No Time to Grieve: Can we be too busy for grief?

GrieveThese days everyone is busy. Ask anyone you haven’t seen in awhile how they’ve been and they’re likely to answer, “busy!”. This won’t be a surprise to most, but something that I didn’t expect in the midst of our very busy lives is how many newly bereaved people I’ve met who are (or think they are) just too busy to grieve.

Let’s face it, for some, taking the time to grieve and find support may feel like a luxury or indulgence. It may even go so far as to feel like self-indulgence, or extravagance. With life moving so fast and so many other things to do, and in most cases, so many other people to take care of, does every mourner truly have the chance, or give themselves the chance and time they need to grieve?

The reasons someone may not allow themselves time to grieve are varied and numerous- and they may not always be what you’d think:

1. The Working Griever: let’s face it, the bills still have to be paid. While every griever should probably get a bereavement leave similar to a maternity leave (and in both cases they should be much longer!) that is just not an option for most. While work can offer distraction and solace, it can also keep a griever so busy and distracted that there just isn’t enough quiet time in their day or their routine to reflect on this very big life change they are going through.

2. The Caregiver: this one I see all the time. An adult child is caring in some way or another for both of their parents. When one parent dies, all that time, attention and care immediately shifts to the remaining parent. Even if the second parent is relatively healthy, there’s still the very obvious reality that there’s no longer the option of parents keeping an eye on each other. I speak to these adult children all the time after their loss and when I ask, “how are you coping after the loss of your Dad?” their response almost every single time is the same, “I’m just trying to take care of Mom right now and make sure she’s okay”. Whether that’s physically, emotionally, or both, it’s not uncommon to forgo our need to grieve when there’s someone else to worry about.

3. The Parent: this is similar to what’s stated above, and some people (the “Sandwich Generation” especially) will find they fit into multiple categories. But this is a little different. This is the griever who has had a loss: their spouse, their parent, maybe a sibling…and rather than focusing on their grief, they are immediately tending to the needs of others. In most cases this is a person whose own children could be strongly affected by the loss, and therefore the goal for the parent is to show strength and to make sure everyone else’s needs are being met.

4. The Avoider: this is less about how little time there is in a day, and more about how much time a griever actually wants to devote to grieving. There are some people who may be afraid to open the “pandora’s box” of grief. So afraid of allowing themselves to “go there”, to talk about their loss, or even to think about it! “If I let myself cry, I’m pretty sure I’ll never stop” is something I’ve heard time and time again.

5. The Stubborn Griever: ugh, I know this is a tough one. None of us want to consider ourselves stubborn. I’ve been accused (probably rightfully) of being stubborn at times, and deep down I know it’s not my best trait. But stubborn people, we have our reasons, and we stand by them. This is less about being afraid of grief- this is the very real perception that there just isn’t the need to grieve in the ways that others do. “I don’t need a group”, “I don’t need support”, “I’m doing fine”. And maybe that’s true! The stubborn griever isn’t wrong (we rarely are, ha ha) but this will be tough because getting a stubborn griever to admit, even to themselves, that they need help or even just a little more time for reflection is no easy thing.

And before we go any further, it’s important to know that there’s some parts of being busy that’s good. Really good. Getting out- outside of the house, outside of our own heads. That’s a very necessary tool for surviving loss and there is some part of busy that every griever needs.

I can’t tell you how often I ask a griever, “how have you been coping?” and they answer, “I’m doing good, I’m keeping busy”. That tells me that balance is possible, and that’s what this is all about: finding a balance. Obviously so many of the things that can make it hard to grieve can’t be ignored: work, care of a remaining parent, family, friends. But just like the advice even non-grievers should be taking, we all need more time for ourselves. More time to rest and reflect while adapting and adjusting to this major life change.

So the next question a griever needs to ask themselves (and then answer honestly!) is it actually about not having the time, or is it a case of not making the time? Because there are some parts of throwing ourselves into work, or the care and tending of others that is “easier” than facing our own grief. Now I’m sure “easy” is the last word most people, and especially grieving people, would use to describe their lives, but let’s think about it. If I’m always moving, always busy, and always worried about everyone and everything else than there just isn’t time to think about myself, my needs, or my pain.

It’s important to recognize the need for self care. We often suggest grievers get outside, go for walks, or stay in for a bath or to put their feet up with a cup of tea. Of course the act of self care itself (whatever it is) can be very pleasant, but these quiet activities allow for just that: QUIET. It’s something every griever needs, but the busy griever just doesn’t seem to get enough of.

I realize this may not sound too appealing. Any person who has had a loss knows the quiet that comes at night. When all the thoughts come racing in and sleep seems out of reach. Introducing more quiet in the day may not be what most people think they need in order to grieve.

The difference is something every griever is missing from this new and uncertain life: control. It’s about making the time, and having at least a little control over this process, and realizing just how important it is to sit with our thoughts, however sad, scary, or unpleasant they may be.

So what does this look like, when making time to grieve gets added to our day like any other task that deserves our time and attention?

As stated before, it can be as simple as adding in time to relax, and reflect. It can be finding an activity that connects us to the person we lost. It doesn’t mean scheduling a time to cry but it does mean opening ourselves up to be in a place that we feel comfortable allowing any emotions that may surface to  present themselves.

And more than anything, it doesn’t mean going it alone. Make time in your week, just as you would to get a haircut or food shop, to find support. Talk with a good friend or family member. Find support in your faith community. Go to a support group or meet with a counselor.

You are allowed to take this time. You need this time. You are not too busy to grieve and the work you do and the people you care for can only benefit from this time that you take for yourself.


At www.griefincommon.com there is always time to grieve.

Because help is available 24/7 you can do it on your time, at your convenience, whenever you are ready. Join us today.

2 thoughts on “No Time to Grieve: Can we be too busy for grief?”

  1. My son died over a year ago. When he died I was very sick and could only focus on my health after a year-and-a-half I was diagnosed and my health is now under control. I was just getting ready to grieve him when the pandemics truck I feel my grief has been pushed aside and I do not know what to do.

  2. Carol Arsenault: sorry to hear of your loss. It must be very difficult, losing a son.
    Now, hopefully the pandemic is lessening, please take your time to grieve in the way appropriate for you. Talk about him, or do whatever feels right for you.
    Wishing you peace and comfort.

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