The First Year

By: Therese Barrett
Monday, September 14, 2020



James Reid Funeral Home

September 14, 2020

Therese Barrett


Whether you are experiencing everything for the first time or you are into your 2nd or 3rd year of this grief journey, we want you to know that you are not alone. This is a journey that none of us want to be on but here we are, so we thought it would be a good idea to share our experiences to help each other along the way. 

Our Western society is slowly changing from a death denying society to a death revival society. What does this mean? In bygone years death was accepted as part of our lives. We were active participants in the process. The grieving process was shared by the community and the bereaved were well supported.  

With the onset of modern medicine and hospitals death started to become foreign to us. We were spared the difficult time of being present during the death process -  the medical profession took care of everything for us. Death became a thing not spoken about in social circles and the community support was less as it became uncomfortable for us to speak of the deceased.  

Today we are slowly, very slowly returning to our roots. We are becoming involved in the death process again in many ways; our loved ones are able to die at home again, we have palliative care in the hospitals and hospices are opening everywhere to help us to be with our loved ones as they live their last days. 

The problem is, our sense of community support is slower at joining this death revival. The result of this is what most of us here have and are experiencing. Tonight we’d like to share experiences with you of what we have experienced and how we have coped. We want you to know that this is your supportive community. This is where you can speak or absorb. This is where you can ask questions, cry and express your feelings regardless of what they might be. 

So let’s start with your experience of your person’s illness and consequential death. 

Do these questions and comments resonate with you?

  • this is nothing like I imagined it would be: (this can be about the death or the grief) 
  • what are some of the thoughts going through your head during this time? 
  • what’s going to happen to us? 
  • what will my life be like after this? 
  • how will I manage? 
  • was the death what you imagined it would be like? 
    • was it peaceful 
    • were you present 
    • were you alone or was the family there 
    • Everyone has a different experience of death. It is important to talk about what you experienced and felt during this time to help you to process it. Support groups and a good friend who is willing to listen are valuable during this period. If you are able to focus (many are not able to) there are many good books to help you understand that you are not alone. 
  • Immediately after the death what did you feel? 
    • frozen in time 
    • hard to believe this has happened 
    • shock and numbness (this is the brain’s way of protecting us and helping us to cope with the intensity of our grief) 
  • how long will I feel like this?



Basic Tasks During the First Year 

How am I doing with these? 

  • sleeping (I was beyond bummed that I couldn't even escape grieving during slumber. I had exhausting dreams) 
  • eating 
  • showering 
  • breathing 

The Firsts

Getting through all the firsts is no small feat. (The first dinner where his chair stared at us empty. The first Sunday he wasn’t in the pew. The first basketball game he missed. The first parent meeting I attended alone. The first grocery store trip without buying his favourites. The first drive home from a long beach day – a good day – but a silent drive while the kids succumbed to sun-induced sleep and I manned the drive he always had.) 

Let’s share some of these firsts. What were these like for you? 

  • 1st birthday 
  • 1st Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving 
  • 1st major family event - graduation, wedding, new baby 
  • 1st anniversary 

The seasons: What changes did you experience during:

  • Winter - clearing snow, changing tires 
  • Spring - cleaning the garden, planting  
  • Summer - vacations, barbecues, camping 
  • Fall - winterizing the house, cottage 

Grief has many symptoms. Some we are aware of, some are unexpected and surprising. 

What symptoms would you say you have experienced? 

  • tiredness 
  • body aches 
  • headaches 
  • changes in our normal health 
  • nausea 
  • weight loss/gain 
  • trouble thinking  - memory, organization and intellectual processing and making decisions 

Myths and Facts

The pain will go away faster if you ignore it 

Suppressing the pain will cause it to resurface at a later point.


You must be strong 

Feeling sad, frightened, lonely is normal. You don’t need to protect your family or friends by wearing a mask. You can show your feelings and allow people close to you to understand your grief and to help you. Crying doesn’t make you weak. 

If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss 

Although crying is normal, it is not the only response to sadness. You may feel the pain just as deeply you will simply have other ways of expressing it. 


Grieving should last about a year 

There is no time line for grief. Each person grieves differently and there is no right or wrong length of time to grieve. 


Moving on with your life means forgetting your person 

We don’t move on in grief. We move forward. We continue to live our life and we carry our person with us. As we accept that our person is gone, we begin to treasure the memories which can become an integral part of our life. 



The pain of grief can cause us to withdraw from society. Our friends, family and neighbours are there for us if we reach out. It is common not to want to burden them with our constant grief but comfort can also come from just being with people who love us. It’s important not to isolate ourselves. 


Turn to people for help. Often, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need—whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, help with every day tasks or just someone to hang out with. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, it’s never too late to build new friendships. 


Accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who’s grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes frightening emotion for many people, especially if they haven’t experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort you and end up saying or doing the wrong things. But don’t use that as an excuse to retreat into your shell and avoid social contact. If a friend or loved one reaches out to you, it’s because they care.  

Draw comfort from your faith. If you follow a religious tradition, embrace the comfort its mourning rituals can provide. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to you—such as praying, meditating, or going to church—can offer solace. If you’re questioning your faith in the wake of the loss, talk to a clergy member or others in your religious community. 

Join a support group. Grief can feel very lonely, even when you have loved ones around. Sharing your sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. There are many bereavement support groups in Kingston.  


Talk to a therapist or grief counsellor. If your grief feels like too much to bear, find a mental health expert with experience in grief counselling. An experienced therapist can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving.  


Plan ahead for grief “triggers.” Anniversaries, holidays, and milestones can reawaken memories and feelings. Be prepared for an emotional wallop, and know that it’s completely normal. If you’re sharing a holiday or lifecycle event with other relatives, talk to them ahead of time about their expectations and agree on strategies to honour the person you loved. 

Look after your physical health. The mind and body are connected. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. Don’t use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain of grief or lift your mood artificially. 


In Conclusion

The first year is so hard in so many ways. And going through all those firsts doesn’t magically make the grief disappear the next year.  

If grief is getting harder, it doesn’t always mean you’re stuck. It might get darkest in the middle even as you’re moving forward. 

Keep doing the hard work of grief. Each step moves you toward the light even when you cannot yet see it. 

During our break we will be playing the song Memories by Maroon 5. Adam Levine looks back on the good times with a childhood friend while enjoying some drinks with friends. The effects of the alcohol and camaraderie with his pals cause his emotions to bubble up as he remembers their times together. 
Levine shared on Twitter: "This song is for anyone who has ever experienced loss. In other words, this song is for all of us.” 



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