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Common Feelings

How can I put my grief into words?

When our child dies words seem inadequate to describe the depth of our pain or the intensity of our loss. No one has prepared us for what it feels like to grieve. We don’t know how to heal the hurt created by grief or how to live with it.


Some bereaved parents have described it this way:

  • “I feel like I repeatedly, without warning, go on the wildest amusement ride the world has ever seen. The force takes us up, down, and tears us inside out. We get thrown sideways and experience sudden drops much greater than free fall. We spin at record speed mentally and internally, without ever lifting our feet off the ground. The ride is the fiercest, most frightening experience one could ever suffer through.” Cindy P., Her daughter Nicole was twenty-four when she died on October 3, 1999.
  • “When my daughter Hannah died of cancer, one month before her fourth birthday, I felt as though I had passed through an invisible fold in the universe and landed in some altered state of reality. Nothing was the same, and yet everything was painfully unchanged.” Naomi N.
  • Nita A. whose sons Erik, 27, and David, 25, died in a freak car accident on Thanksgiving Day, 1994, compares her severe and intense grief to retching on an empty stomach after a bout with the stomach flu: “Emotional pain could, perhaps, be symbolized by the unrelenting ripping and repeated retching of my devastated soul trying to separate itself from the rest of me. The intensity level of these unyielding cries, erupting from the depth of my being, captured my soul’s agony. The emotional pain was of a depth, breadth, and scope that I never could have imagined.”

The grief journey is a very long, gradual and difficult process. We are The Compassionate Friends. You need not walk alone.

Some common elements of the grief experience are:

Shock, numbness, disbelief: This denial is protective, allows us to do what must be done and to gather our inner resources. It is not unusual for it to be weeks or months before the reality sinks in with an intensity of pain and sorrow that takes the bereaved parent by surprise. Others may be at the point of expecting us to “move on.” This can increase our sense of isolation.

Pain and sadness: Grief reaches the heart. It impacts our entire being. We may feel physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted with barely enough energy to breathe. Our grief may be characterized by pining, yearning, searching, a longing for our child’s physical presence and a feeling of overwhelming emptiness. We may feel powerless, helpless and out of control. We may experience physical complaints, emotional swings, thinking disturbances, spiritual struggles, changes in behavior and feelings of going crazy.

  • “I seemed to be a bundle of confusing, scattered emotions that varied hourly.” Kelly O.

Anger, fear and guilt: We may be angry at God, ourselves, the doctors or even our child who has died. We may feel isolated, lonely or misunderstood. We may fear the sudden death of our other children or loved ones. We may fear being alone or being with others. We may feel guilt arising from feelings of failure, anger or relief. Accept the painful thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Most times we can’t explain a particular feeling, and why it is a feeling now, but we can recognize them, affirm them, experience them and release them. Buried pain is very real, has energy, doesn’t go away on its own and emerges when we least expect it.

Resolution, acceptance and reinvestment in life: We don’t “get over” but acknowledge the irreplaceable loss of our child and try to live each day as best as we can. Life will be different as we learn to cope, but still have meaning.

  • We will always be bereaved parents, but we will not always be experiencing the pangs of grief. Like arthritis, we learn to live with our losses the rest of our lives, and also realize that we’ll still have flare-ups of pain and discomfort as we move on through the years.” Mitch C., Mitch’s son Kelly died seventeen years ago.
  • I know I will never get OVER it, nor do I want to, but I will get through it. Ten years later I can now say, ‘Why not me?’ I am not better than others. Every day some family suffers tragedy, loss of life gone too soon.” LaVon H., Her twenty-one-year-old son Mark died from suicide.
  • “Gradually, the cold darkness of grief begins to give way to the warmth of memories, acceptance, purpose, and reinvestment in life.” Carole D., The Compassionate Friends

In memory of a life so beautifully lived ...



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