What To Do If You Don’t Know What To Do After Loss

What To Do

If you read the comments in the forums of Grief in Common, you’ll see that when grievers are given an opportunity to share their story, they will talk about who they lost, when it happened, and the circumstances surrounding the loss. And besides their grief the one thing that so many of these grievers have in common is the “end” of their story, where they say, “and now I just don’t know what to do…”

For some there is a “to-do” list on the other side of loss. The planning of the memorial service perhaps, or the settling of the estate. There are closets to be cleaned out, thank you cards to write and phone calls to be made. I find for most there is a paradox in the chores that follow loss. While tedious and tiresome, sad and somber, there’s still something to be said for the role these chores play in keeping a griever on track in the beginning, and the way that they keep the deceased in their daily life, plans and conversation.

But eventually everything on the to-do list gets crossed off and there’s nothing actually left to do, but grieve.

And what does that look like? Crying all the time? Pining, longing and yearning? Because in the beginning everything about the grieving is a verb, an action – something to do. But eventually there comes a point where that changes and it feels like a noun- a thing: the grief. And what’s a person “to do” with that?

As we try to figure out what’s next or when we say “I don’t know what to do” we may be basing it on the assumption that there is a right answer and a wrong answer…a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.

But the hardest fact to face may be that there isn’t anything left “to do” after loss, but live.

I think when people say “I don’t know what to do” it’s because in fact, they don’t want to do anything at all. They want to curl up, go to sleep, and escape the living nightmare of loss. Anything that seemed essential before, all the running around and worries, have lost all importance- and for some grievers it may feel like there’s nothing left to do that has any meaning at all.

Because a great loss can teach us that we don’t have control over our lives. That for as much as we plan and worry and hope, when all is said and done, our loved one has still left us and there is nothing to do that can change it. When grievers say “I don’t know what to do”, what they’re really saying is “I know there’s nothing I can do to bring them back, and I don’t know what to do with myself or this life I’ve now been given“.

And so perhaps that’s why the only thing left to do is to focus on healing, rebuilding and searching for sources of strength.

This isn’t easy. In fact for most grievers this may be harder then the grief itself. As much as moving forward may seem like an obvious goal to an outsider, some grievers aren’t particularly interested in getting better. That place up ahead is only further away from their loved one. Further away from the familiar comfort of what used to be. Staying in the grief, and living in the memories of the past may feel like the only comfortable place to stay connected to someone who is gone.

Still, there comes a time for most grievers when they feel that’s no longer working for them. As much as they may want to go back, there’s no denying the pull of time. The changing days in the calendar. The realization that life moves ahead whether we want it to or not.

Taking it “one day at a time” can be frustrating advice. Perhaps because a griever’s day feels longer- experiencing 100 days worth of memories, second guessing and emotions each and every day. One day at a time requires patience, and a clear head. Everything about grief is just too much, and every single task and every decision becomes too overwhelming. Too tiring. Too hard to decide. Too little energy to care.

Instead, when trying to figure out what “to do” after the loss of a loved one, or trying to make a decision, ask yourself a few questions:

Does this need to be decided today?

Is someone expecting an answer from me?

Is there a deadline or a timeline?

We inadvertently create some of our own stresses by putting an urgency or deadline on decisions that may not otherwise exist. As we start out each and every day we can only focus on what is literally right in front of us. Get out of bed. Eat breakfast. Make an actual to do list. Seek out the tangible tasks. And as you go through each, consider the questions above. Some things, like paying bills, can’t wait. But other decisions like, where am I going to live/what happens if I can’t care for this house by myself/who is going to take care of me when I’m older, probably don’t need to be decided (or frankly couldn’t possibly be known or decided) today.

Each day, make time to sit with your grief or to connect with the loved one you’ve lost. Find a small ritual that could bring comfort (wearing their shirt to bed or sitting in “their” chair while you watch TV). Talk to your loved one as you go through the day, tell them what’s going on and don’t think it’s strange to verbalize the difficulty you may be having in trying to make decisions or move ahead without them.

And above all, remember how much they would want you to be okay. And that some days the only thing “to do” is to get up and do your best to keep their memory alive.


Are you struggling in your grief or saying to yourself or others, “I just don’t know what to do”?

You’re not alone. There is support and there are people who understand.

You will find them here at www.griefincommon.com. Share your story, and search for others who may have experienced a similar loss.

Add “Join Grief in Common” to your to-do list today. 


12 thoughts on “What To Do If You Don’t Know What To Do After Loss”

  1. I’m at month 14 at the loss of my husband. Nothing is the same….I busy my self…..have all of the responsibilities taken care of…..attended a grief group which was very helpful. But everything is so different when We all want it to be the same. He is missed and lived so much….I hope he realizes that. So many things I wish were different but so many stay the same. I’ve been told Year 2 and 3 can be worse than year one. Oh I hope that isn’t true! What surprises me most thru all of this is that life does keep going on……

  2. I am just past 15 years and yes, each year can be worse than the first one. The hole in your heart is never gone. But I can say that talking about our happy days, writing our stories, remembering the things we shared, the love, the sacrifices, has kept me sane and pushed me to live the life he would have wanted me to live, for our children, my love for God’s work and all my loving friends.

  3. My husband of 39 years passed away 2 years ago .i still have no idea what to do with my life, can’t seem to get past the pain and grief. The the feeling that I just don’t belong anyplace,haunts me on a daily base. I”ve been in therapy and it has helped some .

  4. I have spent the last 7 years trying to find my life. I just can’t seem to get it together. David and I did everything together . The last 2 years of his life we spent every minute. Now I have nothing to take care of and don’t know what to do. I try and travel but that doesn’t help. I just miss him. People tell me it’s time to move on. I hate here that. I don’t know where to turn.

  5. Thank you for this article. I ran across this site on Facebook. My husband of almost 35 years – he didn’t make it to our anniversary on May 1st – died of cancer on April 21, 2017. People tell me they think I’m doing well, but I just don’t know. Everything in this article “hit the nail on the head.” When I talk about my husband to friends, I get weepy & they want to change the subject – I guess because it makes them uncomfortable. But what about me? I am much more than uncomfortable. I lost the person who wad my soulmate & my heart.

  6. I can identify with all your replies. My sweet husband passed 4 1/2 years ago & I’m still lost w/o him. I participate in various events or classes of interest, but go home to an empty home. Talk to my sweetheart every day. I miss his wonderful sense of humor. Yes we have to move forward but am doing it slowly. God bless all of you😍

  7. I remember well the day my husband’s prognosis went from 12 to 15 months to 2-3 months (he died 2 months 2weeks 3 days later). I broke down and asked him what was I supposed to do with the rest of my life. His response “spoil our grandkids and don’t let them forget me” and is now the main goal of my life. But the day to day survival alone is so hard. And people, even family move on and leave you behind in your grief. Even after 4 1/2 years every day is a struggle.

  8. I miss my Jeremy 😭😭💔💔💔😭😭 I don’t know what to do anymore. We were a team in this cruel world.

  9. 49 years for me. Our 50th wedding anniversary was July 16th. Some days are harder then others. I Can’t stay busy enough. It hurts physically so many times a day He’s been gone since January 3rd. I do talk to him everyday. Is this normal?

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