On grieving when there isn’t a death

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If you’ve lived life ‘right’ then I have no doubt that you have been through some difficult times. Times in which you wondered if life, or even yourself, would ever be the same again. Times that hurt beyond words. And yet we somehow picked ourselves up and ‘just got on with it’ without accepting just how truly shitty that time in our life was; we refuse to give ourselves closure.

We ‘don’t have time to give into self-pity’, ‘people have it worse than me‘ blah blah blah. Yes those points may be true but adding guilt to your bad feelings isn’t going to help any time soon so why don’t you stand up to what you’re feeling and accept them for what they are so that you can truly move on instead of pausing them?

Maybe you’re angry about something but refuse to acknowledge it because it’s ‘easier’. Maybe you’re upset that the job promotion you were rumoured to get never came to fruition. Maybe your relationship ended and you’re telling itself it’s ‘for the best’ when nothing feels further from the truth. Call it closure or acceptance but sometimes you need to grieve, not just for a death of a person but the death of a situation, a life path that ended so abruptly. I didn’t grieve for a situation properly and both the anger and hurt have hit me so much over the last week or so.

For anyone that has been following my journey on my travel site, you will know that last October I took the leap and moved to Sydney when six weeks in I became sick. I then had the rug pulled from underneath me when I was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease on returning home.

I cried, I became angry and I worried that life would never be the same but I didn’t allow myself time to grieve properly; my ‘to do list’, like the run-up to a funeral, was just too great. I had doctors appointments to go to, blood tests to arrange, medications to try, a job to find, a new life to adjust to and eventually a new flight to Australia to book. I knew that everything had happened in such a short amount of time but I just ‘got on with it’ and cried in my bedroom because I knew no other way. Though the anger I felt over my diagnosis was new, it did stir up all the anger I had felt (but not acknowledged) over Sydney not working out for me despite all my hard work and efforts.

Fast forward to 7 weeks into my next Australian adventure and I was back at the doctor for my routine blood test. All my results came back normal and I was advised to download the Medicare (Australian healthcare system) app to my phone to make claiming easier. I discovered that I could see all my claim activity (something I had not seen before) and as I sat there reading 4 pages of claims, I realised just how much I had been through without self-acknowledgement. How many doctors visits, blood tests, scans and I cried. I cried for all the times I wish my mum had been with me to tell me everything would be ok. For the times that I felt so fed up with feeling and being so ill. For the way my ‘new life’ had ended so visciously.

I thought I had dealt with my feelings but now that I’m back in Australia, I realise just how much I’ve needed to overcome. I took everything one step at a time so as not to feel overwhelmed but now that I look back on it? I grieve for all the physical and emotional pain I experienced and I need it. I need to be able to close the door on the isolation, worry and sadness I felt so that I can move forward. So that I can again take life one step at a time in the pursuit of the dream I never quite achieved last time.

You don’t need a death to be able to grieve. To look back on a situation you have pulled yourself through and feel both a sense of pride and sadness that it happened in the first place. We always tell each other to seek closure on a death or the end of a relationship, so why don’t we allow ourselves to seek it at any other time? When a friendship ends? A bout of sickness? We all go through tough times but so very often put it down to ‘life’ instead of realising that it’s tough right now.

I’m not saying you have to deal with your emotions at the time you’re going through the situation. Maybe life really is moving too fast right now and you have no space or time to digest what’s going on; that’s ok. When I lost my baby, I wanted to grieve quietly and in my own way; something my family couldn’t understand. The angrier they became that I wasn’t grieving ‘properly’ or ‘talking about it’, the angrier I became and so, instead of feeling sad and grieving like I so desperately wanted and needed to, I was filled with anger, hurt and resentment at the way I was being treated. I truly felt as though I had no-one as I spent my nights crying as I prepared for my three months of solo travel around Asia. It was then, once I had left and when I had the time, that I allowed my feelings to come to the forefront and grieve the way I had wanted to all along. I cried on beaches and I cried myself to sleep but I got through it eventually.

Acknowledge that yes, some people may have it worse off than you but what you’re going through at the moment is no doubt hard. It’s upsetting you, you’re not sure what to do and you might feel alone and that’s ok. Both the situation and your feelings will pass eventually and when they do, you can look back and grieve for the strength you needed to find and for surviving a difficult time so that you can mentally and emotionally move on to bigger and better things.

What do you need to grieve for right now?

  • Jill


    A powerful article Toni. Well done.

    • Toni

      Jill – thank you 🙂

  • Mark


    Dear Toni

    This was a very well written and honest piece. Thanks for writing it. I like to read your articles because I feel that you write for yourself as well as your readers. You aren’t one of the ‘happy clappy’, life is wonderful, so long as you look at the sunrise and think serene thoughts brigade, who are obviously very busy pretending nothing bad ever happens in life and are lying to their readers.

    You obviously have a deep love of writing and seem to write to express and explore your own life experiences: good and bad. To put them out there and allow your readers, not only to recognise their own truths in what you write, but also to connect with you. This piece hit home. Healing takes a long time.

    Take care

    • Toni

      Mark – you are never short of supportive, encouraging and complimentary words for me and I thank you so much for them! I am definitely not one of the ‘happy clappy’ gang, you’re right, and I’m glad you recognised the specific direction I took on this site; to avoid becoming one of them! 😉

      I have certainly realised in starting this site that this is where my true passion lies and that I absolutely do love writing however painful or emotional it may be at times. And yes, you’re right, I write for myself as much as I do for others 🙂 Healing DOES take a long time; I hope you are managing to take it one day at a time!

  • francesCa


    powerful, Toni. im grieving over the breakup of a friendship, which i have thought about every day since we last saw each other. and all the anger that led up to that moment of loss.

    • Toni

      Francesca – I’m so sorry to hear that your friendship has ended and you feel both a sense of loss and anger on how it ended; it’s never an easy thing to deal with. I hope that you’re being kind to yourself and allowing the tears and anger out so that every day, hopefully, you feel a little stronger again. Much love x

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