Delayed Grief, A Detour in My Grief
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
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.