Hard Things Are Hard

I came across this saying the other day: Hard things are hard. At first thought, the adage seemed redundant (as so many sayings do), but on second thought seemed right on the mark. This reminder about hard things being hard is particularly relevant when it comes to grief since many people who are in pain after the death of a loved one come to me searching for quick and easy ways to go through grief. I keep reminding people that grief is hard. And it is. There is no easy way to get through grief because hard things, like grief, are simply hard and there is no way around it.

There are some ways you can deal with intense grief to help get you through the first soul-searing minutes, hours, days — cry, scream, pound a pillow — but these things only relieve the stress of grief. (The death of a child or a spouse is the most stressful life experience, and the stress is one of the reasons that grievers have a 25% greater chance of dying from all causes than non-grievers.) They don’t relieve grief because no matter what you do, your loved one is still gone.

As grief continues, as it does, there are other things a person can do in addition to crying and screaming such as walking or attending a grief support group or saying “Yes.” Too often grievers refuse all invitations because it simply is too painful to be around people. For those who lost a spouse, it is especially painful to be around those who are still happily married. Yet if you get in the habit of saying no, the invitations stop. Chances are, some invitations would stop anyway, like those from other couples — not only do they not want to be reminded that what happened to you can happen to them, but they feel as if the situation will be too uncomfortable for everyone. It’s not a particularly nice reaction to someone else’s grief, but it is, unfortunately, a very human reaction.

Mostly, though, there’s nothing you can do but the hard thing — feel your grief. As painful as it is, grief is a process, a means of moving you from your shared life to a new life. When your life has been entwined with someone else’s, it takes time to unbraid that life and create something new. All that work is painful because although it is necessary, it is not something you want to do. It’s not something you think you can do. And yet, you do it without even knowing you are doing it.

If it were simply an emotional process, grief would be hard enough, but it’s also a physical process, a physical response to a perceived danger. You might lose your grip, your appetite, your health. Your body is flooded with adrenaline and other hormones in an effort to get you to fight or flee from the untenable situation. Brain chemistry goes haywire. You feel as if you are in a fog, numb, and totally overwhelmed because your brain simply doesn’t work. Your brain is on overload, trying to understand something that cannot be understood. So many things go wrong, making you wonder if you’re crazy, but you’re not crazy. You’re grieving. And it’s hard.

Hard things are hard. Sad to say, but really is that simple.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Hurrying Through Grief To See What is On the Other Side

During the first months of wild grief after the death of my life mate, I occasionally had the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen to me. I don’t know why I had that feeling — perhaps my sense of fairness dictated that a great good was needed to balance a great grief. Or perhaps such a cataclysmic closing of one segment of my life demanded an earthshaking opening of another segment. Or perhaps after years of waiting for his suffering to be over, I felt deep down that it was time for me to live.

I wasn’t the only one who thought his death might bring good changes to my life. Shortly before he died, he himself told me that everything would come together for me after he was gone. (He never explained what he meant, though, and foolishly, I never asked.) And afterward, my sister, who witnessed my grief and saw it as life affirming, told me that I could be entering the happiest time of my life.

Whatever the truth of it, I held on to the feeling because . . . well, because it was all I had to hold on to. In fact, the feeling was so strong at times that I wanted to hurry through my grief to see what was waiting for me on the other side. But here it is, nineteen months of grief later, and whatever that wonderful thing I expected to happen, didn’t.

Part of me is still waiting (just as an ever-diminishing part of me still waits for his phone call to tell me I can come home), but mostly, the feeling that something wonderful was going to happen to me is gone. Oddly, this is not an uncommon feeling for us bereft, and those who had the feeling of expectation also felt let down when nothing wonderful happened, which leads me to believe that the feeling is a survival mechanism, or perhaps another one of the many stages of grief nobody ever talks about. (Those who did have something wonderful happen in their lives weren’t able to feel the wonder of it, which left them feeling empty, and that is almost as bad as having nothing wonderful happen.)

Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw one of the hospice social workers who occasionally moderated the grief group I used to attend, and I thanked her for helping me through such a terrible time. During our conversation, I mentioned the odd feeling of anticipation I’d had during my months of grief. She replied, “Something wonderful did happen to you. You got through it.”

Is that wonderful enough to account for all those months of expectation? Maybe is has to be.