Delayed Grief: How to Manage Grief When It Shows Up Later
Grief is a natural response to loss, but it doesn’t always show up right away. For some people, the emotional pain of loss can linger for weeks, months, or even years after a loved one passes away or separates from their life in some way. The grieving process can take weeks, months, or even years, and it can be hard to know what to do when grief shows up later than expected. When a loved one dies, the initial outpouring of grief is often overwhelming.
But what do you do when the sadness doesn’t go away? What if the pain shows up months or even years later?
Delayed grief may feel similar to that of how you felt or would have expected to feel shortly after the loss occurred. While many people feel, think and act in different ways surrounding loss, often if a relationship was significant to us and we recognize that someone is missing in our lives, this might lead to feelings of sadness, hurt, anger or irritability, exhaustion, guilt, loneliness, helplessness, and/or anxiety. We might also experience disrupted sleep patterns that were not as prominent before.
Is There a Timeline for Grief?
Many people experience delayed grief after a loss. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we should be over our pain by now. We might see people around us who seem to be doing just fine and think that we’re the only ones who are struggling. But the truth is, everyone grieves differently and in their own time. If you’re experiencing delayed grief, know that you’re not alone. Many people find themselves grieving months or even years after a loss.
There is no set timeline for grief, and there is no wrong way to grieve. It is also a normal experience to feel sad or moved in some way on a specific date or during a particular time of year, as these feelings are a reflection of the value and significance the relationship held for you and their impact on your life.
Allow Feelings to Come
The most important thing is to allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling, and to give yourself the time and space you need to heal. It’s natural to try to suppress or distract from your feelings of grief, but this only makes them harder to deal with in the long run. When you try to bottle up your emotions, they tend to come out in unexpected and potentially destructive ways. The best way to deal with your grief is to allow yourself to feel it openly and honestly when it does surface naturally.
This might look like you noticing yourself feeling irritable, sad or numb and first acknowledging these feelings then asking yourself to sit with the curiosity of “Where might this be coming from?”. We might not realize that a death anniversary or birthday of a loved one has passed and subconsciously were aware of this reminder or we might have come across something that subtly reminded us of our loved one that passed away.
You might also want to consider allowing yourself to think or reminisce about the person with whom passed away or was separated from your life. Writing down positive memories that help you to feel comforted in some way could be a way to ground how you are feeling while not fully distracting yourself from confronting this unresolved pain.
Often memory boxes can be a great way to contain small items, mementos and photos that can be held for you to look back on and it can be a cathartic process to organize and put together as well. Writing a letter to your loved one can also be a way to express any thoughts you might be having as well as letting your loved one know how you are doing and what you would like them to know about yourself now.
Connect with Others
Remember that connecting with others during these difficult times are just as important as connecting with others for joyous events. Consider who in your life is willing to listen without judgment and allow you to express yourself in a compassionate way. If you struggle with identifying a family member or friend that you believe would be capable of understanding and validating your emotions at this time, consider joining a grief support group or mental health support group focusing on grief and loss. You might also want to connect with a psychotherapist or art therapist to process what you are experiencing in a safe and trusted space.
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