfectly understandable of course, especially in the earlier days of loss, but for some it can be its own way of avoiding grief. So is avoiding stores, restaurants, roads, songs, tv shows, or anything else that may remind the griever of their loved one and their loss. Again, it can be very common and very important for a griever to avoid these triggers initially, especially if the other option is to be constantly assaulted by painful reminders everywhere they turn. As long as the griever remembers that eventually a lot of these people and places are likely to be a part of their life again. So to say, “I’m not going to go to that restaurant now” is okay but add to that, “but I will try again when I’m feeling a little stronger”.

Do any of these sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. Most grievers are avoiding grief at one point or another. Sometimes it feels like it’s out of necessity. Other times people have told me, “I’m afraid to start crying, because I figure once I start then I’ll never stop”.

There is one problem with avoiding grief, however, and it’s this: grief is patient. There is nothing in our lives more patient than grief and this grief will sit and wait and it will never just go away without being acknowledged.

I had a friend who lost his very young nephew very suddenly and very tragically. He expressed some guilt initially that we all tried to talk him out of, but mostly he spent the first few years following the loss avoiding grief, being “the strong one” in the family, holding it together when his parents and sister (who had lost a grandson and son, respectively) could not. Years passed, and as we all assumed our friend was doing just fine, we were surprised to see him drinking more… and then something else happened along with it. These binge drinking nights turned into very long and painful outpourings of grief. Everything he felt, everything he could never say before would come out, and this happened over and over again, until there just wasn’t anything left to say or feel. And then for him, probably eight or nine years after the loss, his healing finally began.

I learned about the patience of grief then, and how no one gets out of these big losses without acknowledging it. It’s why it’s just so important to take the time to “sit with grief”, no matter how hard it may be.

So what does sitting with grief look like? Well, like most things, that will be different for everybody. For some it will mean quiet time at home to cry, or to scream, or to just lay on the floor in a pile of your loved one’s clothes, in tears. It may mean talking to friends or to family, or attending a support group, or even seeing a counselor. Or it will probably be a little bit of everything.

Just remember to find the balance. Easier said, than done, I know. And in the early days, it’s hard to have a clear enough head to make goals or to try to work toward anything like balance. If you’re reading this as a newly bereaved person than know that whatever naturally happens in the early days of loss, just happens. Like a plane running on auto pilot, the early griever may not feel very capable of making choices about how they grieve. But when the fog lifts and the smoke clears…often times that’s when the real pain sets in, and then what?

Try to find the balance. “Healthy distraction” is good…avoiding grief is not. I speak to a lot of grievers and when I ask, “how are you doing?” there are so many times they reply , “I’m doing good, I’m keeping busy” that I know there is something to this combination that works. The lesson being that a certain amount of busy can be very healthy and healing.

So what’s the right amount of busy? When it gives you enough time out of your head, with a break from the ruminating and the thoughts, but not so much so that you’re avoiding it completely. It may mean working, volunteering, joining a club or being active at church, it could mean spending time with friends. But in all this, there will still be some time alone at home too to rest and reflect, however hard that may be.

Learning to adjust to living alone may be one of the most important tasks for grievers to learn (most especially for those who lived with the loved one they lost) and therefore they need time to do it. If they’re out all of the time, it can be harder to adjust and take that much longer to figure out what this new life is going to look like.

So, find the balance when you can – acknowledge, face and work through the grieving without being pulled away to drown in the sorrow. Ask for help when you need it. Get the rest you need. And finally, remember that if grief is patient, than the griever needs to be patient too. Whenever you think that giving up and avoiding grief would just be so much easier, be patient with the process of grieving, be patient with those around you and most of all, be patient with yourself.


If you feel you’ve been avoiding grief, it’s not too late to do something about it. Grief is patient, and help is always available. We’re here to be part of that help and so are all of the members on our site who can relate to what you’re going through. You’ll find them by joining us here: www.griefincommon.com. 

20 thoughts on “Avoiding Grief: Why It Doesn’t Work”

  1. This is where I am now. 1-1/2 years since my husband died. The fog has lifted reality has hit home band I am lost and scared. I was married twice before but they ended bad. One to young and the other he cheated on me twice. Tim’s prior wives had cheated on him. So we matched we understood each other. He was my other half and I don’t feel whole again

  2. Denell, my heart breaks along with yours. My husband went home to Jesus on Nov 22nd so I am new on this unwelcomed path. I, too, feel like a half person, just a shell of a person without a heart, lost and scared. The loneliness is unbearable. It overwhelms me to think of feeling like this forever. I pray God’s grace be yours as He guides you one day at a time to a day where a smile comes more easily. God Bless ~

  3. I guess its time to face it. I have tried to keep very busy but it creeps in anyway. And when it does, it is overwhelming. Everyone thinks I am doing so well. I look OK, continue to work part time, take care of my pet, cook for family members and friends and cry. I am best at crying. It’s like I am waiting for the fog to lift instead of doing the work.

  4. my husand passed away 27 months on july 4 , I am still angry and I don’t know how to be me anymore, I have family members , who I don’t talk to and they don’t talk to me. I have hurt people and people have hurt me on this unwanted journey. I just don’t know anymore, I lost everything, I had to move out of our house cause I couldn’t afford it anymore, and live in our cabin in a small community. I hate my life without my husband

  5. I lost my husband May 19, just five weeks shy of our fourth anniversary. I miss him terribly but am trying to find that “new normal” people keeping telling me about. My girls are on their own, so it’s just me and our three cats. Sometimes, I think I’m OK and over the worst part — and then it hits again, and I spend the entire day crying (like yesterday at work)!

    He and I were not perfect — but we were perfect for each other. I miss him terribly! I feel lost without him.

  6. it will be a month tomorrow, and I am still crying ,sporadically. She managed to hang on until our 56th anniversary, after deteriorating rapidly in the last few months . I feel guilt that we could not find a cure for whatever she had,which , I don’t even think the Drs know. they kept changing diagnosis from Alzheimers to Parkinson’s to a mystery form of dementia.

  7. I lost my wife of 11 years on September 20, 2018, without warning, to an undiagnosed and untreated heart condition. We were very, very close and her absence is a huge void in my life that nothing, and no one, can fill. I have tried filling that void with work, hobbies, spending time with friends and family, even dating a bit…not even fairly good sex with a new partner dulls the edge off it one bit. I am seeing a counselor. I have enrolled in a support group that will start soon. It’s like treating post-amputation surgical pain with regular, over the counter tylenol…only time eases it. I try to make time every day to feel it and just let it be. I guess it is a little better now, but I am a long way from okay.

  8. Neville, I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my beloved Jim a year ago after 58 years of marriage. It is a continual fight to go on w/o the person that we have spent a good part of our lives with in my case, but it doesn’t matter if it was a lifetime or a year or 5, it’s still the same, if we loved them and they loved us, we’re going to never heal completely from that loss of our soulmate. So we feel half there a good part of the time. You are still in the first year. It’s the hardest. 56 years is much of your entire life, and I pray that you have some loving family and a couple of good friends to help you through this very difficult first year. God bless you.

  9. This is all very good, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to grieve. I’ve got mentally ill friends who need my help, a house to clean, and a career that has already been derailed because I had a breakdown after I divorced, lost a beloved family member, got an ADHD diagnosis, and lost my job all within fourteen months of each other.

    What I need is help finding a way NOT to grieve, because other things need to get sorted. 🙁 I’m incredibly disappointed to hear that the prevailing opinion is that grief isn’t something that can just be pushed away and refused to be indulged.

    Everyone else in my life has put my family member’s death behind them and are back to functioning–just as they were while my family member was dying. It makes me so angry at myself and so tired.

    Is there seriously nothing I can do to just…get rid of this without having to deal with it?

  10. My wife died unexpectedly on Sep 2. October 6th was our 40th anniversary.

    My life gone. My wife, my love, my confidant, has vanished.

    each human has a life. it is finite. one of the fundamental rights of the cosmos is the right to schedule the end of our own life. There is no future for me whatsoever. I will be with my wife directly. It is my desire and my decision.

    I am too old to start over, and I don’t want to, and I don’t have the energy -as my wife knew, I am basically lazy. I look for the way way. And I know what it is.

    For those who may wonder, there is no God. what sort of God would allow this?

    Perhaps you, in similar situations, have figured out how to continue in life without pain. Bless your heart. I envy you.

    When I enter my house, I call my wife’s pet name. I expect sometimes for her to hear me and answer. But she never will. I saw a chipmunk get a drink of water out of the dog’s bowl. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife. But I will wait now, forever.

    As I told me wife as she was dying, I will be with you direct.

    1. I know exactly how you feel. I still ask how my husband slept or come look at the birds at the feeder Then I ealize the reality of it all and it all falls apart.

  11. I lost my beautiful wife on the 27th October 2019-she was 48 years old and had lived with heart disease and subsequent pulmonary hypertension for most of her life, she was my rock and has left me utterly broken, I can’t see a future without her and despite returning to work recently I just can’t concentrate on anything, from what I’ve read it could be a very long time before I find any joy in anything again, at the moment life just doesn’t seem worth living.
    Just completely heartbroken.

    1. my experience with losing my partner has left me numb snd and upset my partner died suddenly on 9th march 202h.he had a aorta femoral bypass in 2011.he had a graft inserted for blood flow for circulation in his legs i was with my partner 20 years i am going through a complaints procedure with the hospital.i am torally devastated about what happened to him the graft what was insereted in 2011 must have eroded and he haommareged.it has devastated me and i dont want this happening to anyone else.

  12. I lost my 53 year old husband 7 weeks ago. His passing was sudden and unexpected! We’ve been together 33 years. I swear half of me died with him. I don’t know how to live without him. I’ve been struggling with mental health the past couple of years and now this! I can’t see a future for me without him. Prayer helps but I’m still scared and heartbroken.

  13. My husband died suddenly on August 7 from Pulmonary Fibrosis. My hero, my rock, my best friend is gone,,,forever, We had a wonderful funny marriage and I don’t know how I can recover ….if I can. He was my everything . NOW WHAT??? My hear is also broken. I know what you are all going through.

  14. Guilt..tell me about it. My husband wasn’r eally himself for a year. The covid virus took away his monthly checks at the VA hospital.. But I never thought he was sick…..just a bit cranky. So when he was finally diagnosed for pulmonary fibrosis he was in the end stage of a disease that needed to be treated aggressively. But it’s still terminal.. My husband was in the hospital on Monday and diagnosed and released on
    Wednesday….died on Friday. If I only asked more questions. I will live with this forever.

  15. I like to say I have been somewhat of a trauma survivor although it likes to come in and hit me hard at times, It has been close to five years my grandma is gone and I thought I would loose my insanity, but knowing how she looked at me as a survivor of so many things in life and knowing her watching me fall will hurt her so much, so when the days come when I just cry and remember so many times I now cannot call her or see her, I can only stop and think on how she would know that I know how many family members need me and I them, so I cannot give up. When and if I do, My children and grandchildren will need me there! Grandma were the only human I had confide in. Now it is only God as she taught me that whenever no one can see or hear you God Will! God is why I would say I’ am still trying to keep family together one day at a time. do not like to overwhelm my mind to have my emotions and body bring me down from that feeling alone without her! We are survivors, our surroundings and state of mind is really important to me to keep trauma from my way of life, with it in mind It will not go, Ill have control of what stays in or leaves from me.

  16. i would like to here from anyone who has experienesed the same circumstances has me.my partner died at 57 years old his bypass was 9 years previousthis should not happen to anyone.

  17. My partner of 27 years died suddenly over two years ago. He was the healthiest fittest man I knew and he died running along a mountain road. We were two very happy hermits together. My best friend (or one of them) died the year before Robin. My sister who had lived next door for 20 years moved far away the same week as Robin died. I am now sitting alone and abandoned. I feel it anyway. I didn’t grieve in the beginning – my therapist said I was dissosiated. which I can’t spell. I am feeling it a bit more now and it hurts. He was everything to me. I sit and don’t move to look after myself or the house. I mentally plan to do something but my body won’t move. I have lost everyone so at zero and in my fifties is it too late to start a new life. Do I want a new life? It may all die again and I don’t want to go through that again. There is a part of me that wants to sit in the dark and wait for death. Another part says get up and start a new life. What should I do? At lowest point is a safe place

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