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What do you do with grief at five (or more) years out?

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What do you do with grief at five, ten, twenty (or more) years out?

Short answer?

There is no answer.

The thing about grief is that it’s ongoing.

Grief has no end point. Sure, it generally starts to lessen in intensity with time, but then one rainy Saturday, there it is. As intense as ever. So, maybe that lessening in intensity thing isn’t even true. At least not for everybody. And not all the time.

No matter how you feel politically about our current president, he’s a good grief role model, if there is such a thing. Which there probably isn’t. Nonetheless, I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to talk about grief. Being Grief Counselor in Chief, is a big deal. The man knows grief.

Biden often says things like, I promise, the day will come when thinking about your loved one brings a smile first, rather than a tear.

Again, even if you don’t like the man’s politics, that’s a pretty comforting thing to hear when you’re grieving. It offers hope that a heart can heal even when the hurt remains. And hurt and grief do remain.

That’s where I’m at now when I think about my dad. A smile first, rather than tears. Most of the time anyway.

We learn to live without the person we miss. I’ve been doing that for five years now. This doesn’t mean it’s easier. Just different.

Grief is always lonely.

After all, no one other than you had the exact relationship with your person that you did. So, some grief is yours alone to shoulder. Luckily, some can be shared as well.

People often say things like, I know how you feel.

They mean well, of course, but they don’t know because grief is personal.

Even if they’ve lost a dear one, too, their relationship with their dear one was different from the one you had with yours. This is true even among siblings (and others) grieving for the same person. My relationship with my dad was not the same as the one he had with each of my sisters and my brother. Mine wasn’t better, or worse, or stronger, just different. As daughter number three, uniquely mine.

In the early stage of grief, there’s usually an outpouring of some sort. Calls. Texts. Cards. Messages of sympathy on social media. Visits. Casseroles. Hugs. Get togethers. Time off from work. Memorials.

Pretty fast, that outpouring ends.

Then, grief gets even lonelier.

This is just a fact. We get better at grieving quietly because we have to. For the most part, we keep it to ourselves, tending to it privately. Or at least that’s my experience.

People expect you to move on and pretty quickly too. They get busy with their own lives, which is as it should be. They assume you’re back to your old self. Back to normal.

The thing is, normal had your person in it. So, there’s no going back to normal.

It’s now been five years since my dad was living. For some reason, I like framing it that way rather than stating it’s been five years since my dad died. Go figure.

You might want to read, I feel lost.

Five years. In a way, five years is a long time. In other ways, it’s hardly any time at all.

Grief confuses time. Time confuses grief.

What do you do with grief at five (or more) years out?

Feel it. Talk about it. Write about it.

Talking about grief isn’t easy. Writing about grief is hard too. But maybe we make both harder than they need to be.

If grief is so universal, why is it so hard to talk (and write) about dying, death, loss and grief?

We assume people don’t want to talk or read about such things. Too sad, too depressing.

But maybe we’ve been wrong about that all along.

Maybe talking, writing and reading about grief is exactly what we need to do more of.

I think it is.

What do you think?

I’d love to know.

Finally, if you are grieving, you are not alone. I hope knowing that helps just a little.

If you like this post, why not share it? Thank you!

Tell me about someone you grieve for.

Have you ever felt reluctant to talk about your grief?

Do you think grief gets easier over time?

Do you have a grief tip?

Tamara Palmer

Friday 22nd of October 2021

Two of my three brothers passed away in 2016 the second in 2017. That was nearly soul crushing. The smile of remembrances is intermittent, but seems to act as a salve to the burn that created such a hole. We had vowed to each other to care for our aging Mom. Our Mom continues to age, she with her own collection of tragic grief. This current grief is that of seeing my mother age and decline. I grieve for how she once was, seeming nearly immortal. My brothers do seem to help in spirit, as I do the daily tasks of her care while at times sense the inevitable. That’s the current source of life’s grief. It serves the purpose of making me see the simple importance of inhaling the various moments of the current day. I find pieces of gratitude and can be more fully emotionally available to her. This grief is also as I notice her gracefully accepting the fulfillments of living and eventuality of what’s to come. So we do and laugh and watch her favorite soaps and baseball games, in her 90th year of contributing to life. I “randomly” came across your thoughts and words. I thank you for them and your space to share.


Sunday 24th of October 2021

Tamara, I am so sorry to hear about the death of your brothers. I would say what you are experiencing now in regard to your mother sounds like anticipatory grief. I understand what you are talking about as I experienced some of the same while my mother was ill with mbc. Enjoy the soaps and baseball games and all the other ordinary moments you still get to experience together. They will one day be treasures to add to your heart and cherish forever. Thank you for reading and taking time to share too.

Karen Fix Curry

Sunday 1st of August 2021

My father died suddenly 24 years ago and there is still not a single day that I don’t think about him. He’s in my thoughts. He’s in my heart. And even now, so many years later that he is still receiving major honors and recognition. I go to them all. I stand up and represent him. And I still cry. Sometimes in private. Sometimes in public. I’ve accepted that we all must die eventually, and knowing I knew him, was so close to him, and was able to call him Dad helps me steer my life journey. Grief never goes away. It becomes a guide if you honor it, or a mire of paralysis if you don’t. It’s up to you. Once I realized it was my job to carry on from his example, to hold him in my heart and live as if I would see him again, and soon, the grief became a focused beacon of purpose.

But I still miss him. Even now.


Wednesday 4th of August 2021

Karen, Thank you for your beautiful words. Your words and actions honor his memory, for sure.

Donna Funkhouser

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

I've lost many people over the years. My mother, my sister, my nephew, many good friends. Recently my best friend lost her only son of 24 years to an ATV accident. He was to be married Aug.7. I held him in my arms when he was born. I watched him grow into a loved and respected man. Over 900 people attended his service. He meant so much to so many. When he hugged you, you knew you'd been hugged. We all loved him in many different ways. I loved him as family. My friend loved him as his mother. His sisters loved him as their brother. His fiance loved him as her future. I'm still grieving but Joe Biden's words help. I long for the day when I remember him with a smile and not a tear. Thank you for this blog. It's helped in so many ways and I will share.

Donna Funkhouser

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

@Nancy, And on a happier note, congratulations on that new grand baby! How exciting!


Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Donna, It's good to hear from you. That is a lot of loss. How tragic about your best friend's son. August 7 is going to be very rugged, but then every day likely is. Your words are so moving - you held him in your arms when he was born and watched him grow into a much loved and well respected man. What an impact he had. I will be thinking of you as you grieve for this young man and your dear sister and your other loved ones, too, of course. I'm glad this post was meaningful and helpful in some small way. Thank you for reading and sharing about your grief. xo


Wednesday 21st of July 2021

PS - This was a great post, Nancy, one I think I'll re-visit.

Best wishes,too, for all of you as your family prepares to welcome a new member!


Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Julia, Thank you so much.


Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Tomorrow it will be 36 years since my mother died. It's five+ for my dad. I miss both of them but, fortunately, usually without the wracking grief of earlier times. However, more and more I realize how many conversations will never happen, how many stories are lost, how I'd love to delve into their perspectives.... And then sometimes I think about the way the nation and the world are today and I'm glad they're not here to see it...


Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Julia, 36 years is a long time. I'm sorry she died so long ago and missed out on so much. She must've been quite young. And so it's five years for your dad as well. It's still hard, as you know. I know what you mean about those conversations and stories that will never happen. I often wonder what my dad would have to say about the state of the world, and specifically the US, these days. My mother too, of course. Miss their wisdom and perspectives. Thank you for reading and sharing.

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