21 Things I Learned In Our First Year Of Loss

We have officially survived our first year of loss. I’m not really sure how. It doesn’t seem possible to be standing where we are today. I still wish I would wake up and have it all be a nightmare.

Through this journey we have received a lot of advice. Nothing really prepares you. You simply learn to find comfort in the support you receive. As time goes on you learn coping mechanisms to get through your days and learn to live again.

So much of this journey is individual. All you can do is go through it. Experience it. It has been eye opening. Today I want to share some of what I’ve learned.

21 Things I Learned In Our First Year Of Loss:

  1. It’s nothing like I imagined it would be. Those last 12-hours in the hospital I knew were our last. In those moments I imagined life without him. Never seeing him, hugging him, hearing his voice again. An empty seat at the table and in the car. No more memories, holidays, arguments, laughs. Those thoughts, as heartbreaking as they were, never came close to reality.
  2. Depression is suffocating. Intense depression took over the first 9-months, though most people would never know. Caring for my other children was too much most days. Every single task is a struggle.
  3. Child loss is more prevalent than I ever knew. I couldn’t believe the number of people impacted. Becoming part of the club is eye opening. There is an instant bond created the moment you realize you have it in commonChild Loss: It Can Happen To You.
  4. You will make people uncomfortable. No one is sure what to say. Everyone walks on pins and needles afraid to upset you. Many dance around the topic or seem to forget entirely. It is up to you to set the stage of how you want it to be.
  5. Everyone grieves differently. Every single person. It is not what you expect. Some people don’t cry. Humor is a coping mechanism for others. Avoidance. Disinterest. Over the top emotions. Every moment is different for every single person. Just accept it. Allow people to take their own journey.
  6. Every single thing will remind you of your loved one. A song on the radio. TV shows they used to watch. Something someone says. A look your other child makes. A smell. Every day activities your family will do that they are no longer a part of. Places they went with you. New places they never saw. Constantly, every day.
  7. You will get angry at people that mean well. Things that seem stupid will feel like a big deal. People that have never lost a child will tell you they know how you feel. Others will say things like, “At least he’s in a better place.” Some will ignore your loss completely and pretend it never happened. You will learn how to respond in grace.
  8. You will hate your new normal. This new life you didn’t ask for that you are now forced to live will feel unbearable at times. It doesn’t mean you love those in it any less. However, it will never feel the same again.
  9. You will feel happiness at times. It will always be coupled with sad. Every moment of happy will have a sad undertone because they are not here with you. I believe it will always be this way. The reverse is also true. Crying and feeling sadness over your loss will have an undertone of happy because it is full of them.
  10. The anxiety leading up to milestones is sometimes worse than living those firsts. My mind fills with thoughts of our last time before the milestone date. I feel anxious about that day coming. When the day comes, it is like every other day. Just add a few more memories.
  11. I get to choose the moments that are hardest. It is not always a milestone like everyone would expect. Those around you may brace for things they think should affect you. However, I get to choose the days and moments that impact me the hardest.
  12.  Grief shows up when you least expect it. You rarely know when. It is always when you least expect it. Something will come out of nowhere and knock every ounce of being out of you.     
  13. You will be a different person. There is a missing link between the person that stands here now and the person I once was. I search hard for ways to get back to that person I was. I miss her. The world is a very different place. My reaction to it has changed dramatically. I have finally learned to put myself and my family first.
  14. People will surprise you. Some of the people you thought would be there, aren’t. People that really step up may be unexpected. You will find some people leave your life completely. I believe it is all meant to be.
  15. Your beliefs will be tested beyond anything you can imagine. Whether you are a religious person or not, your beliefs will be tested. I am crystal clear now. No doubts in my mind. A loss like this triggers a spiritual journey like no other.
  16. There are signs everywhere! Your loved one will send you signs. I do not believe in coincidences. Things will pop up at just the right time. They are still here.
  17. You create your own timetable. There are no rules. You do everything at your own pace. I still have his toothbrushes out. It is all OK. You get to decide how, when or if things happen.
  18. They want you to be happy! Every decision I make. Every fun thing I force myself to do. All of it is because I know he would want me to be happy. He is there cheering us on. I do these things because of him.
  19. Somehow time keeps passing. I never thought I’d make it a year. I never thought I’d make it a month. No matter how much time passes, it is unbelievable. It feels like yesterday.
  20. You will survive. I am the first one to say I wish I was with him. Not that I am suicidal or wish for death, but every day I get closer to being with him. It is my motivation in a way, as morbid as that sounds. By putting one foot in front of the other. Living through each moment you will learn to survive, even thrive. This doesn’t mean they are any less on your mind or in your heart.
  21. It Is Not Strength, It Is Necessity. People call me strong. They ask how we get through it. They admire us or say we inspire them. It is not strength. It is simply because we have no other choice.
Additional Posts Related to Supporting Someone with Grief:
  1. Sympathy Messages – What To Say When Someone Dies
  2. 4 Most Meaningful Condolences
  3. My Grief Amnesia – It’s Not You It’s Me

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50 Comments on “21 Things I Learned In Our First Year Of Loss”

    1. I really appreciate the share! Thank you. I’m glad it got a great response. I’m really working to build my audience in an effort to help others and connect with more bereaved parents. I’ve also been following your page so it was pretty cool to be scrolling and see my article pop up on it. Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I just rea your article, I try not to cry reading it but is like you said it hit you suddenly.
        I like it it,so true do.!
        I lost my son 22 months ago 32 years to,
        On Easter Sunday,
        Be strong is all we need to keep on going!

        1. I lost my oldest son on March 15, 2020. I am so lost with out him. I loved reading 21 things. Thank you for sharing that.

    2. I am coming to my first year, I’m almost to the last time we talked and last message she sent. Her suicide @ 20 yrs old has destroyed me in so many ways. I feel a lot of guilt for my other children, they lost a sister and most of their mom. I’m starting to find me again, but I am not the same, and that is sad also. To any mom who doesn’t understand be greatful and hug your children. Some days I know I’m stronger than I knew because I get up, but then other days it hits like a ton of bricks, I only got up because I didn’t have a choice. I hate this new life, and I really miss my daughter…

  1. I lost my 32 yr old daughter suddenly on 12/22/16. I just found this and it is dead on .
    Thank you

    1. It’s always nice to be able to relate to other bereaved moms. I wish we didn’t have to walk this path and your daughter and my son were still here with us. Much love to you as you begin your 2nd year of loss. Mine was different from the first. My son’s anniversary date is Christmas…so we just started our 3rd year. Sending hugs! ~Emily

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article. I lost my 30 year old only child October 23, 2013 and this has been the four hardest years of my life!

    1. Thanks for reading. I understand when you say these have been the 4 hardest years of your life. Sending hugs! This is a path I wish none of us were on.

  3. Tomorrow will be a year, the last day I saw my 39 yr old daughter alive,the last time I saw her beautiful smile and our last hug…she had a heart attack and passed 9 days later…. I have read more this year than EVER!! your post is EXACTLY what I have experienced!! Still so unbelievable!! I NEVER imagined this in our lives…. Sorry for your heart break!!we are not alone!!

    1. I still find it hard to imagine this is our life. You’re definitely not alone! Anniversaries are so hard. Sending lots of hugs.

  4. This is so far spot on, I am only 6 months in but agree completely. I think what surprises me the most is the people. People I thought would be there, aren’t. People I barely knew are becoming close friends. I know my son (forever 11) is with me always, always. He cheers me on and keeps me going until one day when I get to be with him again. I started a blog too and it’s been therapeutic It sucks we are all in this club, but I’m glad we’ve got each other.

    1. You are so right about the people being one of the biggest surprises! I’m so glad you found writing/blogging as an outlet. It is extremely helpful. Hugs to you!!

  5. I haven’t lost a child, can’t even begin to imagine what that feels like but I lost my partner five months ago. I can relate to a lot these points. I had a week to “prepare myself” for losing him but the reality is nothing like I thought it would be. The grief hits me out of nowhere – the little things like making his favorite meal, the food that only he ate going out of date and having to throw them, a song on the radio. I think the worst thing is all the new things that have happened over the last five months and not being able to tell him. I painted our house as a way to keep myself buy during the evenings but then felt worse because I couldn’t show him what I had done and he didn’t take part in the decisions. I am so grateful for my son, who is only nine years old who has given me the strength to keep on going.

    1. You are so right, the reality is nothing like you expect it will be. I also agree it’s my kids that keep me going. Hugs to you!

  6. Emily: God has really given you a precious GIFT to be able to help those who have lost children. I lost my 31 year old son Sept. 4, 2008. He was a pedestrian that was hit by a drunk driver and left in the road. He lived for four days and I am thankful God allowed me to be holding him when he passed away. No matter in what manner you’ve lost a child it is extremely devastating. I’m going on my 10th year of grief and sometimes it is just as fresh as the day he went to Heaven. Your explanation of the first 21 things you learned in the first year, for me, is repeated every year. And, each year brings me closer to seeing him again. I gave an explanation to someone about my first year that I equated to the poem “Footprints In The Sand”. I absolutely had NO footprints in the sand that first year and still have times where there are none. BUT, I can truly say that the reason I didn’t is because GOD was carrying me during that time. Also, my go to Bible verse when I feel lost is Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” God bless you and your family Emily

    1. I agree, Tricia. These 21 things seem to replay over and over well beyond year 1. Many hugs to you!

  7. My husband went to heaven ten months ago. He was a loving husband, father, son, and a busy surgeon but he always made time for me and our children. You are never ready or prepared for this grief but with faith somehow you get through. All of your articles hit home, thank you

    1. You’re right, you can never be ready or prepared for grief. All we can do is take it one day/hour/minute at a time, putting one foot in front of the other. Hugs!

  8. I lost my beautiful 35 yr old daughter 6 months ago. Not a day goes by that I have not thought of her. I have a hole in my heart that she occupied. I have so much support from my large family but still feel the pain of losing her every single day. What smacked me was when you said you will never be the same. Words I often repeat to myself but never to another. Not to say some days are not pleasant but the loss marks a bit of each day. Sometimes its just a few moments, and often just that, but other days its more difficult. I also related to the strong comment. So many called me that but like you I just go forward as that is what must be done. She left me with a beautul teenage granddaughter that needs me and for her I have begin each day one step forward. Thank you for your words. Pain can be hidden but it never totally leaves our hearts.

    1. We are forever changed! How could we not be. A part of our hearts live in heaven. We must continue on as best we can in honor of them. Sending hugs your way!

  9. I want to say I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry that anyone finds themselves on this path. It is not for the faint-hearted.
    This is a journey of loss, on top of loss. There is the initial loss of our child, the loss of family and friends, the loss of who we were, the loss of our dreams, the loss of purpose, the loss of faith. I could go on and on but I will spare you.
    My precious son, Jacob was 24 years old when he decided to take his own life by hanging himself on December 14, 2013. This is by far the hardest most painful thing that I have ever had to go through. It’s a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
    I too marvel that I have made it this far. It is a miracle because each and every day I wake up, I wish I hadn’t.

    The emotions, the pain, tears, sadness,, guilt, brokeness, hopeless, lost, lonely, despair are all tucked neatly under the surface, as one would wear an undergarment. At times I allow them to surface and there are times when they surface at will. The pain can be as intense and debilitating as the first day.

    The loss has been at times too much to bear. I have not done it gracefully. I have been kicking and screaming at every turn but i am still here which can only mean one thing. There is a God…and even though I turned my back on Him in my grief…He remains faithful and helps me each and every day….to not give up!

    1. You are right, this is a journey of loss on top of loss. It can be exhausting sometimes. Yet, somehow we do continue on. It’s what our son’s would want. Sending hugs your way!

  10. Well at 3.20PM yesterday we made it through out first year with out our Lizzie. It has been a hard year with many conflicting emotions, we went to see a psychologist early on and she held the theory that grief was linear and that we would be over it in 12 months! I hate to disappoint her she was wrong!
    Grief is like a ball that is constantly bouncing around in your head you bounce through the ‘stages’ in a random manner often ending up back where you started and bounce through it all over again.It gives me a headache that the doctor says is stress but I think it is the rubber ball of grief bouncing around in my head.
    Through our journey we have found some wonderful people who have understood and supported us and some we have cast adrift, because they had become vexations to the soul, they just could not understand that when in grief a person enters survival mode.
    Yesterday we cried and clung on to our memories, I hope that it gets a bit easier to cope, I cry in the shower most mornings and gradually it is getting better.
    I have realised that I have a choice to make, live my life and be the best possible person Lizzie would expect me to be or wallow in my own self pity, I am going to try the former and live up to her expectations for her dad and at the same time keep her memory alive in the back of my mind.
    When Lizzie died I was scared that I would forget, but the memories have grown stronger and a time goes on I am able to cope and even smile at her antics and our adventures together.

    1. I felt the same way…afraid I would forget things. While the first year is the hardest, the 2nd year is still hard in it’s own ways. The people that stuck through the first year go back to their lives (most anyway). There is this unspoken idea that after the first year you are in a good place and don’t need the same support. It sometimes feels like more people forget so you really start to figure out how to manage on your own. To me, the sign I was doing well was the fact I could smile through the pain. Reminders were still sad (and everywhere), but I love to feel it. You are so right that we all need to make the choice to wallow in our self pity and the sadness or continue on and make them proud. Hugs to you as we continue on the same path! Emily

  11. Oh my goodness you have wrote just how I feel even down to the toothbrush my daughters is still in the bathroom. My daughter Louise was 33 and it was the first anniversary two days ago , it’s so hard and there is no words to describe how you feel every day. Thank you for putting into words how it feels to be on this journey that none of us wanted to be on.

    1. I’m so glad my words have provided comfort and validation to how you have felt…though I wish they didn’t! This is a horrible path I wish none of us were on. Sending hugs! Emily

  12. Thank you for sharing your 21 things learnt. I lost my only Son Mark aged 35 – 11 months ago 30th April 2017, and I have struggled to breathe every day. This article made me realize that it’s ok to feel and think and believe certain things.

    1. It is completely OK to not feel OK about what happened! I always say I will never be OK with the fact my son died. We just learn to carry the pain and memory and live for them. Feel what you need to feel. You are never alone! I always say “this is going to sound crazy, but”…grief makes us crazy. Hugs!!

  13. I lost my Elizabeth Grace on 10/19/2014, she was 26 days old and it has been the hardest thing I have ever experienced.

  14. Thank you for your support, my beloved husband and positive spiritual husband died in January, after a long battle with cancer. I still wake up every day and wish he were here, healthy and not in pain. As you said, everything reminds me of having him around, daily activities, conversations, actions and feelings. It’s a physical pain that stays. I push on trying to maintain what I did before, but the joy is not there. Yes, peoples reactions surprise or alternately dismay me. Love to you Dennis.

    1. I don’t think that feeling of wanting them here ever goes away. I’ve found that even when you experience happiness, there is always this underlying sadness to it. It’s become normal and I welcome it. I guess it’s my way of remembering and acknowledging the hole he left. All we can do is keep going and try to create the best possible lives for ourselves. Live in their memory…for them. Hugs! I know it isn’t easy, but I have to believe it’s what they would want us to do.

  15. You could not have explained this any better. We lost our son almost 16 years ago. I still struggle with his loss. Our whole life changed. We no longer have the same friends and many family members just forgot about us – or it was too hard for them. We have true friends in our life now and they do not judge us.

    I’m so happy to see your post and true to life summary of life after losing a child. It’s hard to explain to anyone who never lost a child what we have been through. A real nightmare.

    1. It really is a nightmare. Like you, we have had relationships change (even with family). It’s difficult. Seems the people that really get it and support us are those that have experienced it themselves or have true compassion and empathy to sit with us and seek to understand. Those people are rare. When your entire life changes so dramatically in an instant, it’s something you always struggle with. Hugs to you! I’m sure knowing it’s been 16 years is beyond unbelievable. We never think we will survive, yet somehow time marches on. XO Emily

  16. Wow you nailed it keeping of the toothbrush is so me with that reminder of him barely over the sink brushing his teeth and he is constantly letting me know he is here with me . Thanks for this 💙 i lost my child Jeremiah at the age of 5, January 30, 18 and find it hard to cope daily so to now I’m not alone 🙏🏾💙

    1. You are not alone! The first year is incredibly difficult. It takes time to learn how to carry your grief. We should never have to live without our children. Take your time. Be kind to yourself as much as possible. Hugs!

  17. On December 28, 2018 My 16 year old son was attending a sweet 16 that he was invited to a 19 year old boy who wasn’t invited was outside with a group of friends when my son and his friends were leaving an altercation erupted and my son was shot one time in the face. My son face timed me when he was was shot i made it to him he was alive shortly after that he was pronounced dead. I feel like a dead person walking. I hate life now. We were so close and now i don’t know what to do i don’t know how to live without my boy. Tomorrow makes 5 months i am miserable. I have another son who is 7 years old he’s very sad.

    1. I understand the feeling of hating “new normal”… heck I even hate the term new normal. It is just not natural to out live our children. It is even harder watching our other children grieve because there is nothing we can do to take their pain away. It’s one thing for us to suffer, but the reach on this kind of loss is endless. Sending lots of love!

  18. I’ve recently found your blog online and I just wanted to say how much comfort I take from realising I’m not alone in the way I’m feeling.
    My story mirrors yours to some extent. My 17 year old son Fin died on Christmas Eve last year after been knocked off his bike the day before. He was rushed to hospital unbeknown to us until we got the dreaded phone call from the police to tell us they were coming to pick us up. We raced down the motorway with blue lights flashing and deep down then I knew we wouldn’t be bringing him home. We were told almost straight away it was very serious and they didn’t expect him to survive. He was on a life support machine and drugs to keep his blood pressure up. We sat at the hospital all night and until 4pm the next day waiting for them to do the brain stem tests. It was repeated by a second neurosurgeon and my baby boy was pronounced dead at 4.01pm which is one minute after they started the first test which is how they do this in England.

    We agreed to donate his organs and had paperwork to read and sign and then at 8.30pm we said goodbye and we went home and that was it. I remember pulling on our street and seeing all the Christmas lights and thinking how can it still be Christmas when my son is dead. This is a sentence I have repeated hundreds of times since; How can you go out for a meal when my sons dead?, How can you hang your washing out? How can you celebrate New Year? How can you go and get your nails done? How can you go holiday?

    Next day it was Christmas Day and instead of santa we had our police liaison officers come. Everyone who has a sudden unexpected death gets one and she has helped us with all the paperwork, inquests and took us to meet the lady who saw his accident and sat with him on the road holding his hand and talking to him right until he was put in the ambulance (not a good Christmas for her either).

    Everyday brings so many new things that my son is not here to see/hear/eat/watch/experience and it breaks my heart each time. Even something silly like a new KFC item advertised on tv, I immediately think “Fin will never have one of those. Your every thought everyday is about them and what they and you are missing. We too have still got his toothbrush in the bathroom cupboard and I spoke to my GP about the fact I had kept everything he owned and he told me to throw the toothbrush away and other things like that and just keep special precious items. He doesn’t realise and I hope he never does that when your child is gone EVERYTHING they owned is special. I’ve even left a half empty bottle of water at the side of his bed and whereas before I used to tell him off for throwing his toe nails over the side of his bed onto the floor I now get on my hands and knees and feel around praying to find one.

    I nodded my head with tears running down my face as I read this, finally someone understands (I wish you didn’t).

  19. I just read your article and it is spot on. I lost my 22 year old son 4 years ago with no known cause of death. Trying to go on and live with that has been most difficult. Your recall of the anticipation itself of those milestone holidays were more difficult for me than getting through the holiday itself. Plus I have had to deal with panic attacks that are brought on out of the blue. It could be a song, a speaker, an article, anything. Therapy has been very helpful in dealing with this. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family, friends, and faith as I am going through this journey.

  20. I am grateful to have found you. It has been 2 months and 21 days since my whole has been turned upside down. My 9 year old daughter passed away in her sleep. Completely unexpected. Reading your stories have truly helped me cope with some of these feelings. I know I have a long way to go and I truly scared of this journey but I have 3 more kids that need me.

    1. I’m so glad you have found some solace in reading my words… even if it’s just feeling less alone in your grief. There is a saying “No one ever told me grief feels so much like fear.” It really does! We fear life without them. We now understand the loss of control we have over that life. There is so much fear. Yet, keep watching for signs from your daughter. I truly believe they are still here with us. What is left is the love, the bond you shared. It continues. Hugs to you!

  21. I lost my son on Valentine’s Day 2018, the day after he turned 50. He suffered five months with cancer. I have learned everything you mentioned. It never gets better. So heartbroken.

  22. I really appreciate your article. I lost my beautiful sister in law on December 6, 2018. She battled ovarian cancer for a little over 2 years. My heart aches. Her first chemo was on my birthday and 2 years later we had our family visitation and time with Sue on my birthday. But as crazy as it sounds I felt honored to share my day with her. We’ve survived my birthday, Christmas, my brother’s birthday ( Sue is his wife) , and Sue’ Birthday in the first 2 months. Wow!! Some days are really hard. Thanks for sharing your insight with us.

  23. I found your article on Pinterest… we lost our 19 yr old son 40 days ago. He had been ill for several years and had several major surgeries but was recovering – or so we thought. On a sunny Tuesday after work he took his own life. I found him the next morning. It’s an image I will never get out of my head. Thank you for sharing your experience … I’m just beginning to experience some of those firsts without him but truthfully everything seems bleak without him.

  24. I lost my granddaughter June 12 2017 one month after her 17th birthday due to Suicide. The pain I felt and still feel is a pain that I would wish for no one. I never new there could be such a heart ache.. it literally hurts!!! Then when I see my grown son cry so hard for his daughter it hurts even more !

  25. I really like reading your article.
    I lost my son this year he took his own life .he would of been 24 in may.
    I feel so lost and empty .it’s been 9 months now and I’ve cryed every single day.
    He was( is)my world now I’ve got nothing .
    Just don’t know what to do .
    Miss him so much Bradley 😭😭

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