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Ask Dr. Zoe – How Do I Handle Crushing Grief?

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‘Deb’ Asked:

As I listened to Julie Graham’s story, I look back at how I prayed for her as she walked through Paul’s death. Little did I know that a week later, I would be walking through my own shock and grief when my 36-year-old daughter died suddenly. Then less than 2 months later, in December 2017, my mom died suddenly and 2 weeks later, my husband had a massive stroke which has left him with left-side paralysis. As I listened to Julie’s podcast, it brought me right back there. I have never spoken to anyone about the intense grief that sometimes just overwhelms me.

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Your story breaks my heart, but the last sentence concerned me more than all of your tragedy. I know how very dangerous it is to keep quiet about your pain. I’m so glad that you are reaching out. You can learn from watching and listening to Julie Graham about the intense healing effect of sharing your story. It’s not just a nice thing to do. It is a necessity.

You don’t need to blast it to the world—that may not be your thing. But you need to talk about it to someone. Every time you share your story, you are reprocessing the way it lives in your brain. Sometimes you can even feel the mental shift. It’s also why telling your story can feel exhausting at times.

Every time you share your story, you are reprocessing the way it lives in your brain.

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Grief is overwhelming. It can feel like a never-ending sea and you are sure you are drowning. It can also feel like you’ve been dropped on a deserted island while the rest of the world goes on without you. Grief and depression are evil twins, though, so know that your grief will feel and look like depression. But it’s not something to get rid of, it’s something to walk through and learn to integrate into your life.

But now you are also a caretaker, which is a whole different experience than sudden loss. It involves micro-losses. Sometimes as a caretaker, you don’t feel you can grieve because the person you are grieving is right there in front of you. But it’s important to grieve the husband you used to have too. It’s important to grieve the life you used to have.

It’s your time to seek out support and begin to find a life outside of your grief. Sometimes finding your own life must be forced until you find a new normal. You are still here and you are meant to be! And it’s okay that there are days that you wish you weren’t still here. Be good to yourself on those days. Try not to judge your process.

I’m sure you have heard of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief.

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining (This looks like the what if’s and imaginings of how you could have avoided the loss.)
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

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I wish I could say that we go straight through these stages and come to acceptance and then we’re good. Not true. We can cycle through these stages and accept certain aspects of our loss and start again on other parts. Or we can go through a couple and cycle back again to the beginning.

There is no perfect blueprint for grieving, but you do need to walk through all of these steps at some point on your journey towards health.

If you take away only one point from my response, I hope it is to live. Truly live out loud and share your story. This means feeling all of the feels and walking through the pain, trusting that there is something valuable in this journey—for you and for others. Reach out for help. You were not meant to do this alone. You’ve got this!


For related articles, start here:

What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know
When Dreams Die… Grieving What Should Have Been
Battered Faith: Holding on to Hope Even When You Struggle
Dear Caregiver: You Don’t Have to Be a Superhero
Can We Find a Way to Be Grateful for the Tough Stuff?

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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