Echoes of a past grief can be reawakened by a current bereavement.
Grief doesn’t just go away. When someone you love dies you don’t just forget them eventually, you don’t “let go” or “heal” or “process” and then never feel the pain again. You can put in so much hard work rebuilding your life and accepting and coming to terms with what has been lost. But the experience and the pain from your bereavement are woven into the fabric of who you are, they are chapters in the story of your life and will always be part of you.
After you pick yourself up from the initial devastation and remember to carry on living your grief accompanies you wherever you go. Your life adjusts to the loss.
But there will be times when that grief returns and feels fresh again. maybe you reach a new stage in your life that you have to negotiate without your loved one, and that brings with it a new wave of grief. Maybe you realise that you have developed into a new person, one whom your lost loved one never got to meet, and you have to grieve again as your new self.
And something else that can happen (and this one can feel particularly unfair) is that an earlier grief can return when a new loss occurs. So, a tragedy occurs and not only are you left reeling and shattered by this recent event but it reaches back into your past and kicks you where it hurts. Echoes of the past can be awakened by the pain of the present situation.
Sometimes the link can be quite apparent. Perhaps there are similarities in the circumstances around the death; or maybe the people who died fulfilled similar roles in your life.
It can also be that there isn’t really any obvious link but your feelings from the current death connecting to your feelings from the first death.
This might look or feel like you are over-reacting to the current loss – maybe it was someone you didn’t know so well but you seem to be disproportionately distressed by their death. It can also show up in the form of a regression in you – perhaps you start to feel or act like the age you were at the time of the first death.
If you haven’t been able to progress through the grief journey, or have some unexpressed or unexplored feelings still hanging around from that earlier bereavement then they may re-emerge in a surprising, messy, frighteningly out-of-control kind of way. This can be confusing and disconcerting. If you are feeling this way please reach out to your support network.
Even if you thought your first grief was all tidied away; worked on, understood, accepted, honoured, with memorials and continuing bonds well tended to; it can still be shaken by a new grief. It is likely to be less messy, but still has the potential to blindside you if you’re not prepared for it.
As every individual, and every bereavement, is unique it may show up for you in a completely different and unexpected way.
This is valid. This is real. This is grief.
This is why it is important to take time to check in on your feelings and allow space for them to emerge. Offer yourself some compassion. Find somewhere, or someone, safe to shelter for a while. Know that there are professionals ready and willing to support you in this, if you want us.