Six Thoughts for the Newly Grieving

One of the areas that I feel like this blog helps to address is the experience of grief and loss. Today I want to share a few thoughts that I think might be helpful for people who are experiencing a fresh loss – the people’s whose wounds are newly open and for the first time are trying to swim in the waters of grief. Here are a few practical things that I have learned/helped me/I wish I had known/others have told me as you negotiate these early days. I have absolutely no idea why I felt like writing this today, except I did, and here it is:

1. Beware of The Perils of Facebook

There will be many days that Facebook just ticks you off. You will read things that people post that will sound either insensitive or like total whining. You’ll read people’s very normal status updates and it will take all your willpower not to write a comment saying: “REALLY? A store closing? Bad weather? Your toe hurts? THAT’S your biggest problem??” It will not be rational, but it will be real.

You may need to take a step back from reading status updates. You will need willpower to remind yourself that your friends are not trying to post things to drive you crazy. Refrain from the comments.

The other danger is using Facebook to validate your grief. Facebook can be a blessing and curse in this way. In the early days, you will post about your loss and you will get tons of comments, likes and messages and it will be a huge source of support. Then, on a rough day a couple weeks later, you will post again about your hurt…or your struggle to get through it…or that you’re having a bad day. And there won’t be as many comments. As the months go by the posts about your loved one will receive less and less acknowledgement. You will feel like people don’t care. But that isn’t it. It’s just that people can’t carry the grief of others to the same depth you are carrying it indefinitely. If we all did, the world would fall apart. So post with caution – if you just want to get your feelings out there, great. If you are hoping for a post to give you support from others, perhaps reconsider.

2. Be Prepared for the “pity face” and the “awkward moments”

These moments will take you off guard. You are thinking of the one you lost often and it will be natural for you to talk about them, share a story in conversation, say their name. Before, when you talked about the one you lost, it was just another person you were telling a story about. But it changes when the person dies. Now, you get the “pity face.” People don’t just laugh at a funny story; they say “Aww….what a special memory.” They get awkward.
Be prepared that this may happen…but, also, push through. When you need to say their name, say it. When you want to talk about them, talk about them. Those close to you will soon get used to it and the awkwardness will subside. Really.

3. Embrace the Grief Cloud

One thing that I hear most people talk about is feeling like they were walking around in a daze in the early days of grief. You’re in the cloud when you suddenly realize you’re not really paying attention to conversations around you. You’re in the cloud when you realize that someone’s asked you something and you didn’t hear them. You are not going crazy – you are grieving. I think the cloud is protective in those early days. You have a lot to get through and sometimes the only way to even survive is to live in the cloud. So you keep going, you wander, you do the routine. Your head is just not entirely present. It’s in the grief cloud – and that’s okay.

4. Be Gentle with Yourself

I’ve said this so often when I’ve talked about grief here. Take a break from some things. Say “no” more often. I said “yes” to some extremely stupid things when I was first grieving, but I didn’t know – I didn’t know that the old Leanne would be gone for a little while as I figured out who the new Leanne would be. I didn’t know that things that would normally drain me a little emotionally would wipe me dry in those early days of grief. I didn’t know that some nights I would just need to sit and look at old pictures and remember stories and not talk to anyone, which brings me to my next point…

5. Make Grief Time

In our overly scheduled worlds, it seems hard to believe that we need to schedule time to grieve, but it is true. You may actually need to make room in your schedule for time when you can totally fall apart. A good friend of mine gave this advice early on, and she could not have been any more right.

Grief time can mean different things for different people. It can mean taking a night to look at old pictures or videos, to watch the DVD the funeral home made over and over, to listen to a favourite song on repeat. It doesn’t necessarily mean time to cry, but it does mean that if you felt tears coming it would be safe to let them flow.

6. Tell People

One thing that is surreal after a loss is the realization when you meet people or see people you don’t know as well as others that they have no idea what you are going through. It took me a while to learn how to just say “I just lost my sister.” And when I did, I was always glad. It wasn’t because people had necessarily had great things to say or support to offer (though they often did). It just felt better to name the elephant in the room that lived in my head. So tell people. Say it out loud often. Like with Facebook, you may not always get the hoped-for response – and it is still good.

This also includes telling people what you need or don’t need. If you are overwhelmed or having a bad day, let people know. If you have a friend who you feel is being insensitive, tell them what you need them to do differently. People will ask you how they can help – be honest with them. Say “What I most appreciate is when I get a call once in a while asking me how I’m doing” or “If I want to talk I’ll let you know,” or “I’d appreciate it if you came to the funeral.” YOU set the tone. People won’t know what you need unless you can tell them, as best as you are able. I wish I had found a better way to express what I needed to people in my life. By the time I ended up feeling ready to talk I felt like it was “too late” – like people had already moved on and it would be unfair to go back.

This chart expresses my journey:

What I said in those early days What I wish I’d said looking back six months later
“I’m doing okay” “I’m having a really hard time, but I struggle to talk about it.” 
“Of course you can talk to me about your problem” “It’s hard for me to hear about this problem right now, because my heart is so full with my own loss.”
*Silence* “I need to talk right now.  I don’t know what I need to say. But I need to try.”
(In response to “How are you?”/ “How’s it going?”/  “What’s up?”): “I’m good!/”Okay”/”Not much” “The truth is, I am not great, because my sister just died.”
(In response to: “Would you like to participate in ___?”/ “Can you help with ___?”): “Okay!” “No.”

Of course I know, you won’t get everything “right.” I can give you all the advice I want, and you’ll still wish you’d done things some things differently. If you are new to grief, take this advice for what it is: some ideas that might help, and some that you may not find as useful.

What I’d like to say to you most if you are newly grieving is: “I’m sorry for your loss. May you know God is close. May you sense Him holding your broken heart.”

If you have been through loss, what would you want someone who is newly grieving to know?  Do you agree or disagree with this list?  Would you add anything?  


Add Yours
  1. Leslie

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate you sharing your experiences because it will help me in times of grief and also better equip me as I walk alongside others if they are grieving.

    About 6 years ago I was at a funeral for a family whose teenage girls lost their mother. As I stood talking to the daughters they mentioned how they disliked the face everyone made when they spoke to them – cocking their head to the side, squinting their eyes just a little, getting a saddened look… this was the same face I had made to them not fve minutes earlier and that you aptly dubbed the “pity face.” I aplogized and since then I have been far more aware of my tendancy to do this and how it might be received. Naming it gives it substance somehow. Thanks for reminding me of it and also for identifying that it can continue to pop up in place of enjoying a great memory of a loved one.

    Thanks for the post…


  2. Marie

    I find that I can relate to this in many ways. I am grieving the loss of a spouse who chose to leave me. Although difficult, it has been helpful to tell others even though I didn’t really want to. People have been checking in to see if I am ok and that means a lot.

    I appreciate you spelling out how to better respond in certain situations. I’m still not sure I can flat out tell someone that I am struggling with the type of loss that I am. Unfortunately, I did not have a choice when he left, and separation is a little less acceptable in Christian circles unless you have the time to talk out the situation.

    There is that awkward time in my situation too. I have had some difficult responses where I felt like I just threw a bomb at everyone. After a point I had someone help me tell the news. Sometimes, it is hard to say you don’t want to talk, to give a quick answer, and to also tell the truth. I say I am “ok” or “hanging in there” a lot, or I defer. Maybe that is the right answer for me, or maybe I will become more comfortable with my reality as time moves on.

    I am thankful for your article. You are a wonderful writer. Thank you for tackling the tough topics. They speak to people in a wonderful way and are very meaningful.


    • leannefriesen

      I am so sorry for your loss Marie. Please let me validate and acknowledge here that losing your spouse is this way IS a loss and it makes sense that you are grieving it, that you would find all of these things apply to you. This loss, like a death, was out of your hands and has left you with the same empty spaces that a death would leave.

      You express much of what I felt when I was grieving as well! Sometimes you need to find a way to share you are hurting, while other times you also want to not talk about it at all. One thing I tell grieving people is to take time to identify their “safe people.” You’ll soon know who these are. These are the people (often just a handful, and that’s okay) where you can be honest with how you are feeling and know you will receive support. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you sit down and have a long counselling session but it means that you can give honest answers to how you are doing, and let them know it’s a hard day, or simply trust that they are not judging your feelings.

      And I empathize with dropping those bombs! It can feel like YOU are left caring for the people you just TOLD! Sometimes I wanted to say “Um, I’m sorry it is hard for you to process that I just said my sister died, but I must say I find it probably harder than you do.” 😉

      Be kind to yourself, Marie. Remember you are grieving, and your grief needs its own space.


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