The Emptiness of Grief

Dear Barbara, The emptiness left behind after a loved one dies. What do I do with it?

Emptiness is one of the aspects of grieving, experiencing that hole in our life and heart left by the person who has died. We know that hole must be filled with living but early in our grief experience it seems an overwhelming task just to get out of bed let alone figure out how to move forward into building a new life, and most of all a new life without the person who filled the emptiness we are now feeling.

My answer is simple yet the hardest to understand. Time. Time will fill in the emptiness. No words, no pills, not even all the activities you can find to keep doing will fill the emptiness; only time.

At first the pain and emptiness of loss is with us every waking and even sleeping moment. Over a period of months we gradually begin to see life moving around us through less pain. Life becomes less clouded by our grieving. But know we do not recover or even heal from grief. We learn how to live with it. We learn how to go on living without the person who was once so much a part of our life. That doesn’t mean we forget about them or we care less for them, we just learn how to go on living without their physical presence.

On many levels, we recognize we must figure out how to go on living with the loss in our hearts. Some of us start running, keeping so busy we can’t think or feel our loss. Some of us fight depression and lethargy as our grief becomes a heavy weight that keeps us from moving. We can rationalize, we can cry, we can be angry, we can eat too much, we can eat too little. All of these actions become our way of filling the emptiness. None of it works--we are still empty.

What to do? Be gentle with yourself. Accept the down days, strive for the better days. Don’t run too fast or walk too slow. Allow yourself to experience the feelings but gently help yourself out of them. Reach out to others (easier said than done). Cry when you need to and allow yourself to laugh and enjoy the life you still have. In the months following the death of your special person begin to think about how your life can be a tribute to the one who is gone. It isn’t how many tears that are shed that says how much we love and miss a person. Let how well you go on living say how much you love.

Emptiness is a normal, natural part of the grieving process. I also acknowledge the hollowness of words from others to “make it better.”

Something More about...  The Emptiness of Grief

You may want to read my booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience to help guide you through your bereavement. 

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17 comments

Janet

At last i have found people who understand how I feel.,,,
I’ feel for you all having lost my Lovely kind caring Dad to dementia 15 month a ago,
I have this awful emptiness inside..when I go out I feel lost, restless its awful but I’m hoping time will heal xx

Scott McGowan

My wife of 23 years with no known heart condition dies of a sudden cardiac arrest in August of 2017. We were also in business together for a little over 20 years at the time of her passing. The feelings of emptiness were quite profound for the first few months – a whole different aspect of the experience of loss apart from the pain and sadness.

After 8 months I find that the emptiness is still there, but is, in a sense more in the background rather than the foreground of my mind. I use my time differently. Her absence seems more foreign and strange at this point than upsetting. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s like I’m a stranger in my own life, yet I have adjusted to this odd dimension of my existence, especially when I am home.

I have cried my heart out and most days now I just have a moment or two on average of tears. It happens at unpredictable times, but I know to expect it to wash over me at some point or two during the day. It’s just seems odd that it only lasts half a minute or less because crying my heart out had come to be such an unpleasant but new, normal.

I don’t feel guilty to be feeling better. I’m happy to be feeling better and I know she would want me to heal and keep moving forward with a better quality of life.

It is so odd for “we” to have become “me”, especially with no warning.

I was finishing authoring a book with her help at the time of her fatal cardiac arrest. I returned to it 7 months later and it is now up on Amazon.

How strange for her to not have shared that exciting moment of accomplishment. How strange to not be able to watch movies together and share our thoughts on the commercial breaks. No more lazy days together. No more nights out singing karaoke or dancing to a band we both like. No more inside jokes. No more running a business together. No more helping our 19 year old son transition and grow into young adulthood. No more vacations together.

What a harsh reality I have had to learn to accept. Though she was 15 years my senior, we were soulmates and thought we had another 10 to 15 years to grow old together.

She always told me that she knew she would pass before me and that she wanted me to find someone else. Just never thought it would be so soon, let alone without warning. We were getting ready to plan and pay for a winter tropical vacation.

I know I’ll find someone else. It’s just a matter of time and some more healing. Dating sites seem like a crapshoot. I’m sure it will seem strange for awhile when I find the next right someone.

The future has never seemed so uncertain to me. At age 51 I am starting back at square one as far as having a life partner / companion.

I know she would want me to view this prospect as an adventure, but she’s still my first choice, but like Mrs. Sandberg’s book states, option A no longer exists….

Life goes on and I will make the best of everything and do her proud by slowly beginning to live life more and more fully once again…

Steph

I disagree. I think a person can very well “heal” and “recover” from loss…and the grief that comes with it. Healing does not mean you won’t miss or long for your loved one. But missing and longing is not grief. Nor is it mourning. God bless everyone.

barbara karnes

Chris, I read your comment about the emptiness you are feeling. Your father’s death two months ago is still like an open wound, a gaping, ragged, horribly painful wound. This wound will gradually heal but the scar of that wound will always be there. Time is the only thing that heals the wound. You don’t recover, you don’t really heal (even though I just used the word) from grief, you learn how to live with it. Time fills in the space between the pain. This will get better. The challenge here is to live and love inspite of the loneliness.
My blessings are with you. Barbara

Chris Fenton

My dad died suddenly two months ago at the age of 59. As an adult he became more like a close friend than a father and always put me and my two younger brothers first before his own needs. If I had issues with my wife or kids he would be the first port of call for advice. If I watched a great movie or tv show I would be on the phone talking to him about it. But now there is nobody on the other end of the line. My mentor is gone and now I need to move on without him but this is difficult. Things that I used to enjoy I don’t and a rarely look forward to events these days. I just feel hollow. Empty. I’ve experienced anxiety and depression in my past but this feels a lot different. I can still function, eat and sleep but I just feel like I’m going through the motions, like I’m on auto pilot or something. I’m assuming this is grief and things will get better but boy it sucks right now…

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