My Journey Discovering & Navigating the Waves of Grief

Wedding Bliss – The Mother of the Bride…ALMOST

As a typically eager bride getting ready for my wedding in T-minus 3 week, I was clinging to my life-long dream of the perfect wedding day.  With my mom in tow, I headed to the seamstress for the final fitting.  The seamstress asked her to sit in a pew at her mini chapel – for the full effect of “THE UNVEILING”.  I saw tears of so much pride in her eyes as I walked onto the platform with my finished wedding gown.  That day spending time with mom was perfect and memorable.  We ended the day with a movie, popcorn, and giggled over the fun we were going to have on the special day ahead. 

Tragic Start to my NEW REALITY

The next day was the start to a different reality.  The disease my mom had been haunted by for so many years reared its ugly head and won the battle over her life.  She had been feeling well for many years, and even started her own business, so we were not prepared for the reality that just hit us.   That morning she wasn’t feeling well, but it seemed non-alarming, around lunchtime she had gone downhill fast, and it was clear we needed to take her to the hospital, and by 9pm she was gone.

Now what!? 

Holding dear to my mom’s memories and quirkiness, at her memorial we wore Groucho glasses, and listened to “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” (by Chumbawamba) truly not-so-normal memorial song – but it was so her, and now it was being used to help US get back up again.

I chose to carry on with the wedding plans because it’s what mom would have wanted.  I was a mess when I’d see the mother/daughter duos picking out flowers, or centerpieces.  I went to the appointment my mom had previously set up to pick out the wedding cake.  The salesman at the bakery will (I’m sure) forever remember the time when I, the crazy lady, broke down in front of him like someone would to a bartender pouring my tragedy onto him.  Poor guy wasn’t ready for THAT, I’m sure.

My mom was supposed to walk me down the aisle because my dad was living his last days in a care home losing his battle to yet another ugly disease (he died the following year).  How is this upcoming day going to play out now?  My dream of the perfect day was shattered...or was it in some ways even more special & beautiful?

The wedding day was still beautiful – full of love, support…and laughter (who knew!).  In fact, it was in some ways better than I could have dreamed it to be.  We all hugged tighter, laughed harder, and realized how important it was to never take for granted that we have “tomorrows” with one another.

The year before my engagement, my mom & I had a falling out, and there was a period of strained relationship between us.  Just before I met my (now) husband, my mom and I made things right.  There are no words to express my thankfulness because I could not bear the idea that she could have died without knowing how much she meant to me. 

At her funeral, I heard a lot of “I wish I had…”, “I wish she knew…”

Now my mom would be a grandma, and when in those chaotic times that I’m tempted to trade either of her granddaughters (or my husband for that matter), for a diet Pepsi, I need to remember I am not promised a tomorrow with them, or they with me so I need to cherish every moment both good and bad – and love them without regret. 

Waves of Grief

Only through grieving FREELY can the pain be healed.  Many people feel that they are going crazy because they feel so out of control.  Once they are told that their feelings are normal, they are relieved.

Through this journey I have come to find Six waves of Grief crashing over me. Most of the time without warning; much like waves that come & go sometimes they are bigger, sometimes smaller but in general I find these six sum up my journey.


1.    Shock/Denial

Shock is the first thing most people experience when they learn that a loved one is dying or has died; especially if the death came without warning.  They hear the words but will not (or can’t) accept them.

Many people appear to be “doing very well” when in reality they are in shock or are in denial.  This helps them to cope, temporarily.

Some people try to run away from the situation by:

  • Taking off in their car, driving aimlessly
  • Drinking
  • Withdrawing to their room (or home)

Others do just the opposite, they:

  • Scream
  • Collapse into hysteria
  • Explode – blaming God, the doctors, family members, etc.

The one that is grieving will return to himself/herself sooner if those around him/her exhibit an accepting, non-judgmental attitude.  The best thing some can do for them in this situation is:


Touching the person can be very reassuring also – a meaningful hug goes a long way.

  • Do not expect them to listen to you
  • Do not give advice
  • Do not quote scripture

Being there is enough.  Your goal is to make them aware that there are people who love them and care about them.  Many people find prayer helpful, but keep it short, no preaching. 

2.    Confusion

Those who are grieving get hit with the wave of feeling completely out of touch with the people around them.

  • They may act “weird”, not like themselves at all
  • They forget names
  • The forget what the loved one looked like

They feel helpless.  Some say it feels like they are in the middle of a fast moving stream – water rushing all around.

They feel:

  • Disorganized
  • Out of place at home, at church, and in the world
  • Nervous and anxious, near panic

They want to talk about dying, and the pain and sadness they are enduring right now.

The best thing people can do for those grieving in this state is to allow them to talk and to truly listen.

3. Unpredictable Emotions

At this wave, people may display:

  • Jealousy
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Terror
  • Resentment

This is just the outward expression of their inward feelings (the tip of the iceberg); their real feelings are of helplessness, hurt, and frustration.

At this point the best thing people can do for this reaction is to show permissive listening.  This lets the one who is hurt know that what they are feeling is neither good nor bad.

4.    Guilt

When a loved one dies, and this wave hits, at times, the survivor mulls over and over in their mind all the things they “should” or “shouldn’t” have done or said.  They sometimes feel they are to blame for their illness and even for their death.

They need to be allowed to talk about how they feel and know that they will not be rejected no matter what they say.  Until they accept what has happened and find a way to go on or make necessary changes, they will continue to feel guilty.

5.    Loss and Loneliness

The full meaning of the death of a loved one doesn’t become aware to the survivor all at one time.  During this wave, they notice the little things:

  • An empty chair
  • The unused pillow
  • The phone call that doesn’t come at the expected time
  • A song at church, on the car radio or television
  • A favorite flower

A loved one can be missed in many ways: the loving, teasing, joking, and even the fighting and bickering.

As the depth of the loss is felt, deep sadness and depression can set in.  The person feels a great vacuum in his/her life.  They may look for a way to replace the loss but that isn’t possible.  It takes a brave person to endure the total experience of the loss of a loved one.

At this point the best thing people can do in offer the regular presence of someone who cares. This is essential to the emotional strength of the one who is grieving.  The continued expression of this care is very important.  Periodic notes and telephone calls are very important.  The person may say they are “doing just fine”, and you may get the feeling they do not need you, don’t believe that for a moment.  Keep up what you are doing.  Rest assured their friends will soon stop calling and showing an interest.  Keep letting them know you are thinking about them and praying for them.

If you are looking to help someone  –be careful not to rush them.  They need to proceed at their own pace – not yours.

6.    Reorganization/Acceptance

The wave of reorganization involves getting rid of old habits and substituting new ones; finding the new normal.  It does not end sorrow.  After awhile the cycles of belief and disbelief slow down and acceptance of the death ensues.  Thoughts begin to center on the present and the future.

These changes may lead to a feeling of betrayal of the loved one.  They may retreat back into the past and the pain because it is more comfortable than the future, alone.  It takes awhile for someone to accept their new life and to accept the fact that this does not mean they have forgotten the loved one.  Memories are never lost; they can be very helpful.  It is good to dwell on the good memories, the happy times.

Your primary job is to support the survivor.  He/she needs to know it’s OK to start again, to start a new life.  They need to know that the loved one would’ve wanted them to go on.

The most important thing in our grief is HOPE!

Hope for the future – in this life, and in the life to come.

Things go remember:

  • Be there – send notes, make phone calls, visit (when appropriate).
  • Be sensitive – it’s ok to say “I don’t know what to say” – “I really care about you.”
  • Be silent – Listen

Once again – Don’t Push Them – Let Them Grieve

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About the Author
Helping The Bereaved