What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

Unexpected waves of grief overwhelm you at unexpected, sometimes awkward times. Coping with setbacks in the grieving process when you’re home alone is one thing — but what do you do in the grocery store or at your kids’ school? Nothing prepares you for this part of the grieving process.

You are not alone. They say grief is different for different people, but the truth is that every griever struggles with the same questions: “What do you do when grief overwhelms you? How do you face setbacks in the grieving process?”

“Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees and the cold of winter is setting in, the emptiness and grief in my heart is overwhelming,” writes Beth on How to Get Through the Day When You’re a Grieving Widow. “I’m so tired of dealing with all the stuff of my husband’s death. Life insurance, taxes, family, coroners, doctors, forms, paperwork, checking the widow box. I’m so very tired – just when I think I get over one hurdle, I’m thrown into another. Every piece of mail is like a reminder I’m doing this alone.

The Blossom Tip: Expect to be overwhelmed by grief at the most awkward and unexpected times. Have a plan for overcoming setbacks in the grieving process, so you aren’t left scrambling for tissues and sunglasses to hide your pain.

Beth adds that she struggled with grief during the spring and summer months, but she stayed busy and had the warmth of the sun and beauty of the season. She had fewer setbacks in the grieving process, and always knew what to do when grief overwhelmed her: something pleasant out in the sunshine!

But the seasons changed, and so has her grieving process.

“Although I struggled with grief, I was able to stay busy,” she said. “I’m trying to keep my calendar full of activities with friends and family so I can stay ahead of the tears. At times, I find it is hard to reach out to people because I don’t want to bring them down. I’m so thankful for ‘She Blossoms’ and a place to share with other women who are going through such a painful grieving process too…. we are blessed to have one another!”

3 Ways to Cope With Setbacks in the Grieving Process

These tips are simple and practical, because the last thing you need is a complicated description of what to do when grief is overwhelming! Remember that the definition of “feeling overwhelmed” means you won’t be thinking clearly. You need quick, easy ideas for coping with setbacks in the grieving process.

1. Let grief overwhelm you

After my grandma died, I was sure I’d die from grief. I thought my heart would literally break and I wouldn’t be able to keep breathing. I didn’t just feel like I was experiencing “grief setbacks”… I thought I was dying. That was the most overwhelming grief I’ve ever experienced — and I’ve been through foster homes, a schizophrenic mother, pet deaths, infertility, a home invasion, and the loss of my sister. Some griefs are just worse than others.

Grief is scary, but I learned that in order to get though those setbacks of grief, I had to let it overwhelm me. I had to surrender to the heartwrenching, heartbreaking horror of facing my loneliness, sadness, guilt and loss. The feelings of anxiety, fear, heartbreak and loss are absolutely terrifying.

Moving through the grieving process is one of those things you know “should” do…but it is so painful. So, what do you do when grief is overwhelming? You let it have its way.

Safe places to be overwhelmed by grief:

  • In your shower at home.
  • In a friend or family member’s arms.
  • In an empty church.
  • In a car by yourself, in a deserted parking lot.
  • On the shore, with breaking waves muffling your sobs.

What have I missed — where else can you go when grief is overwhelming you? What do you do when you’re facing a setback in the grieving process?

2. Trust that you won’t go insane

I avoided feeling grief and pain because I thought I’d lose my mind. I honestly thought I was going crazy. It didn’t help to have a schizophrenic mother, because I know what true insanity looks, feels, sounds, and tastes like. I held back my grief because I didn’t want to lose my grip on sanity. It took awhile to learn that the only way through those overwhelming feelings of grief is to allow them to wash over me.

Do you feel like your grieving setbacks might be the end of you? Trust that you’ll find your way back to yourself. You’ll come through the overwhelming feelings of grief — if you sit back and allow them to overcome you. Be overwhelmed. Your body, mind, and spirit knows what to do.

3. Take care of your grief before it overwhelms you

Once upon a time, a guy broke into my apartment and tried to rape me. For months after, I experienced overwhelming feelings of terror, anxiety, fear and grief. They were uncontrollable, and they reared up at unexpected times. Episodes of panic, anxiety, and fear aren’t pleasant to cope with in the grocery store, and I had no idea what to do with the overwhelming feelings.

What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You

So I put my second tip for what to do when you’re overwhelmed by grief into action: I parked my car in a deserted parking lot, and I screamed. And cried. And pounded the steering wheel. And sobbed. That was one of those times I thought I was going crazy — it wasn’t just a setback in the grieving process. I thought I was losing my mind.

But you know what? That’s how I found my sanity! Ironically. I had to let those overwhelming feelings of grief, fear, anxiety and panic work their way through me, so I could be free. Only when I got those overwhelming feelings out did I finally find long-lasting peace from grief.

The Blossom Tip: Expect to be overwhelmed by grief at the most awkward and unexpected times. Have a plan for overcoming setbacks in the grieving process, so you aren’t left scrambling for tissues and sunglasses to hide your pain.

What have I missed? I welcome your thoughts on these quick, simple tips on what to do when you’re overwhelmed by grief, or coping with a setback in the grieving process…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 thoughts on “What to Do When Grief Overwhelms You”

  1. I was my father’s caregiver. I was all alone. He lived with me for 6 yrs. Parkinson’s gripped him bad for the last 3 yrs. Doctors were useless. Didn’t even give good info. The weekend he got really sick, I called a doctor who came to my home and said he needed to go to hospital and rehab for a ‘tuneup’. He’d needed this once before. So once he was set up in the ER, I thought he was ok and LEFT HIM for a just awhile, I thought. Well, they lost him. They had no compassion. They resusitated him and made it sound I’d wasted their time to do so. This was Nov 2019, I don’t think they had ventilators then, never mind now. And old people are treated like, ‘well, he lived his life. Now get him off the ventilator.’ He was unconscious, but I think he heard everything, and his heart gave out right at the end of last rights, on cue. The nurse looked so relieved. I was and am broken hearted and I feel so GUILTY. I failed him. The hospital failed him. Old people then should be made comfortable at home if they are treated like this. I didn’t know how bad it was for them. I am all alone now. I feel punished everyday. And there’s no going back to change it or to ask his forgiveness or to explain. I’m glad they’re heroes now, but back then the hospital doctors and staff were just annoyed at having to waste time on an old sick man. In the end, I just feel guilty about it all. How do you get over something that was so ugly when my dad was a truly sweet man? Everyone, everything failed him.

  2. My husband died with Alzheimer’s. We had been married 52 years. I have feelings of sadness when wondering if he knew that I loved him or wondering if he loved me at the end.

  3. My husband found his “birth” Mother and family 7 years ago, after a 42 year separation. They lived a long distance away- thousand+ miles, so we could only manage a few visits. I am glad he went to see her for a week during Mother’s Day. She passed suddenly last Saturday. This was such a shock. I lost my first Mother in Law( his adoptive Mom)28 years ago. I never really got to know either one, nor attend their memorial services. I am surprised by the amount of grief I am dealing with. I wish it would pass.

  4. Thank you for the reassurance that I will get through this. Right now is the middle of the night. I woke up briefly and couldn’t fall asleep because of the sadness. Knowing that you have done the exact same things that I have done and that you made it through without losing your sanity really helps.