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Delayed Grief

What is delayed grief?

What is it and how to deal with it

We all know what grief if, but what about delayed grief?

It’s not a new concept but one I imagine is more prevalent right now. Grief can be delayed for many reasons, but a worldwide pandemic is a pretty solid reason.

I actually experienced this myself recently.

My mom died right before the pandemic started. I was aware, especially in the first few months of the pandemic, that my grief was pushed aside as we all tried to understand and deal with quarantine and a new world.

But I didn’t realize at the time just how much grief I hadn’t processed. 

With many relatives living out of state and time being limited, we only did a memorial service right after my mom died. It wasn’t until recently that we were able to get my family together to do the burial. In my mind, it had been a year and a half since my mom passed, this seemed like a formality to bury her ashes. I expected to be emotional leading up to it, but what I didn’t expect was how much grief would come afterwards. What I thought was just a formality ended up being the realization that my mother was really gone.

I was shocked to find that part of my mind hadn’t fully accepted that.

But all I kept thinking was wow, she’s really gone.

I was amazed to feel that way, because of course logically I knew that, but on some level, it hadn’t fully processed for me. Another element to this is that my mom had Alzheimer’s and was living in a nursing home for a few years prior to her death, so in many ways she was lost to us long before her body gave out. This can be another factor in grief, and delayed grief. With long term illnesses, we need to grieve not only their death but the long suffering illness and it’s impact on us.

Emotions can be messy and complicated, grief especially so.

After a long illness, there can be relief, and then sometimes guilt about the relief. There can be sadness and anger. Really any emotion you feel regarding losing somebody is completely valid, no matter how conflicting it might feel with another emotion you have. And there is definitely no “right” way to grieve and no set timeline.

Delayed grief especially has no timeline.

When the grief does come, the best thing we can do is just allow it, express it, share it. Everybody experiences loss in life, so anything we feel has been felt before, you are not alone. Dealing with delayed grief is no different than grief that occurs right after a loss, but just make sure you don’t judge your feelings, or think it’s “too late” to feel this way.

Whether it’s a pandemic that has delayed your grief, or work or family life or just plain avoidance of the pain, just trust the process. The mind has an amazing ability to protect us, so sometimes difficult emotions come only when it feels safe and that we are able to handle it. So if you are experiencing grief, current or delayed, allow yourself to go through those feelings and know that it will lead to healing in time.

I wanted to share my story with you because there has been so much loss over the last two years and I am sure many people will experience delayed grief as well. Please share this with anybody you think could benefit from it. If you or a loved one could use some support dealing with grief of any kind, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Be well.

Kathy Most
Therapist in Westfield, NJ
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