After a death, the changes are daunting

  • Holidays such as the Fourth of July can be difficult for the bereaved.

    Holidays such as the Fourth of July can be difficult for the bereaved. Stock Photo

Posted7/2/2022 6:00 AM

Here we are, another big holiday, the Fourth of July. A big occasion for the gathering of family and friends, probably at a backyard barbecue. But for the bereaved, everything has changed because a loved one is not here anymore.

It's just not the same -- and every holiday is a reminder he or she is gone. Not just the first year after, but every year.


Recently a kind reader wrote to me in response to a column and said she found all the changes after the death of a loved one to be daunting. I thought -- what a good word, daunting. It really captures the magnitude and impact of the changes that happen.

The definition: Difficult to deal with or intimidating, tends to overwhelm.

There's an episode of "Downton Abbey," the TV series, where the daughter Mary's husband, Matthew, is killed in a car crash right after the birth of their son. Mary is so damaged by grief that she pretty much collapses emotionally and basically withdraws from life, not even trying to cope. After some months, her grandmother, the dowager, said: "Mary, you must choose between death and the land of the living." Mary questions: "You think I should choose life?" And the grandmother just says, "That's up to you."

I'm thinking it's very much how we handle grief and all these sad changes that will make a difference.

My beloved told me a story about when he was in graduate school, the professor asked the class to write down the definition of intelligence. Baheej wrote: "Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change." The professor liked it so much he read it out to the class the next day. Well, I like it too, and I think there's a lot of truth in that definition. It's what we eventually must do to cope with and manage all the changes that come with a death -- whether a partner, spouse, parent, child, sibling or friend.

There are many types of loss, of course. In Baheej's case as a young man, his first loss was essentially the loss of a homeland, where he was part of a majority turned overnight into a minority in their own land. Adapt or nothing. But I think this also applies to us as bereaved. We must find a way to cope and manage despite all the sorrow and hurt. Daunting.

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Over time, we can find a way to reshape our lives and join the world of the living again.

Not immediately, but eventually. It takes a lot of effort. It comes with learning how to cope with and manage our grief. And with finding a meaning, a purpose.

The point is: All this is not easy, especially on holidays, but it's possible. In my experience, it's a mixture of reflection, learning from others, trial and error, determination, finding our inner strength, and even done to honor our beloveds who certainly want us to feel better.

So as for today, for me, am taking it easy. I will grill a nice salmon filet and fresh zucchini on the patio, and think of how my dear Baheej loved a good barbecue. And I'll think of how my dad grilled steaks and burgers and chicken for all of us every Fourth of July growing up in Minnesota.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog

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