Your Grief is Terrifying to Those Around You


HereGrief’s what you don’t expect when suffering with the grief of losing someone you love; that suddenly the majority of the people you spend time with (family, friends, coworkers) are afraid of you.

“Afraid of me?”, you wonder, because really, what is more frail or feeble, than a person in the throes of grief?

It may not appear that they are afraid of you. In fact, it’s likely they don’t realize it themselves.

But consider this: prior to the loss of your loved one you may have felt that you had a mostly supportive group of friends and family. And I think for most, our hope is that when bad things happen in life, it’s going to be those closest friends and family who will be there to support us.

And then…surprise! We lose a loved one, and suddenly the network of people we can turn to shrinks.

How could that be? Don’t they know that their support is needed now more than ever? What could possibly make it so that the people we care about retreat at the time when we need them most?

One idea: Because they’re scared.

1. Scared of what’s happened to you, and what it means to them…their life and their mortality and the fragility of those closest to them. If it can happen to you, it can happen to anybody.

2. They’re scared of how this loss has changed you. Will you still be the same fun, warm and optimistic person they know and love?

3. And most of all, they are scared of saying or doing the wrong thing.

Your loss and your grief has made them feel powerless. They want to help, they want to take your pain away, but they don’t know how. They feel completely unskilled and incapable of stepping in and saying or doing anything that would make a difference. More than that, they’re afraid of saying something that will make you cry. A lot of people mistakenly think, “what if I bring it up when they’re not thinking about it and then I upset them?”. Of course every griever will tell you – they’re ALWAYS thinking about their loss.

I had an interesting experience when I was presenting to a group of bereaved recently. We talked about how challenging it can be when friends withdrawal after the loss of a loved one, and when I said, “I find most people would rather their friends say the wrong thing than say nothing at all”, I was met with an almost unanimous disagreement.

“I’d rather a person say nothing at all!” one woman said, as the rest of the group nodded along. “I’d prefer someone just give me a hug or hold my hand,” said another.

I couldn’t disagree, of course, because for this group in particular, they had a lot of experience with people saying things that were more hurtful than helpful.

To clarify, I explained that the grievers I had worked with in the past expressed appreciation for those friends or family who reached out and attempted to show support, even if those attempts were rather clumsy or inefficient.

This continued as its own debate, but ended for this group of grievers in the realization that perhaps those who want to comfort them just don’t know how. As confusing and complicated a time as it is for you, so it is for the people who want to comfort and support you. Because they’ve never been through this, or because they don’t feel like they have what it takes to walk someone through something as big as the loss you’ve had.

Most grievers will readily admit that after a loss they have no idea what they need. So along those lines…if we don’t know what it is that is going to help us after a loved one has died, how can friends and family know? Can we recognize that in most cases, when it feels like no one cares, maybe it’s just that they don’t know how to help or show they care?

Following our “debate” and discussion, the group and I came to a conclusion.

Whether we feel we have the energy for this or not, if support has scattered – reach out.

You may not know what you need or how to vocalize it and that’s okay. Find the people you want to be a part of this grief journey with you, and let them know where you are at, what this experience has been like for you so far and how lost, isolated and confused you feel. Educate them on the process. Tell them that you don’t know what you need, or how exactly they can help, but you know that you want them to be a part of it.

Some will say that as the griever, they shouldn’t have to be the one to reach out. And they’re right! Of course they don’t have to.

But if (when we’re ready) we can find empathy for those in our lives who want to help and don’t know how, we are more likely to widen our net of support, and give those special people who mean so much the opportunity to love and support us in a way that they are so desperate to do.

Perhaps one of the reasons this can be so confusing to everyone involved is that grieving our loved one is so often done behind closed doors. By speaking their name, and creating ways to honor and remember them and by inviting those we love to be a part of this process we can invite them along the journey with us. Check out our Tribute pages, for ideas on how to keep your loved one’s memory alive.


13 thoughts on “Your Grief is Terrifying to Those Around You”

  1. Loss of Parents most recent April 27th 2016 …. crying daily, feel alone, don’t want to do anything.

  2. Hi,
    This is a very good article. However, I still don’t understand that when a fried is told that my father has died, he never even called me! His wife, also a very good friend, was abroad, she sent me a two-line email to offer me sympathies, and said she would call back when she would be back, she never did… She sent me birthday wishes six weeks later… by email, I never replied. What about the phone call ??? That was 17 months ago. Those are friends I had invited to my place for supper a couple of months before my dad passed away.. Well, even if some people do not know what to do when a death occurs, I would say that the behaviour I just described is simply not acceptable! I can understand some people do not know what to do in such circumstances, but not to offer at least sympathies or not to call when the other promised it, is simply rude and shows that these people are and were never friends.

  3. I would add that the friend (the man in the couple) did not even call. Not that he didn’t come to the funeral home, but he did not even bother to get in touch with me. I know for sure he was told my father had passed away.

  4. I have recently lost my son, I do not want anybody I love to share this grief that I am enduring. I want none of them to hurt as I am nor do I want them to feel the pain they are feeling towards me because they know they can’t help. I appreciate their sympathy but right now I am trying to sort everything out for myself. I loved my son so very much and now I miss him more than words can say. He was only 56 yrs. old. xoxo to him

    1. Dear Susan
      I can only send words of comfort and a BIG HUG..you are not alone we are all on this site so we don’t feel so alone…..it is incredibly difficult to feel such heart ache I live each day as it comes and can only hope that one day in the future I will, once again, be thankful to be alive instead of wishing I had died with the man I loved..you are in my thoughts

  5. Lost both parents and my only sibling. No family here on earth with me. I cry everyday and feel so alone. Holidays are terrible by yourself. Knew this day would come but it came all too fast

  6. Lost spouse of 36 years 24 hours after trip to ER for dehydration. That was 7 1/2 weeks ago. Cry so much. Family afraid to visit. Text once in a while to ask how I’m doing. How do they think I’m doing? I lost my best friend, etc. Don’t know how long. I can keep going like this.

  7. I am so sorry, Mary. I lost my husband and best friend of 31 years suddenly, and the anguish is intense. If the family is not properly supportive, please find some support from friends, grief groups, a grief counselor, or a pastoral source if that is appropriate. Human support at this time won’t make the pain go away, but somehow it gives some boundaries so that you might not feel like you are in a free fall with no end. I am only three months out, but I know already that this is a long journey. I have been getting to know a widow who lost her husband nine years ago. She was devastated, and still mourns, but she also has reclaimed her life with some spirit and courage, but it has been a long process. I hope you find some support.

  8. I lost my daughter to pancreatic cancer, I miss her everyday, especially around the holidays,what hurts me the most is nobody talks about her , seldom speak her name, like she didn’t exist, it has left a hole in my heart

  9. I am too experiencing this crazy behavior at work. My coworkers are all very aware that my dad just died. Nothing. Nada from a group of 20 except 3 people. I can’t understand. I have always made an effort to congratulate their engagements, weddings, births, ask about them when they were out sick, express sympathy when a relative died, encouraged them when going through school. Either they really hate me , are just cold and mean, or they are so ignorant. I am so sorry for everyone’s loss of loved one here. It’s just shocking to me this behavior of not even mentioning my dads death.. I sometimes wonder if it’s because most are younger and honestly pretty self absorbed. How sad.

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