Coping with Cumulative Grief and Multiple Losses

Two weeks ago I wrote about my own grief and loss journey.  In that post I wrote that I had been given a “revelation” that many of the emotions I had been feeling while posting about grief and loss were actually a form of intense grief and loss which had been repressed or unresolved.  This is known as cumulative grief, or grief overload.  This intense form of grief occurs when a person has had multiple losses over a short period of time.  Due to the fact that one loss occurs right after another, the person experiences “grief overload” and does not have time to deal thoroughly with each loss separately, in order to experience healing from each individual loss.  As the losses add up, the person can become overwhelmed and the person’s physical and emotional well-being may suffer, having never fully dealt with each loss.

Since my “revelation” regarding cumulative grief, I have been doing some reading and research on the subject.  I’ve also learned that some of my friends and readers are walking through this type of grief as well.  Let me remind you that a loss does not always refer to a death, but can be any type of loss which is significant to that person, as in the loss of one’s home, the loss of health, and so forth.

There were many writings on this type of grief, but today I will combine what I learned from two very good articles.  The first article is titled “Bereavement Overload — Coping with Multiple Losses”, written by Lou LaGrand, a grief counselor.  The second article is a blog post from What’sYourGrief.com titled “Cumulative Grief aka grief overload aka ‘holy crap I can’t handle all this loss’!!”, written by Litsa Williams.  I will try to summarize these articles in one writing, as most of the articles I read basically discussed similar issues and similar means of coping with cumulative grief.

  • Awareness that multiple losses in a short period of time may complicate the grief process is half the battle. Typically the intensity of grief will be stronger and the process of grieving will likely be prolonged.  This is normal for cumulative grief.
  • Each loss must eventually be grieved individually. Recognize that this process will take longer because the mourner must deal with and find healing in each loss.  Be patient with yourself if you are suffering multiple losses, and also realize that each loss will be grieved differently and in its own unique way.  Attempt to separate the losses; prioritize where to begin coping and start with one at a time.
  • Realize that although each loss must be dealt with individually and some days will feel overwhelming, it can be done. Feeling overwhelmed is normal, so be easy on yourself.  Remind yourself that you can and will get through this journey of grief.
  • Now more than ever, self-care is extremely important. As you deal with each loss, remember to eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise, pray and/or meditate, surround yourself with supportive people who will understand what you are dealing with, and of course seek professional help when needed.  Make every attempt to keep self-talk positive.  Treat yourself as you would another who is walking through the process of grieving multiple losses.
  • Multiple losses can put a strain on our faith. Recognize this as normal, but also realize that you are not being punished or singled out.  Make every attempt to hold on to your faith, and often you will find that your faith strengthens you as you walk through this journey.
  • Be aware of the possibility of an increased avoidance or denial in cumulative grief. This may increase the risk of alcohol or substance abuse to numb the pain.  Seek professional help from your doctor or from a therapist, should you find this is occurring.
  • Reach out for help when grieving multiple losses — surround yourself with supportive friends, join a support group, speak with your pastor, speak with your physician or a therapist.

 

Essentially, coping with and dealing with cumulative grief, or multiple losses, utilizes the same coping methods as in coping with a single loss.  Just remember that each loss is handled individually; the grief is likely to be more intense; and the healing process will take longer.

For myself, the mountain seems high and wide right now.  But the mountain will become smaller as I take the steps to climb slowly, one day at a time, with God holding my hand.  It is not an impossible feat because I do not walk this journey alone.  I thank you, my friends and readers, for your support!  Please remember I am here to support you in your journey as well.

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Comments

  1. Julieann Longaker says:

    Thank you so much it helps a lot to know what I’m going through has a name after becoming disabled and having a mom dying of Alzheimer’s within the same period of time and just losing her three months ago I felt like for the first time I could not deal. I’m doing OK as long as I do what I feel I can call placed in a day one day at a time. The most important thing is that I’m allowed this time.

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Julianne, I will send an email today.
      I’d like to set up a time for us to talk. The consultation is a complimentary offer right now.

      Kathleen (Kathy) McCormick

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Hi Julieann, I sent an email to you so be sure to check your Spam box also as it might end up there.

      Kathy

  2. Hi Kathy, I found your site tonite while I am feeling devastated. My lovely husband died 3 years ago after a short fight with cancer at the age of 58, we were happily married and working in Christian ministry in our community for 32 of our 34 years married. Then 2 months later mum mum also died unexpectedly. I have tried to hold it together, but am finding it harder and harder to cope with the thoughts of gods rejection….. I know I shouldn’t, but that’s where I am at. I dont feel like I can talk about this with my friends as they are all trying so hard to care for me. My kids too, 2 boys, one 27 and one 25. Not sure how to fix myself….

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Glenda, I will send you an email today.
      I would like to set up a time for us to talk. This is a complimentary consultation I offer.

      Kathleen (Kathy) McCormick

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Hi Glenda, I sent an email to you so be sure to check your Spam box also as it might end up there.

      Kathy

  3. Lori Calabrese says:

    In a nutshell, 2009-2015: Divorced, retired from the military, started a business, favorite brother died unexpectedly, step dad died after long illness, mom died; lost house, had to give up pets, moved twice, estranged from two remaining brothers, complete financial loss. Still struggling greatly but have been able to keep my business afloat and pay off some debt. Most days I get by, some days are consumed with feelings of loss.

  4. Diana Ballew says:

    In the last 5 years I’ve experienced one loss after another. Things like betrayal of my husband (sex addiction); after long treatment, behavior continued; subsequent divorce of 22 years, loss of my home, loss of assets; cancer illness and death of my beloved sister; loss of identity as her caregiver; death of one of my best friends, (Lenore); deaths of 2 pets; hurt feelings with my mother and brother; grown kids moved out of town; grand-kids put at risk and imperiled (so scary); granddaughter was “cutting;” discovering my beloved daughter is addicted, loss of relationship for reacting to addictive behavior while trying to protect my grandkids; learning that my sweet innocent grandson was probably molested by my ex-husband. Grandson now lives with his Dad, out of town. Now, since my out of town kids are selling the house I’m living in, I need to hugely downsize my belongings and move. I am feeling so overwhelmed and grieved that I’m nearly paralyzed. I am a Christian appealing to God, “This life is hard.”

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Diana, I’m so sorry for all of the losses! I will be sending you an email in reply to your comment. Please be sure to check you spam box since I’m not on your contacts list. My email is kathleensd54@gmail.com

  5. Mike L. says:

    I am a 55 year old Male. I’ve lost my Mom on September 15, 2016 to a stroke, then my dog died from heartbreak of losing my Mom on Oct.11th. I watched her collapse right in front of me. Then my Dad died from sepsis infection on Dec. 18th losing a battle with heart failure and pneumonia – I watched over him suffering greatly, and finally, I found my 59 year old brother dead on the floor in our home from a brain hemorrhage on Feb. 23, 2107. In between all of this, I lost a close uncle as well on Dec. 9th. I cannot get these lurid images out of my head as they keep playing over and over like a broken record. I am overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions, sometimes having anxiety attacks and emotional breakdowns. I feel deep sadness, guilt, anger, self-pity, numbness, but mostly loneliness as I realized there is no one left on this planet that loves me unconditionally.

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Mike, I am so sorry for what you have been through and for what you’re still walking through. I will send you an email in reply to what you’ve written. My email is kathleensd54@gmail.com so please look for that and also check your spam box for my email.

  6. im 23 . i was adopted .i always had issues with this growing up. in 2015 i gave my son up for adoption to my sister who longed for a child but is unable too. i kept to my word. Baby had a few complications with his heart which led me to be in hospital 7hours away from home i felt alone. so i had the baby did my bit but felt completely alone. i switched off . i was judged for giving him up i would have been judged for letting my sister down i was so broken i drunk i broke windows i felt uterly dead i hated myself i was sore for months after having him my body was ready for a baby ..2. months went by and my dad dies i carried him from the bedroom to the lounge unresponsive i use to carr for dad n be at his needs as im young n fit n its to much for my mum sometimes . i was so wrapped up n drinking n doing drugs to hide my mind! my shame i forgot about dad i only cared for me i felt a huge saddness in me i started messing up everywhere with family with my self i to this day still feel this way i feel so pathetic

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      I am writing with you privately, Izly. Thank you for reaching out and I’m so sorry what you have gone through.

  7. My 36 year old son passed away, My sister passed one month later, my relationship of 10 years ended (he is too busy working to “deal” with my neediness! OMG– and my living son is marrying a narcissist who has convinced him to sever his relationship with me. They are 26 years old. I have a wonderful job of 37 years, loving and kind friends, lots of awesome relationships. However, loosing the most important people in my life is very sad. I see two therapists, jog everyday (new), eat well and am trying so hard. I want my life to be a blessing but it is so hard to keep a happy disposition. I feel dread in my heart and believe I have anxiety (butterflies in my stomach).

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Barb, I am so sorry to hear of all the losses you are grieving. It sounds like you are practicing good self-care, plus seeing therapists who can walk you through these tough times. If I can help in any way, please let me know.

  8. Eve Kurpiers says:

    I just turned 50. Find myself an Only Child Adult Orphan. My mother was sick all of my existence, dying from cancer in 2003. Then in 2014 I lost my dad to cancer. Lost my job cuz I worked for my dad. Then lost my best friend at work, then close friend from liver failure in 2015. Moved from 2 houses, then lost my cat 2 weeks ago. My extended family has no clue about my losses and diminishes my sense of worth. I have suffered from anxiety, depression and OCD my whole life.
    I’ve became extremely introverted and avoidant. I’m on medication but it basically numbs me so I don’t run around yelling.

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      Eve, You’ve had many losses to have to walk through and I am so sorry for that. I’m also sorry that your extended family does not appear to be giving you much emotional support during these times. I am glad you are seeing a doctor who recognizes that there are issues surrounding all of your losses. I will write to you privately at the email address you have given, so be on the lookout for an email from me. Kathy

  9. Thank you for this article. I have had several cumulative loses (my mom, her younger brother and her mother within a year; my best friend, my brother and my dog within two years; three friends within in four months; and now a dear friend and my biological father within days – all of these since 2001, and all while I have been too young to have any of this happen). I don’t think I’ve grieved any of them properly, because I haven’t had the time nor the energy, and this helped me to realize I need to.

    • Kathleen McCormick says:

      KG, that is so much loss to deal with in a short amount of time. I’m so sorry for all the loss! I understand not having the energy or time to deal with these losses, and I’m glad this article has helped you to realize that each loss must be grieved in order to receive healing. I will write to you at the email address you provided, so be sure to check your inbox & spam box for an email. Kathy

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