Coming Through: Good Grief, Again?

Going through the archives of GBB, I frequently find comments where people ask why their brains insist on not just remembering that someone is gone, but reminding them they’re gone. We forget for a few precious seconds and have our minds to ourselves, then bam, we’re hit again. We see a show and laugh, reaching for the phone, then we realize the person we wanted to share with isn’t going to pick up.

What in the world is going on?

I’ve had this experience myself. Less often lately, but it happens still.

I’ll hear someone say “Bill,” in exactly the tone my mother used to scold my father when he was being obstinate, and my head will whip that way to see her again, only to see someone else and be reminded she’s gone. I’ll smell her favorite perfume, and wonder if I should get her a bottle. I’ll see something written just the way she’d have liked it, and resolve to share it with her.

She’s dead, for goodness’ sake, she’s been dead for nine years. How do I keep doing this, what is wrong with my brain?

It’s not as if it only happened after a long time, either. The first time was only eleven days after she died. I wept when it happened, because the grief came crashing in. I’d found a measure of balance, and just like that, pft, gone.

Then there are the conscious moments, the ones that aren’t sudden. I mentioned before that when I finally admitted to myself I am not just an atheist, but a rational empiricist and a skeptic with no belief in anything “beyond” what is in the natural world around us, I had to grieve again. I lost the slim, irrational hope in the back of my mind that she might be “somewhere better.” I had to finally let go and admit it was entirely beyond recovery, that it was permanent and final, and the horror of it was just as overwhelming as when I lost her the first time.

Why do our minds do this to us?

Partly, it’s obvious it’s a defensive mechanism. If we had to deal with the onslaught of emotion nonstop, our minds might not cope at all. It’s far too much to wrap one’s head around. Our minds let us forget the grief, forget the weight of it for a moment or two, so they can recover. Of course, this doesn’t feel like much protection, does it, when we realize the truth once again and it all hurts. We hurt not just because we remember the grief, we feel the guilt of having “forgotten.” I remember the first full day I went without even once thinking about Momma being gone or how much it hurt with her gone, and how guilty I felt for not thinking about her.

It was nonsense of course – I hadn’t done anything wrong by that. I’d in fact needed that day, desperately, without the pressure and pain of the loss. That doesn’t stop the reaction.

I’m not a psychologist. I can’t give you a neurochemical reason our brains do this to us. I can’t give you a technique that would make it all understandable and better feeling, and oh how I wish I could.

What I can say is that you aren’t alone in experiencing this, my friends. It happens to many of us. If it happens to you, you’re not weird, you’re not wrong, you’re not broken. It’s your brain trying to protect you, and it’s natural as breathing. Grief is a titanic upset of our mind’s usual thought processes, and there are going to be misfires and healing mechanisms and odd occurrences that make you go, “well, what was THAT?”

You can share any of these moments you like with us. You can hear our stories in turn, and know others have been where you are, and take hope in knowing that we’ve been there, and we’ve come through it. Maybe not all of us have, but those of us who have done, we want to lend you our ears, and our hearts.

Please share if your grief has had these “forgotten” moments. Let people see that they aren’t alone in experiencing it. The shared experience can be an immense encouragement.


Regards and best wishes,


William Cain


4 responses to “Coming Through: Good Grief, Again?”

  1. Sojourner says:

    I’ve had these same experiences. I don’t want to say there’s anything wrong with your brain but it still happens after 9 years? I lost my father almost 20 years ago but well before 9 years my brain had stopped doing this. Same with my mother who died about 4 years after my father.
    On the other hand, my wife just died on June 1st of this year. It certainly happens almost daily to me, multiple times a day. I have 2 daughters and 4 cats to keep me busy but these breakthrough memories happen. Most of the time they make me sad, anywhere from just slightly to profoundly but strangely, sometimes I get annoyed. From what I’ve read though I don’t think anything is wrong with our brain, it’s just how each of us responds to our grief and trauma.
    After days where I have to deal with the legalities of her death or other things relating to her death I find I need a day of doing “nothing”. This usually takes the form of listening to music I like and my wife didn’t or the same with tv shows.
    Sorry, kinda got off the issue. Certainly, unseen voices, scents/odours/smells and even faces in a crowd seen from the corner of your trigger responses as if my wife is still here.
    It certainly can be painful.

  2. William Cain says:

    Sojourner, my deepest apologies for not replying sooner.

    I understand exactly what you mean about the need for a day of ‘nothing.’

    I’m a deep social introvert, and I have a mild anxiety about being exposed to people in social situations. That manifests itself in weird ways, especially among friends; I’ve often had moments where I’ll want time alone, and not only that I’ll want time alone WITHOUT having to ASK for it. Like, I have some crazy expectation in my head that people should just KNOW that they’ve been pressuring me a lot lately and that I need them to no bother me, that I need to not be the bad guy and have to ASK for time alone. And that’s stupid, but it’s one of those similar things, a defense mechanism where my brain is trying to protect itself.

    I’m rambling a touch, but my point is I very much ‘get’ the need for time alone, time away from demands. I hope you can find the time you need, and that when you have the strength and energy to share, you can do so with us on the FB pages.



  3. nullite says:

    My situation is complicated but long story short, my ex fiance died five months ago. We had only been broken up six months before he died and still saw each other every day. Its so crazy because its like I’m still sometimes trapped in that time, that day. Its like a reference point for my every thought. I could be listening to the radio and wonder did this song come out before or after he died. Every single thing reminds me that he isn’t here. I wish I only thought of him a few times a day but I think of him all the time. In the beginning it was horrible I couldn’t do anything. If it weren’t for our son I don’t think I would have come out of it but its nice to know I have something to look forward to. Even if it is a long time from now. I used to wake up every morning with him being dead my first thought and just cry. Now its at least not the first thing I think. Reading what you guys have said at least shows me that I’m progressing even if just a little. Thank you.

  4. straubuffy says:

    When I lost my sister 3 years ago tragically in a car accident my major support came from my husband and my father. I could always call my father and he would listen. She was not his daughter but for the brief time my parents were married he was her step father, he always told me if I need anything he was there. Which meant a lot since I lost my sister whom I would call when I was down and she would call me when she needed support. Two weeks ago I got a call at 4am, it was my aunt telling me my father had had a heart attack and didn’t make it. My world came crumbling down again, the emotions I had felt when I got the 2am call about my sister’s accident came rushing back. He was not married and I am his only daughter so the funeral arrangements and legal duties fell on me. All I want to do is call him for his advise, I want to tell him how much I love him and how much I need him. But I can’t and every time I realize it it’s heartbreaking. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up tomorrow and this was all a bad dream. It just doesn’t seem real.

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