Delayed Grief

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this too was a gift.*

*Mary Oliver

Sometimes after a significant loss – such as a spouse, child, father, or mother – you find yourself so busy taking care of others, “being strong,” and/or just surviving day-to-day, that you really don’t allow yourself to deeply grieve or mourn. That doesn’t mean that you don’t occasionally have times of deep pain and sadness, but you then say to yourself, “OK, get on with your life. That’s what he or she would want you to do.”  Then time goes by – it may be six months or eighteen – and all of a sudden it hits you like a brick. This has been aptly labeled by some as “delayed grief.”

When grief sneak up on you several months after your loss, it may be difficult to share it with others because it seems they won’t understand. They thought you were OK, and “beyond” it all, so how can you bring up your grief now?

There are some things you can do. They are not too different from what’s needed immediately after a loss. You just need to give yourself permission to enter the process.

  • Seek out a grief counselor or support group. Guidance from a professional, or a group of fellow mourners who understand, can be just what you need to get through a rough patch. Sometimes anger, guilt and regret surface because they, along with other feelings, were delayed. Know that these feelings are natural, even at a late stage.
  • Find readings or tapes on the grief journey. The Hello Grief website is a good example of such a resource.
  • Refrain from making hasty decisions or entering quickly into a committed relationship out of loneliness. Give yourself time to move through this delayed period of mourning. When you have sorted out the challenge of delayed grief, there will be time for these things.
  • Maintain your strength by eating well and exercising. Exercise helps clear the mind in addition to being good for you.

Here are some other words by Mary Oliver that speak to me and may speak to you, also.

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying.

I went closer,
and I did not die.

Surely God
Had His hand in this,
As well as friends.

Still I was bent…

Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It is not the weight you carry
But how you carry it—
Books, bricks, grief—
It’s all in the way
You embrace it, carry it…

Even when grief enters late, you can move towards the pain, and through it, by caring for yourself and giving yourself permission to grieve and mourn.

Embrace it, carry it, be startled when you laugh, admire beauty, and begin to heal.

* * * *

*Poems by Mary Oiver can be found in her book of poetry Thirst.

Photo Credit.


  1. rach said on March 22, 2015 at 8:07 pm ... #

    I lost my nana on dads side on 10th September last year 2 days after her funeral my granddad on mums side was taken in sadly he died on November 9th was looking after nan with my mum a lot getting train there everyday when wasn’t working think just hit me cause been that busy never really had time 2 grieve till now

  2. Kristy said on April 23, 2015 at 11:18 pm ... #

    My mother died suddenly 20 years ago today. Weeks before my high school graduation. Leaving behind 4 children ages 17, 13, 6, and 6 months old. Being the oldest and only girl I was told I would have to help with my siblings. I postponed college and assisted with taking care of my siblings. I love my brothers as if they are my own children. 20 years later I am still the person they come to. Sometimes I get angry because I feel like she left me to do this then I feel bad for my brothers because they will never know a mothers love. I was so focused on taking care of my brothers and being strong for them that I never had time to grieve. Seems like my life is consumed by making other people happy. My mother always wanted to be a nurse so when I went to college I majored in nursing not sure if I did it for her or me. Now 20 years later I’m crying as if it just happened.

  3. Amber said on May 5, 2015 at 10:04 am ... #

    Hi. So I have a question. My Dad left me when I was 5. After that I think I tried to repeat the experience of loss I felt by driving away my best friends and killing the things I loved. I think I continue to do the same thing in different ways, like not doing what matters to me and “accidentally” losing my most valuable possessions. It just hit me that the process hasn’t ended. I don’t know how to quit this, because when I accept the permanence of good things, it somehow brings me back to the pain. I don’t really understand it. Does anyone have insight for me?

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