Cumulative Grief – Overcoming the Overwhelming

At some point in nearly every person’s life, they will be faced with the loss of a loved one.  If we’re lucky, losing a parent, spouse or significant other will come at the end of a long life filled with many happy memories and close relationships.  But, some people experience loss suddenly without time to prepare, or in rapid succession that can be overwhelming.  Losing more than one person in a short period of time can take a toll on the life of the bereaved in many ways, but recent research has helped mental health experts develop tools individuals can employ to cope with cumulative grief and manage the complex feelings that may arise. 

The grieving process is challenging when factoring in the emotional component of losing someone close, as well as the practical tasks of dealing with end-of-life plans, estate matters, and the distribution of personal belongings.   The death of a spouse or parent may also cause financial strain or conflict within families, adding to an already difficult situation.  When someone suffers multiple losses, even if some of the losses are a pet, a job, a friendship or a family estrangement – the period of acute grief can lengthen and over time, support systems may start to disintegrate.  

According to a recent Vox media article, cumulative grief can lead to fatigue and being overwhelmed.  As losses pile up, often the people that were around during the first loss to provide support begin to become disengaged, leaving individuals feeling abandoned. 

When we lose someone very close to us, there are also secondary losses brought about by a significant life change.  A new loss can stir up old feelings of grief and memories.  But with time, and perhaps grief therapy, individuals can learn what coping styles work best for them and explore new tools to manage their current situation.  As we enter the holiday season, people who are experiencing grief should plan to take the time and space they need to practice self-care when feelings become overwhelming. When coping with big life changes, give yourself permission to scale back on social gatherings, adopt new traditions, or just spend some extra time reading or watching a holiday movie if that’s what you need.

Grief support groups can be helpful, and some people find sorting through photographs, journaling, or sharing memories with others to be healing activities.  It’s also essential to find time to exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block, eat nutritious foods, get adequate sleep and treat yourself with compassion.  Our older selves may grieve differently than when we were younger and lost a loved one.  Understanding that there is no one way to experience grief can help mourners avoid self-criticism about what they might have done things differently.  Accepting grief, in all its forms, is crucial because shutting down or suppressing these feelings can often lead to more suffering.   

Learn more about coping with grief and supporting others in their journey by following this link to the Grief Out Loud Podcast website, hosted by Jana DeCristofaro and produced by Dougy Center.