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Does the Disbelief of Grief Ever Go Away?

Harriet Hodgson

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Disbelief is the first thing that comes to mind after a loved one dies. You can't believe your loved one is gone. Not only that, you can't believe he or she is gone forever. Sorrow defines your days. If you feel this bad now, how will you feel a few months from now?

I had these thoughts after four loved ones died. My daughter's death was the most painful. Her death was sudden and so was my disbelief. “Grief, " an article on the MedlinePlus website, says disbelief is part of the first stage of mourning. “It may take more than a year to overcome strong feelings of grief, and to accept the loss, " the article notes.

Time has helped me to recover from my losses, yet I continue to struggle with disbelief. According to “Learning to Live Through Loss: Grief and the Mourning Process, " an article on the University of Florida website, disbelief has a purpose. That purpose is to protect us “from feeling the pain of grief all at once. " In other words, disbelief gives the mind time to process the reality of loss.

Bob Deits writes about disbelief in his book, “Life After Loss. " He thinks disbelief begins when the shock of grief wears off. “It's natural to deny a loss when to acknowledge it leads to so much pain, " he writes. I have accepted my losses, so why do I have feelings of disbelief?

1. Number of losses. Though I am a stable person, four deaths in the span of nine months were hard to take. I would start to feel better and then another loved one would die. Tragedy after tragedy wore me down.

2. Cause of death. My father-in-law, who died the same weekend as my daughter, succumbed to pneumonia. I could accept his death because he was 98 1/2 years old and lived a long life. But my daughter, the mother of my twin grandchildren, was only 45 when she died of blunt force trauma. No parent wants to think about that or accept it.

3. Surprising circumstances. Nine months after my daughter died from injuries she received in a car crash, my former son-in-law died from injuries he received in a car crash. I can hardly believe they died the same way. Friends can't believe it either.

4. Gifts I received. I often use the cook books my daughter gave me. I see the embroidered pillow she gave me for my birthday. One Christmas my father-in-law gave me a bud vase and when I see it I see him in my mind. While these gifts can spark disbelief, most of the time they bring me pleasure.

5. Grandchildren's appearance. My grandchildren are fraternal twins and don't look anything alike. However, my grandson has his mother's profile. My granddaughter smile is just like her mother's. These resemblances can cause disbelief, but most of the time they make me feel close to my daughter.

Author Bob Deits thinks repeating the words, “I will not always feel like this" helps us to move beyond disbelief. His advice helped me. My disbelief is slowly fading, yet I think ithis feeling will be with me the rest of my days.

Copyright 2008 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been an independent journalist for 30 years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, " written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from

Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebras, North America's oldest and largest grief resource center, is publishing her 26th book, “Writing to Recover: The Journey from Loss and Grief to a New Life. The self-help book is slated for September release.

Please visit Harriet's website and learn more about this busy author and grandmother.


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