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Delayed Grief, A Detour in My Grief Journey
By Harriet Hodgson

When four loved ones died in 2007 I had to pull myself together. Fast. Family members, especially my twin grandchildren, were depending on me. Their parents were killed in separate car crashes and all of my energy was focused on them. There was no time for self-pity. I had teenagers to raise and grief work to do.

The first anniversary of my multiple losses went as well as could be expected. Sure, I cried, but the tears were cleansing. At the time, the twins were high school juniors, and we were involved in their school and after school activities. To be honest, my husband and I were so busy we hardly had time to think.

Later on, in the second year of loss, I was suddenly overcome with sadness. "I can't believe it all happened," I said.

"I can't either," my husband replied. "I still have days when I feel overcome."

You might think sadness had faded away by the second year, but it had not. Why were we sad? The question was perplexing and, after lots of thought, I identified two reasons. Recovering from multiple losses takes longer -- years longer -- than recovering from one. We were also grappling with dozens of secondary losses. Though we sobbed for weeks and continued to do our grief work, we delayed some of our grief in order to care for our grandchildren.

I cannot say that my husband and I discussed this response; we just did it.

Experts define delayed grief in different ways. The Altru Health System, based in Minnesota and North Dakota, considers delayed grief as part of complicated grief and defines it as "grief that has not been processed at the time of loss." This kind of grief may reappear later in life, according to Altru, and require additional grief work.

Angela Morrow, RN, sees delayed grief a bit differently. In her article, "Grief and Mourning: What's Normal and What's Not?" she says delayed grief can be intentional. "Sometimes this is related to other life events or losses that drain one's ability to work through the grief process," she explains. And this is exactly what happened to us.

The affects of multiple losses were huge: forms to complete, ongoing legal fees, managing bank accounts, managing our daughter's trust, trying to sell our daughter's home (no luck yet), meeting our grandchildren's needs, and trying to stay upbeat for them. No wonder we had days when we shed a few tears. I cried today, the third anniversary of my daughter's death, and that is okay with me.

Therease A. Rando, PhD discusses delayed grief in her book, "How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies." Later in life, because grief has been delayed, Rando says another loss, such as the death of a pet, may prompt a "full grief reaction." Though friends have died since we suffered our multiple losses, my husband and I have not had this reaction.

We know where we are in the grief journey, have accomplished more than we thought we could, and look forward to sharing our lives with our grandchildren. Detours to not stop us from getting back on the recovery road and enjoying our new lives.


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