On Grief: 5 Things only the Newly Bereaved Understand

There is so much information available on grief. So many opinions, ideas, and tips for coping. It can be overwhelming for the griever and especially for those with a very recent loss.

on grief

I have been surprised recently just how many newly bereaved are reaching out, looking for help, joining our site, and looking for more direction on grief and how to cope. And when I say “newly bereaved” I mean, really new…some people with a loss that happened only a few days before.

While it’s encouraging that people are recognizing so early the need for support, I find this is such a strange and confusing time for the griever. Grief is already such a very foreign journey to take and those with a new loss have barely had their passports stamped before they’re expected to be fluent in the culture and language of loss.

Whether you are the newly bereaved trying to make your way, or a loved one trying to help, on grief I think most people with a recent loss would say the following…

  1. The loss of my loved one is a fresh pain that I experience every day I wake up: For the griever fortunate enough to actually fall into a restful sleep, this sweet oblivion can provide a temporary respite from the spinning thoughts, worries and pain. And then, it’s time to wake up. In the beginning especially, most grievers will say they get maybe a second or two of morning haze where their loss hasn’t happened and the pain isn’t real. We all know what it’s like to wake up from a bad dream, but only the griever knows what it feels like to wake up into one.
  2. I feel worse than I look: Grievers still wear clothes and shower. This seems to be enough to fool those around them into thinking that they’re doing better than they are. “You look good!” people will often say, which is certainly nice of course, but usually only serves to create a bigger disconnect to the griever and the world around them. Leaving the griever to likely think in return “if only you knew just how awful I feel”.
  3. I don’t know what I need: I believe the newly bereaved are grateful for all the offers of help and support on grief. I also believe that those offering really do mean it. But whens someone says “if there’s anything you need…” all the griever can think is “I don’t know what I need. I don’t know how I’m feeling. I have no idea what I’m doing, or what I’m supposed to be doing, and I don’t know how you or anyone else can help”.
  4. You can’t cheer me up: Maybe a griever was someone who laughed a lot before. Perhaps they were someone who smiled often, who loved the good gossip, and was always up for joke. When it’s very soon after a loss, most grievers are functioning on auto-pilot. In the place of the lively friend or family member you once knew is someone in survival mode, and that person isn’t hearing or seeing things as they once did. The newly bereaved are so preoccupied with loss and grief there just isn’t room for anything else. And while attempts to cheer a griever up are usually well intentioned, it can be frustrating on both sides when these efforts fall flat. Allowing for the real pain and sadness of grief may actually provide more comfort in the end.
  5. The loss of your (coworker, dog, neighbor) is not the same as the loss of my (spouse, father, sister): We’re all looking for ways to help and connect, and in an effort to do so many people will try to comfort the newly bereaved with stories on grief. But these losses can be such an apples and oranges situation, that they don’t always serve to comfort the griever in the way a person would hope. Even if you have both lost a parent, spouse, or child, in the very early days of grief the newly bereaved may not be ready to hear about your loss. There will come a time when another’s story of surviving grief can be a help, but in the beginning it will be hard for a griever to believe that anyone has experienced anything as intense as what they’re feeling.

“New grief”, “recent loss”, “newly bereaved”….while the timeline won’t be the same for everyone, the thoughts and feelings that go with it tend to share many commonalities. Whether it’s your loss, or you’re a person trying to help, try not to pay too close attention to the calendar when deciding how you, your friend or loved one “should” feel.

Remember, the nature of the relationship, the way in which a person died, and the impact the deceased’s presence had on the bereaved’s day-to-day life will be a much better indicator of how much time a person will stay in this newly bereaved stage.

After that? Well, the grief never goes away of course. But a few things get better. Some parts of the fog and the haze become clearer. If nothing else, when some time has passed, a griever may feel more able to know what they need, how they are really feeling, and how best to express that to others.

And for some, that’s all they need to be moving forward in the right direction…


If you’ve had a loss, it’s never too early (or too late) to find help. Join us today at www.griefincommon.com to connect with those who understand.

One thought on “On Grief: 5 Things only the Newly Bereaved Understand”

  1. After struggling with alcohol (primarily) addition for most of his adult years, my 53 year old little brother lost his fight. He had also been fighting throat cancer, as he was a smoker from those years also. He’d been in treatment so many times, often would do well for a few weeks or so, but always slid backward. Of course he blamed our parents for “not doing enough for him.” He leaves two adult sons, 2 grandsons, 5 siblings, our mother. Dad passed November 2017.

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