Grief Fatigue and The Thirds

So, we’ve started on the “Thirds”. The third “first day of school” without Jake. Coming up-the third Halloween, our kids’ birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. I realized that these are actually “firsts” as well. They are our “First thirds”. They will always be “first” somethings because I haven’t experienced them before. No matter what I think or expect, I really don’t know anything about what to think or expect. The second year mark was much harder than the first for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I feel like I’m coming out of this fog-this fog that has been protecting me. I have improved clarity and connectedness, but as a result, the anguish, pain and sadness are felt much more keenly. I really want to go back into the fog. I didn’t realize it was actually going to get worse. I didn’t think it could. I cry more these days than I have in a long time. But people closest to me would never know. Because I don’t want to wear them down with the grief fatigue.

I googled “grief fatigue” and most of what popped up involved information on grieving and the overwhelming fatigue a person may experience “while grieving”. (Insert sarcastic snort here). When a person loses someone they love (or a beloved pet–because I believe people love their pets just as deeply and sometimes more than they love people), the grieving never ends. It lasts a lifetime. It may or may not change shape or look “different” to others, but I don’t believe we ever stop grieving for our lost loved ones. So, I want to say fuck those websites (as well-intentioned as they may be). Who the hell wants to feel overwhelming fatigue for their entire lives? So, maybe the websites go into feeling fatigue during certain “stages” of the grieving “process”. (Insert another sarcastic snort). Everybody who reads my posts knows how I feel about the so-called stages. The implications that grief is something to get through and graduate from. I wish I could educate people about grief. My teachings would be so simple. Grief is whatever it is for the person experiencing loss. It “looks like” whatever the griever looks like. It feels like whatever the griever feels. A person grieving shouldn’t put any expectations on themselves to “move forward” or “move on to the next stage”. Blech. Makes me want to hurl. Poor people are going through enough shit physically and emotionally that they don’t need to plop somebody else’s expectations on themselves on top of everything else. But, I digress.

When I think of “grief fatigue”, I think about the people who have been there, who have been our supports and our rocks-the people we hold onto for dear life because they love us and save us from ourselves. In the beginning, they make sure we get out of bed and at least try to eat something. They do our laundry and stock our pantries in case we forget to feed our kids. They visit frequently and make sure we get out of the house. They call/email/text to let us know they are thinking about us. They politely suggest that we shower because we may have forgotten about all aspects of self-care. As time goes on, the number of people who offer the constant support starts to dwindle. There are fewer check-ins and visits. There are the people who are still there, doing these things, but they are fewer. People have their own lives and their own problems. I have no doubt that the people who start to go away still wish us nothing but healing and comfort and love us and think of us often. However, there is definitely an expectation that we will put on our grown up clothes and “move forward” and need less support.  That’s fine.  It’s the people who stay-the people we rely on and confide in and cry to-those are the people I worry about.  I worry about giving them “grief fatigue” (as I see it).  I know these people love me, support me, and want to do everything in their power to be there for me and to help me.  But I realize that it must be very tiring to be around someone who is actively needing you, relying on you and confiding in you.  Someone whose life pretty much revolves around the loss(es) they’ve experienced.

*To my non-running friends who roll their eyes and sigh when I talk about running–I love you–but you might want to skip this paragraph!* If you have read my other posts, you likely know I love trail running.  I have a growing group of friends that I go running with-and when we run, I think I feel closer to these people than at any other times.  I’m not sure why because it’s not like we have deep conversations or anything while we run.  Some of the time, we are so focused on continuing to breathe and not tripping over rocks or sliding in the mud-that we may not talk at all.  But there is still a closeness there.  Anyway, a friend took us on a new trail run this past week.  It is very exciting to try a new trail, see new surroundings, etc.  During the run, we came to a place that immediately gave me the chills and I had to stop.  I had been there before-with Jake and the kids.  I knew that straight up over a hill in front of me there was a giant rock.  I knew the rock was so big that my whole family could fit on it.  I knew this, because I have pictures of Jake and I and the kids on that rock.  I have video of Jake and my kids running down the hill from that rock.  Jake took us there on a hike once, in the winter before the spring before the summer that he died.  I had the weirdest urge to actually go up and hug that rock and lay on that rock and not leave it for a very long time.  Fucked up-I know.  Which is why I didn’t do it and I didn’t say anything.  I was trying to protect my friends from grief fatigue.

So, it has become a conscious decision to try to not give my people the “grief fatigue”.  For the past two years, friends/strangers, etc. ask the very common question, “how are you?” (in its various forms).  At the beginning, I looked at these people blankly because I had no idea what to say.  Sometimes I blurted out the truth about how I was feeling to complete strangers.  My responses morphed into things like “I don’t really know how to answer that”, “So-so”, “Overwhelmed”, etc.  These days, I consciously fake a smile and say “Good! How are you?”.  This response makes the person asking feel better.  That’s actually important to me.  I want people to feel comfortable, happy, energized, and have fun when they are around me.  I do not want the people I love to feel fatigued from my grief.  I imagine I’m not the only one who feels this way and worries about this-and that’s why I bring it up.  I want other people to know they are not alone.  For those of us who are suffering through profound loss (and the person who has lost is the only one who knows and feels how profound it is-nobody else can decide that for you)-whether it be a child, spouse, parent, sibling, friend, acquaintance, neighbor, pet, historic tragedy, sudden or anticipated-responding to “how are you?” with a fake smile (that will hopefully be genuine at some points) and a “Good! How are you?”, the “good” may be relative to how we felt two years ago, two weeks ago, or two minutes ago.  Or maybe we aren’t feeling “good” at all and just don’t want to give our loved ones the “grief fatigue”.  In my mind (fucked up as it may be), that’s okay.  It’s okay to not want to wear people down because it means we love them and care about them right back.  It’s actually good to be in a place where I can actively consider how my words/actions make other people feel.

But this is my blog, and I began writing it for me.  Because it helps me.  Then I started to understand that it sometimes helps other people as well.  Speaking my raw, unfiltered feelings-and exposing these vulnerabilities helps others know that they are not alone.  That has become really important to me.  Speaking for myself, I am a sad, sad girl.  What has happened to my family is just so very sad.  You feel what you feel.  Not what people expect you should be feeling.  Changed for life, changed at a cellular level.  A different Kristen than the one I was in the “before”, and I wish that I could go back and shake that “before” Kristen.  Of course if I could go back, I would re-write the story as well.  I will never make “peace” with this-this event-this loss.  But if letting people know what I’m going through helps someone else know that they are not alone-that’s something.  That’s worth it.

3 responses to “Grief Fatigue and The Thirds

  1. Fabulous Kristen and once again, like you are speaking for me. It is almost an automatic response of “we are good” to those who ask the question. Not because we are in any sense of the word good, but if I honestly answered the question they asked I worry they wouldn’t be able to handle it. There is that awareness that people are thinking it is time for me to get over what happened and move on. I understand that thought process and probably would have had the same response to others who had this type of loss before our experience. It is only through having this type of loss that you truly understand there is no getting over it, just different emotions and waves that will continue to come forever. Keep writing my dear, it makes me feel so good that I’m not alone in my thoughts. Amy …


  2. Kristen, when you sent your last post, I read the whole thing from start to finish with tears streaming down my face. Was there for over an hour. I have no idea what to say about this ending in your life, so I won’t even try, it would all just sound like platitudes. There just aren’t words that exist for this.

    You are a great writer and this blog has just completely touched my heart. I have no doubt you help people through their endings, including me. Maybe in some small minuscule way that can help you to know that. I send you love and warm thoughts and I wish I could do more for you. Please let me know if there is. Love, Ang


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