John W. James
Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve
Where were you when I needed you?
The saddest question we ever hear is, "Where were you when I needed you?"
That's what people ask when they find out what we do in helping grievers. We're presenting helpful and accurate information on this site, at the time you need it most, with the hope that you'll never need to ask that question.
It's an honor and a sad privilege to be addressing you, knowing that each of you has recently experienced the death of someone important to you. We also know some of you are reading this because of your care and concern for someone who is confronted by the death of someone important in their life.
We bring our personal experience in dealing with the deaths of people who were important to us, and our professional know-how in helping grievers for more than 30 years. We'll help you distinguish between the "raw grief" that is your normal and natural reaction to the death, and the equally normal "unresolved grief" that relates to the unfinished emotions that are part of the physical ending of all relationships.
A basic reality for most grieving people is difficulty concentrating or focusing. With that in mind, we asked Tributes.com to print our articles in a large type font to make them easier to read. Sharing our concern for grieving people, they agreed.
From our hearts to yours,
John & Russell
Articles & Media
Am I Going Crazy?—An all-too frequent question from grievers.
“Since my mother’s death, I’ve had the experience of being in one room, deciding to go to another room to do something, and when I get there, I don’t have a clue what I’m there for. Am I going crazy?”
No, you’re not crazy. For most people, the immediate response to the awareness of the death of someone important to them is a sense of numbness. After that initial numbness wears off, the most common physiological reaction is a reduced ability to concentrate. The rest of the world goes out of focus. Nothing else is important. It is normal and natural that your entire being is centered on what happened and your relationship with the person who died.
The length of time that the reduced ability to concentrate lasts is individual and can vary from a few days to several months, and even longer. It is not a sign that there’s something wrong with you. Realistically, the fact that the emotional impact of the death of that person has altered your day-to-day routines indicates something very healthy. It would make no sense for you not to be affected by the death.
It is normal to drift out of focus in response to conscious or unconscious memories of the person who died. Please be gentle with yourself in allowing that your focus is not on the actions of life, but on your reactions to a death. If you’re at work, you can take little “grief breaks” as needed. It’s a good idea to establish a safe person at work whom you can talk to when and if you get overwhelmed. It’s also smart to have a phone pal you can call when the emotions keep you from concentrating. The breaks and chats will make you able to do the work you need to do.
Please keep in mind that it’s important to focus while driving a car. It’s not safe to drive with tears in your eyes. If need be, pull over. Allow yourself to have whatever emotions come up, and maybe call someone and talk for a while before you get back on the road.
When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Head Doesn’t Work Right
Along with not being able to concentrate, your thinking ability and judgment may be limited. That’s why grieving people are advised to be careful about making major life decisions in the aftermath of the death of someone important to them. To put it in simple terms, when your heart is broken, your head doesn’t work right. You must take care either not to make big decisions until you regain your ability to focus, or make sure you have people you trust to help you understand your choices and the consequences of what you decide.
There are other common physiological reactions to grief. Sleeping habits are often disrupted for an extended period of time. You may find yourself unable to sleep, or you may not be able to get out of bed. You can even go back and forth between those extremes. Eating patterns are also subject to confusion. You may not be able to eat at all, or you may not be able to stop. You can also ping-pong between those extremes. Sleeping and eating disruptions aren’t as common as the reduced ability to concentrate, but they can be really uncomfortable. If they happen, it also doesn’t mean you’re going crazy. It just means that your routines and habits are out of sync.
Another common grief reaction is best described as a roller coaster of emotions. It can be a wild ride, with tremendous emotional shifts. But, like concentration and the eating and sleeping issues, that roller coaster is one of the typical responses to the death of someone important to you. Don’t fight it, just go along for the ride, no matter how bumpy it might be. When it happens, it’s a good idea to call a friend, and talk about what you’re feeling. Talking about what you’re experiencing helps make sure you don’t trap your feelings inside.
Normal and Natural—Not Crazy
One of the most important things we can tell you is that the reduced ability to concentrate, the disruption of sleeping and eating patterns’ and the roller coaster of emotions are all normal and natural reactions to death. There is nothing crazy about them or you.
Those reactions usually diminish within time as you adapt to life without the person who died. But time doesn’t heal emotional wounds, nor does it complete anything that may have been left emotionally unfinished when the person died. Sometimes it’s just the feeling of wanting to have said one more “I love you and goodbye.” Sometimes it is a more complex set of communications that would include apologies, forgiveness, and significant emotional statements.
It is always helpful to take action to help you discover and complete anything that was left unfinished. Doing so will allow you to have fond memories not turn painful. It will also help you remember your person the way you knew them in life. And it will help you continue a life of meaning and value, even though it is altered by the absence of the person who died.
Above all, allow yourself to be out of rhythm. As we said, be careful when you’re driving and be cautious when making major decisions. Be gentle with yourself as you make your re-entry back into the flow of your life. But don’t judge yourself harshly because you are having any or all of the reactions we mentioned.
© 2016 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, 800-334-7606.
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Two Year Tragiversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 marks the second “tragiversary” of the Boston Marathon Bombings which killed three innocent people and injured 254 Read More »
The Art of Condolence
When an acquaintance has lost a loved one, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. Here’s some guidance on offering sympathy with grace. Read More »
The 4th of July—Another Reminder of Those Who Are No Longer Here
The common bond that connects all holiday celebrations is that they tend to be family-oriented events. Whether the holiday commemorates religious Read More »
The Boston Marathon Bombing, The Aftermath: Loss of Life, Loss of Safety, Loss of Trust, and Loss of Innocence
April 15, 2013, the date of the Boston Marathon bombing, joins the list of dates we’d rather not remember, but we can’t forget. It takes its sad Read More »
Post-Holiday, Grief-Related Blues!
Many people are rightfully concerned about the powerful impact the end-of-year Holidays can have on their friends who've recently experienced the Read More »
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Newtown, Connecticut—Our Grief, Because We Are The Family Of Humankind
Certain events have the power to propel us into an emotional numbness, as if a hidden thermostat inside our hearts shuts us off. The pain is too much Read More »
Veterans Day—Lest We Forget
In its day, World War One was called "The War to End All Wars." Sadly, it wasn't. WW I officially ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day Read More »
Dealing with Grief During the Holidays
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We Never Forget The Important People In Our Lives.
We recently received a note from a woman named Linda, who had a child die, and who interacts with other parents who’ve also experienced the death Read More »
On Crying—Part Two
In Crying—Part One, we focused on the idea that it can be dangerous and counterproductive to attach our personal ideas and beliefs to how other Read More »
On Crying—Part One
Almost everyone has some questions and confusion about crying. How much crying is enough? If I start crying, will I be able to stop? Do I have to Read More »
9/11: The Aftermath, Loss of Life, Loss of Safety, Loss of Trust, and Loss of Innocence
By Russell FriedmanSeptember 11, 2001 now lives in our language in the same emotional way as December 7, 1941 and November 22, 1963. Nearly everyone Read More »
Am I Going Crazy?—An all-too frequent question from grievers.
“Since my mother’s death, I’ve had the experience of being in one room, deciding to go to another room to do something, and when I get there, I Read More »
Father’s Day 2016 - My Dad, Babe Ruth, and the Ball That’s Still in Orbit
In the kind of emotional reviews our minds and hearts make on chronicling days like Father’s Day, we often discover a level of appreciation that Read More »
Memorial Day, 150 Years Later. Lest We Forget!
Memorial Day as we know it today began as Decoration Day in 1866, in upstate New York, after the cessation of the Civil War. First conceived as an Read More »
Mother’s Day! Remind Me—Remind Me Not—Remind Me
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BECAUSE WE ARE THE FAMILY OF HUMANKIND
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Am I Paranoid, Or Are People Really Avoiding Me?
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Stages of Grief: Are There Actual Stages Of Grief?
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Is It Ever Too Soon To Recover?
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Why Won’t Anyone Let Me Feel Sad?
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Six Major Myths – The Short Version
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Do I Have to Cry To Grieve?
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When Your Heart Is Broken, Your Head Doesn’t Work Right And Your Spirit May Not Soar
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If I Start Crying Will I Be Able To Stop?
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If you or someone important to you wants help with grief: Look for a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist℠ in your community. The Grief Recovery Institute ® trains and mentors Certified Grief Recovery Specialists℠ throughout the United States & Canada.
Workshops & Training Schedule
The Grief Recovery Institute ® offers Certification Training programs for those who wish to help grievers.
June 2016Birmingham, AL - June 10-13, 2016
Boston, MA - June 10-13, 2016
San Francisco, CA - June 24-27, 2016
St. Louis, MO - June 24-27, 2016
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July 2016Manchester, England, UK - July 8-11, 2016
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Hartford, CT - July 8-11, 2016
Melbourne, VIC, Australia - July 14-17, 2016
Atlanta, GA - July 15-18, 2016
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Auckland, New Zealand - July 21-24, 2016
Chicago, IL - July 22-25, 2016
Thunder Bay, ON, Canada - July 22-25, 2016
Los Angeles, CA - July 22-25, 2016