Quote: You can't get over someone who lives on in your heart by ©nathaliehimmelrich.com

The Misunderstanding about Grief and Death

July 6, 2016

When I held my daughter in my arms as she drew her last breath I knew it.
When I learned that my mother had just died through suicide I knew it.

Quote: You can't get over someone who lives on in your heart by ©nathaliehimmelrich.comI speak boldly when I say that society largely misunderstands grief. Even as a trained psychotherapist specialising in grief and relationship, I misunderstood grief. I thought I understood it, knew about it. I was mistaken. What was interesting to me was that according to my clients I was well equipped to support people through their losses even though I didn’t fully understand grief.

From the perspective of personally LIVED loss experiences, deeply inhaling the grieving process, struggling to keep up the resilience to get up every day, dealing with mundane daily tasks… I really had no idea about grieving prior to my own losses and I believe not many people do – until life shows them death.

There are many unconscious biases and grief myths that are commonly used in our everyday language (see my articles on Downton Abbey Grief Theory Part 1 here and Part 2 here) that it comes as no surprise that society BELIEVES that:

  • Grief has a set timeline and it will be ‘over’ after that time
  • ‘Keeping it together’ and ‘not losing it’, meaning to not show emotions, are desirable signs of being strong and this is how we should show up
  • Replacing what was lost will resolve the grief (like ‘have another baby’)
  • If you just do something useful (=keep yourself busy) it will be better

And, to a certain degree, we as the bereaved ourselves believe these myths which make us stuff down our emotions, pretend we don’t feel them or numb them out with all kinds of (addictive) behaviour.

Emotions and feelings

Openly feeling and authentically expressing our emotions is not encouraged in our society. ‘Don’t cry’ is probably the most used sentence responsible for children from a young age learning that emotional expression is not welcome. We often get shamed, judged, critiqued or even laughed at when showing our emotions and the pain of that vulnerability makes us shut down.


Not feeling or not expressing the feelings makes the pain go away.
Keeping yourself busy will resolve any unpleasant feelings.

Grief truth:

When loss has touched our lives and after the shock and numbness wear off, we are often overwhelmed by emotions. We need to speak about it, often much longer than the people surrounding us can bear to listen without being emotionally affected themselves.


In a recent workshop on bereavement support I heard the presenter mention that the average time of dealing with the bereavement is 2 to 3 years when losing a parent, 5 to 7 years when losing a partner and a lifetime when losing a child. Even though these are (again) suggested timelines, he also said that we all process loss differently and therefore the time span will vary from person to person.


Grieving is done after a certain time. Bereaved people ‘should get over’ their loss and move on with life. Time heals all wounds.

Grief truth:

Everyone’s experience of loss is unique. Everyone’s timeframe on when they are willing and able to integrate their loss and turn their attention back to life is different. And no, the loss will never be put ‘behind’ or ‘over’ – the loss stays a part of the bereaved person’s life.
Time on its own does not simply heal all wounds.

Replacing the loss

If you lose a child, the next child will not simply fill a space. It’s not possible. The hole in a parent’s heart will not be healed by another child. A new baby does not diminish the wishes, dreams and expectations you had for the one before.


A rainbow child will heal the loss of a lost child.

Grief truth:

The emotions following loss are present in some form or another. It’s natural that the parents will be busy with another child and therefore have less time and space to grieve. This does not, however, mean it’s resolved.

When death visited, I knew. I knew it in my cells. Death was filling me equally with awe as it filled me with devastation. I knew that this was the single biggest emotional experience my life had trusted me with so far.

Looking back I know now that…
My soul was ready for the experience; my humanness however was thrown into the painful path of grief.
My soul knew I was resilient; my humanness struggled for months and years.
My soul knew it’s purpose and my humanness was yet to embark on the journey to find out.

  • Nathalie Himmelrich the author of a number of resource books for bereaved parents. As a relationship coach, grief recovery expert and bereaved mother herself she believes that relationships (intimate and to other support people) are the foundation for a healthy grieving experience. She is also the founder of the Grieving Parents Support (GPS) Network and the May We All Heal peer support group. Find Nathalie's books here: Nathalie Himmelrich or the Grieving Parents Support Network here: Grieving Parents


    • Lida

      July 6, 2016 at 7:55 am

      This is s very powerful article and really nails it about grief. I lost a young child and I am also a counselor. Most people do not have a clue when it comes to grief until it happens to them.

      1. Nathalie Himmelrich

        July 9, 2016 at 5:28 am

        Thank you for your comment, Lisa.
        Much Love to you and your child, in memory. Nathalie

    • Giselle Ontra

      July 6, 2016 at 8:15 am

      I would ok to get in touch with you as we have many similarities.

      1. Nathalie Himmelrich

        July 9, 2016 at 5:27 am

        Dear Giselle,
        Thank you for your comment. I’ve sent you an email.
        Much Love, Nathalie

    • Mary Ellen Pundt

      July 7, 2016 at 1:56 am

      Thank you SO very much for this reading!! As painful as it is,, this piece covers our issue perfectly!!! We lost our precious 36 yr old daughter Heather, and although we have a wonderful 49 yr old son n his wife and 2 grandchildren and another on the way, our lives are forever changed as well her brothers life !!!! This piece is beautiful and I’ve made a copy to share with some other friends,, and only a person who has lost a child can truly comprehend what is happening here n it WILL be bears before we have some simblance of a normal life, if we ever do!!!! Thank you from ou broken hearts, and may God lift you daily in the loss of your loved one!!!, Mary Ellen

      1. Nathalie Himmelrich

        July 9, 2016 at 5:26 am

        You’re most welcome Mary Ellen.
        Thank you for your words and your deep understanding.
        Much Love, Nathalie

    • Julie

      July 9, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      I have lost my father,mother,brother in law, my precious dog, family home in one year. I was still grieving about that very traumatic time when my second youngest sister was diagnosed with cancer of her kidney,with wide spread metastasis . My sister died 6/01/2016. I do find it very difficult to get over her death. I am sort of ok now about my parents death as they were in their 80 s and were very fragile,and they did not enjoy the fact that they were not able to do things for Them selfs. My sister was only 52 years old. Never sick. Very active life. Teacher and very involved in school activities. Very popular and loved in their community. Although the oncologist was very honest in saying that it is a bad prognosis, but they are going to try with oral chemotherapy. Some patients do respond. Well she was not one of the lucky ones. The cancer was like a raging veld fire . Later radiation, with no effect.. Unfortunately we all stay far away from each other. Thanx to whatsapp we 5 children could stay in contact nearly on a hourly basis. We are very very close to one another. After failed radiation it was only palliative care. To see a dianamic strong, confidant, intelligent , active, and beautifull woman losing the battle,was heartbreaking. Her family was her everything. Her daughter got her matric results two hours after she passed on. She would have been so proud of her daughter, but unfortunately she could not wait. I miss her so much. Their is not one day that I don’t think about het. I miss her voice,her laugh,her jokes,her footsteps,her way of telling funny stories,her smile her everything. When we have family gatherings we always mention her, and comment on what she would have said about a situation. She is so much alive in my heart. It is nou six months since she passed on. On the 6 th of every month I post a rose on her Facebook wall with a message. Sometimes a song. If only I could see her one more time. I know it is stupid and it’s impossible. I don’t know why I’m writing this comment either. I discovered this article on Facebook and saw the comments on grieving. Thanx for reading my comment. Strongs to every one who have lost some one close to them. Only our Lord can help us to get on in life. And time to grieve is endless.

      1. Nathalie Himmelrich

        July 16, 2016 at 5:22 am

        Dear Julie,
        Thank you for reaching out. You’re grieving multiple losses.
        Your thoughts and feeling in regards to your sister are totally normal, given the circumstances.
        For many people it’s a relief to be able to talk about it, especially to people who understand.
        Please make sure to follow the Grieving Parents Support Network on FB (www.facebook.com/grievingparents.net) or http://www.grievingparents.net which you might find helpful, even though you haven’t lost a child as I inform on a lot of things related to grief in general.
        Much Love Julie.

    • funeralOne Blog » Blog Archive The Top 15 Funeral Articles of 2016

      December 17, 2016 at 10:37 am

      […] Click here to read the full article. […]

    • funeralOne Blog » Blog Archive The Top 10 Funeral Articles in 2016

      December 17, 2016 at 10:41 am

      […] Click here to read the full article. […]

    • Dear Non-bereaved Parent – Still Standing Magazine

      July 5, 2017 at 2:10 am

      […] The Misunderstanding About Grief And Death […]

    Comments are closed.

    Prev Post Next Post