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Grief: The First Week, Month, Year

by Connie Zolnay

The first week

From the moment we hear of a profound loss, we need to take ourselves out of circulation. There is no sense in making believe nothing has happened. Stop. Cancel the party, speaking engagement, or opening night. There has been a tear in the fabric of your life and it requires mending. No safety pins! For the first week following a loss, consider staying out of your ordinary reality. Cancel all obligations and go inside. Go inside yourself, inside your home, with trusted allies and friends be they in the form of people, books, tapes or nature. Go where you can hear wisdom voices speaking to you and not on the five o'clock news! The voices in your mind are beginning to form a place where you will hold this loss. Take the time to listen. Since each loss is unique, you can adjust how long and how deeply you want to disconnect from your ordinary reality. Time does not heal, but healing takes time.

Shiva comes from the Hebrew word "sheva," seven. For seven days ask nothing of yourself. All professional and personal responsibilities are canceled. You are instead held, fed, and cared for by family and friends. The you that was in relationship to what feels lost has died.

The first month

Returning to ordinary reality at the end of a week asks a great deal of us, and sometimes we can't do it in a week... It asks us to trust life enough to return to it. In the face of profound loss, we take baby steps back into life. What kinds of places call to you? Listen to your inner promptings. Who are the people to whom you feel drawn? Who repels you? Listen. Few of us can afford to climb into bed and pull the covers up. Most of us need to engage responsibilities around work and families. This is a safety net so that we don't withdraw totally. On the other hand, getting back to normal is not possible in the face of having to re-define normal. Take the time.

The first year

There is no closure or completion in the face of loss. This a fallacy too many of us hear and then wonder "What is wrong with me? Why don't I feel closure?" There is no completion but there is integration. As we move through the cycles of time that circumscribe our lives -- the day, the week, the month and the year -- our losses are woven into the fabric of our being.

The first year asks us to be gentle with ourselves. To remember that our core has been dismembered, torn apart, by loss. Healing takes time and healing is an active process! We must step up to our grief, meet it, embrace it and invite it into our lives. Once we do that, grief begins to teach us. The first year is a year of firsts! We need to give ourselves 365 mornings where we awaken into the self that contains our loss. Don't short-change yourself one day. It's your time to heal.