Updated on 04.04.09

Thoughts After Losing a Loved One

Trent Hamm

My maternal grandmother passed away very suddenly this past Thursday. It caught me completely by surprise, in fact – I was working on arrangements for a weekend guest at our home when my father called me with the news.

It shocked me, to say the least. Here are some of the things the last few days have taught me.

The grieving process is different for everyone. After I received the call, I cried a bit. I sat in a daze for a while, thinking about my grandmother. I then threw myself into doing something, calling a few distant relatives, then cleaning out the pantry in order to give my mind and body something simple to work on.

That time gave me what I needed to be emotionally strong for the funeral and the family events before and after.

Other family members dealt with things in different ways: tears, humor, solitude, eating, cooking, cleaning, and so on. Some wanted to talk about Grandma. Some wanted to talk about anything else. Some wanted to talk about nothing at all.

The best thing you can do is take a deep breath and realize that everyone around you is dealing with the same painful thing you are, in their own way. Be there when others want to talk, back off when they don’t want to, and feel fine giving yourself the room you need.

Times like this are what emergency funds are for. Obviously, the news meant our weekend was filled with an unplanned trip to spend a lot of time with people who weren’t expecting us to visit. This meant a lot of unexpected expenses – a long road trip, food, flowers, and so on.

If we were back in our paycheck-to-paycheck days, this would have been a big problem for us. Our budget for the next month would have been seriously hampered by the onslaught of little expenses here. More importantly, it would have added more stress into an already stressful time.

Instead, we didn’t worry about this at all – we just handled it. Our focus was on our family and our grieving process, not on whether or not we could afford to buy several bags of groceries or a 400 mile road trip or a contribution to a floral display for the funeral.

Times like this are when a strong social network comes through. The large social network that my parents have (that I’ve mentioned before) came through time and time again during the days between my grandmother’s passing and the funeral. They provided lots of food, lots of companionship, and help with arrangements as well. They ran errands, made phone calls, got deals on flower arrangements, gave advice on estate issues, and many, many other little things during those painful days.

These people didn’t need to be called or asked to help. They didn’t expect anything in return, either. They were simply willing to do it, no questions asked.

Why did these people simply do this? Why did they just step up out of nowhere when they were needed? They did it because my parents had always done it for them, no questions asked. My parents spend so much of their time helping others, providing advice and food and phone calls and technical assistance and many, many other things to the people around them on a daily basis. If they see someone near them in need, they simply help them instead of worrying about their own needs and free time.

That giving nature was returned to them in spades this week when they needed it – and they always have that helping hand when they find themselves in any difficult situation.

Rarely have I seen such a clear example of why it’s incredibly valuable to give freely of yourself.

Letting go of the bad memories is vital. When people pass away, there is a window of opportunity there to let lots of little things be bygones and let petty bad memories take a back seat, at least for a little while.

It can be painful to see some people at such a time, but there is no better time to embrace those people and begin the process of rebuilding a broken relationship.

I was able to watch this very thing happen a few times over the last week – and I truly hope that the end of my grandmother’s life will be able to plant the seeds of a few rebuilt relationships.

Perhaps, in some ways, this is my grandmother’s final gift to all of us.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. viola says:

    I’m sorry for your family’s loss Trent.

    Even though people don’t want to think about loved ones departing, tt’s better to plan for these types of life events rather than scramble during a tough emotional time.

  2. Brenda W. says:

    Trent, my sympathies to you and your family.

    And as usual, you have written a most discerning and insightful post. Your point about people grieving differently is so important to keep in mind. And your point about letting go of the bad memories is probably the most crucial. Hanging on to such memories and replaying them (verbally or mentally) is going to hurt you the most.

  3. Baker @ Man Vs. Debt says:

    Best regards to your family.

    Thank you for sharing this reflection with us. It’s nice to read this now, so that I can possibly pull some wisdom from it when I’m inevitably in your shoes in the future.

  4. Dave Campbell says:


    I’m sorry to hear about your family’s loss. I’m glad to hear your parents’ network was there to help out.

  5. paula d. says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss Trent. Dealing with the passing of a loved one never is easy. My brother passed away in November after a short illness and it was so true, that each person deals with grief differently.

    I also agree, now is the time when relationships can be rebuilt. Having a loved one pass makes you realize how short life really is.

  6. I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Trent. I lost my grandfather unexpectedly last year.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts during this time.

  7. Chris says:

    My condolences Trent. Loss is never easy. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Chrissy says:

    Sorry for your loss.

  9. Jennifer says:

    It is so odd how these things happen. I opened your blog today and thought…wow. I got a phone call last night that my brother had been killed. I have sat numbly, with very few tears, for the last 12 hours. I came into work to wrap some things up and got sucked into reading blogs to escape my own thoughts. Thank you for pointing out that it is OK to react in your own way. Peace be with you and yours.

  10. Kelly says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss. I too lost my Grandma recently but was involved in her day to day care for the past few years.

    The only thing I would add is to beware of emotional spending. It’s easy to want to get out of the house, away from the pain and do something completely mindless which for many people means shopping.

  11. Mahoji says:

    I am deeply sorry for your family’s loss.

    It’s very nice of you to still share your thoughts during unexpected time like this. It equipped us with the perfect wisdom and point-of-view just in case we run into the same situation in the future.

    Still I silently expect you can share some thoughts on how you would be financially prepared for this kind of emergency if you were on your parents shoes.

  12. Sorry for your loss Trent. Best thoughts and prayers to your family through this time.

  13. Anne KD says:

    Very sorry for your family’s loss, Trent. You’re absolutely right that people handle sad events like this in different manners. Your family is lucky to have such a network of friends to help you all out. Best wishes for your family.

  14. Carolyn says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with your family, Trent. I am so sorry for your loss.

    I recently experienced the first true use of my emergency fund when my best friend’s sister passed away unexpectedly. I was able to fly out to San Francisco in less than 24 hours, rent a car for the week, and be there to support my friend without worrying too much about the cost of it all. It was such a blessing at a really tough time!

  15. Lisa says:

    My sorrow for your loss.

  16. Sorry for your loss. It’s a shame that most families reunite only at weddings and funerals. I liked your comment about rebuilding broken relationships. Time to give my cousins a call.

  17. Wendybird74 says:

    You and your loved ones have my deepest sympathy.

    It is very touching that you can see how such a sad occasion can be a way for your loved ones to repair bonds.

    Strange how such a sad occasion can bring together and ultimately heal families who have been apart for too long.

  18. Donna says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, Trent. Your family is in my prayers.

  19. sorry for your loss Trent!


  20. Erika says:

    I’m sorry about your loss. My grandmother was very special to me also.

  21. liv says:

    I’m sorry for your loss.

  22. Kate says:

    My condolences to you and your family. Grieving is indeed different for everyone and to accept that it different makes it much easier for everyone. My best to you and your family in the months ahead.

  23. Jenny says:

    Trent, I’m so sorry for your loss. This post couldn’t be more timely, since my maternal grandmother also passed away very suddenly this past Friday. I still can’t believe it. One of the things we’re finding out now is how much debt she had. Her estate should take care of it, since she had the money; she just didn’t pay off her bills for some reason. But the worst part, however, is just not having her around any more to confide in and have fun with.

  24. MrzFitz says:

    Nice article, thank you for sharing. Your writing is always so refreshingly real, nothing seems off topic. …And everything relates to just being the best person you can be, taking care of those you love and learning and growing always.

    I hope you have many many happy memories of your grandmother and I am so sorry for your loss.

  25. Brittney says:

    You seem so practical and still acknowledge your emotions; that’s a great combination! May you always remember the good times…

  26. I am so sorry for your loss. Your point about financial preparation for emergencies is wonderful — as is the message of the great growth that can happen after we lose a loved one.

    On a somewhat related tangent, I had a bad dream the other night about losing my husband (it was only a dream!). But it raised the question in my mind about whether we have enough life insurance to allow us to really grieve and get through the transition should the unimaginable happen. Have you written recently about how much life insurance families *really* need? I would love to read it.

  27. !wanda says:

    My condolences to you, Trent. This must be a very trying time for you.

    My grandmother died a few years ago. My mom was frantic for a long time afterwards- arranging memorial services in two countries and handling estate issues overseas. We have no close blood family left in that country, and it was impossible to do things by phone. My mom had enough savings to fly across the world on two week’s notice and stay there for a month to handle things. Even more fortunately, she had very good friends who were willing to drop what they were doing, drive her around, and help her with bureaucracy. She is very good at husbanding both kinds of capital- money capital and human capital- and it really paid off when she needed it most.

  28. Quatrefoil says:

    My sympathy in your time of grief. Take heart that those we have loved are with us always as long as we remember them.

  29. Denise says:

    I am so very sorry for your and your family’s loss. In time, I am sure you will remember all of the gifts that your grandmother gave you and how she influenced your and your family’s life.

  30. Michelle says:

    My sympathy for your loss – what a heartfelt posting. Thank you!

  31. Sorry for your loss.

    Thanks for sharing how you are coping . . .

  32. Georgia says:

    My prayers are with you. I can understand fully. In 2007 I lost a brother-in-law, a brother, and a husband. It was a bad year but, as you say, there was a network to help me keep going. I also live in a small town in MO and was inundated with help. In fact, a local businessman keeps an extra refrigerator at his appliance business just for times like this. We got so much food that it took 2 refrigerators and still needed more. It took one more worry off my shoulders. Friends and family are even more important in our times of loss. God be with you and your family.

  33. Elizabeth says:

    My thoughts go out to you and your family in your grief. May you all find peace in time. I know what it means to have such a strong network to help you out. My grandfather passed away last September, and my husband was amazed by how many friends and family pulled together to help and be together again.

  34. Thinking of you and your family in your time of loss. You are so right, an emergency fund or cushion means you can concentrate on what is immediately important your family, rather than the bills due next month.

  35. KellyD says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thoughts and prayers are with you.

  36. Bavaria says:

    Thank you for the wisdom. It sounds like your grandmother was a ‘treasure’ in your life – a lovely thing for you and your family.

  37. Su says:

    Trent –
    I’ve been reading you column by email for about 1 1/2 years now, and wanted to say thanks for the great information.

    I’m truly sorry for the loss to yourself and your family. Thank you for giving us real life examples and sharing your personal events with us.


  38. tiphaine says:

    Sorry for your loss.
    I’m sure indeed it was her gift for your family to put people on the way to reconciliation.
    I hope you find some confort in Easter celebrations… I think what we call eternal life should be really eternal, as in with no beginning, as well as no end.
    We are already in eternity by choosing to show love around us, and you are most certainly doing so. :)
    Prayers for you

  39. Nikki W says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you. I too lost my maternal grandmother (just as I was preparing to fly out 3 weeks later for her big birthday). It was a loss to me, but a joy for her as she went to heaven. I understood the depth of her friendships – and those of my parents – as I watched the support network you describe. So many wonderful lessons to learn. Thank you for opening your heart and transparently sharing your life with us.

  40. Karen says:

    I can empathize completely. I got the phone call last Monday that my own paternal grandmother was failing, so I hopped in the car, grabbed my daughter, informed my husband, and headed to Marshalltown. All of my siblings spent time with Grandma before she passed early Wednesday morning. It drew us together and we made it through a tough time.

    I want to thank you, because if I had not found this site and started my own emergency fund (which we did not have to use, but was nice to know was there), this last week would have been much more stressful. Thank you.

    Furthermore, because of my grandmother’s love of life and everyone in it, there was a huge turnout for her visitation and funeral. Considering she was 99 years old, and over 100 people were in attendance for each, it was obvious that she was loved by many.

    Thanks for your blog and all you share with us.

  41. bay says:

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. God bless.

  42. Ilah says:

    I was sorry to hear of your loss.

    It is wonderful when people bring food, etc. just one less thing to think about when your house is full of guests.

    One idead I learned when my beautiful neice died–some people brought toilet paper, paper plates etc, necesssities such as eggs, milk, bread. I never would have thought about bringing things like paper products, but it is something you run out of with a house full of people and saved us a run into town for supplies.

  43. morgan says:

    Trent ,
    I am very sorry for your loss.
    I hope you have many many happy memories of your grandmother.
    Morgan ( from Brasil)

    P.S: meditate about the mistery of death reading Death Be Not Proud. You’ll like it

  44. Nancy says:

    Trent, So sorry to hear about your grandmother’s death. I lost my mother two years ago and remember how sad it was for my children and our whole family. There is never a good time to lose your mother. I trust in God’s will, don’t understand it always, but trust nontheless.

  45. Bobby says:

    You and your family will be in my prayers during this time.

  46. Nicole says:

    I am just catching up on blog reading and I’m sorry you are getting this comment so late.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. My very deepest sympathies.

Leave a Reply

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