'Uninvited' grief arrives on different days, in different ways

  • A nice walk out in nature, maybe coming across a mother goose and her goslings, can lift your spirits on a sad day.

    A nice walk out in nature, maybe coming across a mother goose and her goslings, can lift your spirits on a sad day. Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted6/26/2021 7:00 AM

One day my sister Mary and I were talking about how fickle and unpredictable grief is. Then we started discussing how grief and sadness can seemingly just pop up from nowhere, no reason. Not every day, but some days, here and there.

And she said, "Different days, different ways." It's something she has learned about grief from her own experience. She lost her husband many years ago, and we lost our parents and brothers. She repeated that phrase and I realized she's right. It's another dimension of grief that is worth remembering.


Some days grief doesn't come around in the same way it does other days. But when it happens, we should not be surprised. Being prepared and understanding what's going on are tools of self-protection, which we all need.

After my father died, Mom didn't talk much about his death or her grief. As with most people, she probably didn't want to make any of us feel uncomfortable. But once in a while, Mom would say, "I'm having a bit of a bad day today."

Now we know she was sad, having a sad day. She just needed some time alone to feel better -- or needed some silent company. I wish I knew then what I understand now. I could have been more helpful.

But my guess is this happens to most of us -- a bad day. It certainly does to me. I really don't believe in good or bad days, but it's shorthand for unpredictable grief that just appears. It's usually just below the surface of the psyche, in there somewhere.

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As I've discussed before, often there are actually triggers -- sounds, smells, places, dates, music or events -- that stir up feelings of grief and sadness. Now that I think of it, sometimes grief just arrives out of the blue, out of nowhere. It's just a feeling of sadness that comes over a person. Self-knowledge is valuable. If "a bad day" comes around, hopefully we can recognize it for what it is, and know it will pass.

This reminds me of what my friend Pat told me some years ago. She said, even after many years, grief can surprise you in various settings, even during a gathering of friends; it comes unexpected and "uninvited." This idea of "uninvited" grief stuck in my mind and knowing this helps when it happens to me.

The point is: In grief, not all days are the same -- different days, different ways. It's true. I usually try to find a way to divert my attention or change my mood. A walk in the yard often works for me. Or it could be just be watching a good movie or reading something interesting. I will also call a friend and talk about the day or future plans. We need to cultivate our coping mechanisms. It helps us move along our path.

We need to strive for those "good days." I try because Baheej would expect that of me.

• 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 sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

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