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That Helpless Feeling

That Helpless Feeling

An earthquake brought home with a bang just how helpless we are when the forces of nature are visited upon us. Hurricanes, blizzards, floods … all forces over which man can rarely exert control. Perhaps control consists of running away from an approaching storm, but actually controlling an outburst of nature …. not much can be done.

While you may never have considered it, grief is one of the natural phenomena over which most people have no control. There seem to be some people who with great strength of will manage to override emotions.

Whether this is to their long-term advantage is questionable. In the beginning, it may portray what the public would prefer to think of as the way to deal with grief, but quite possibly in the long-run prove to be the opposite of healthy grieving.

Some people have absolutely no control over whether or not they will throw themselves full tilt into their grieving … I was one of those. Once the shock wore off, I was entirely consumed by grief… I didn’t recognize myself in any way. I, who had been a relatively sane and collected person, became a frightening, raging, screaming stranger to myself.

Scared to the bone of what I had become, I had visions of being dragged off to a mental institution. Several years after the death of my father, my mother had just such an experience. Apparently the death had opened her to underlying schizophrenia from which she suffered the rest of her life.

For months, my aim in life was to try to hide from everyone the possibility that I was quite mad. When Bill died (in the ‘70s), there were no books … and I think that to this day, books don’t adequately describe the loss of control the grieving experience can cause … it’s very frightening. In my opinion, that’s why it’s so necessary to talk to someone who has lived through grief, they know things that can’t be learned from books.

What put me back together, eventually, was the [WICS] group. We were eight very frightened people, who, looking at each other, realized we were experiencing the same sorts of madness. If that was true, perhaps it was normal … the relief when we realized the truth was enormous and freeing. We were free to be as crazy as we seemed to be, because, if nothing else, we had company … other folks who understood what was happening.

A willingness to abandon oneself to total grieving takes courage. It takes courage as well, to look for help during such a vulnerable time. I think it’s a natural thing to want to hide behind a “good face”, to be as calm as possible for the sake of those who look at us during this time. However, it’s difficult to keep up the ‘front’, sometimes it’s just impossible for most of us.

The other kinds of natural disasters usually allow us to be open about our fears. We’ve all seen pictures of people running from disaster with fear and horror on their faces. We’ve all under-stood how that was possible. It’s too bad that most of the uninitiated public can’t give grieving people the same understanding and permission to be fearful and cry when their lives have been shattered by a death.

Well, did it all get tied together, or have I failed? I never know just how successful these pieces are. Perhaps if it makes enough sense, you will be able to show it to someone who needs to know how natural your grieving is … regardless of their opinion.

Doesn’t it drive you nuts when someone who hasn’t had the same experience believes they know best how you should react? What nerve!

Well, enough of this … take it as permission to feel your feelings and realize that when life is totally changed by a death it’s reasonable to be emotionally distraught for a period of time … a period that lasts much longer than we would believe.

Hang in there, the craziness will taper down and not be so frightening … with luck within the first year. But, remember, we’re all different, so there’s no timetable for anything … not even sanity!


By: Dorothy Hanley


  1. The saddest place I have ever been left alone without my spouse at my side…I miss him deeply…

    • Please try to join one of our support group meetings. We are all in this together.


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