As I write this, it’s April 20, 2022. It’s been a little over six months since my mom died and a bit over a month since we lost our beloved dog, Dagny. This past year hasn’t been easy and the past six months have been the most challenging of my entire life. I want to continue the grief conversation today and talk about the side effects of grief.
After sharing how I was feeling after my mom died, many of you encouraged me to keep writing about grief as time goes on, so that’s what I’m doing here. I think it’s worthwhile to talk about the hard stuff too, including these five surprising side effects of grief I didn’t expect.
5 Surprising side effects of grief I didn’t expect
I had planned to write a blog post with an update at the 6-month mark of my mom’s death on April 4. Writing has always been cathartic for me. But unfortunately, with Dagny passing away on March 5, it’s just too soon to write any type of grief update.
I’m not out of the fog and am by no means on the other side of this. It actually feels heavier than it did. And despite being fully functional, I’m also fully sad. I’m not “better” in any sense of the word. I replay so much of the past six months in my head.
UPDATE: It’s been 1 year since my mom died.
Anyway, I want to share this with you because it’s my reality now and I want to be real with you. Grief is now part of my story, part of me, so neglecting it here on my blog wouldn’t feel right. I hope that by sharing, it might help you in some way. Maybe you’re a highly sensitive person, too, working through grief. Please know you aren’t alone.
I know it’ll be a release for me to write this post on side effects of grief including physical ones I didn’t expect, so with that…. let’s go.
1. Anticipatory grief can be just as excruciating as regular grief.
In my mom’s case, things started going downhill over the summer and we knew she wouldn’t make it out of this cancer recurrence. The good thing is, even up until pretty much the day before she passed away, she didn’t realize she wouldn’t make it. Knowing you’re going to lose someone you love — the anticipatory grief — is just as difficult as the grief process after the actual loss. I sat with that for years knowing what was going to happen. It was always hanging over my head.
Not even a week after my mom died when I was still in the U.S., Tom hesitantly delivered the news that Dagny had a cardiac emergency and had gone into heart failure. It hit me like a brick. We knew it was coming, but I’d hoped I’d have more space between that and losing my mom. I was in public at the time and broke down in the middle of a shopping mall. Caring for Dagny consumed us in her final months and the grief for my mom had to wait, so I put it on a shelf to be dealt with later.
The holidays were especially hard this year. My mom’s birthday was December 23, mine was December 31, and smack in between was Christmas. It was the first holiday season without my mom and we knew it would be the last one with Dagny.
As her heart got weaker and weaker, Tom and I were filled with dread knowing we were going to lose her and it killed us seeing her struggle. There were several emergency calls to our amazing vet’s cell phone at midnight. It’s actually bringing me to tears as I write this to think about how kind her veterinary team was over the years and especially at the end.
Anyway, we knew Dagny wouldn’t pull through because that’s not how MVD goes. Living with anticipatory grief once again was the hardest five months of my life. Navigating it so soon after the death of my mom is something I wouldn’t even wish on my worst enemy.
I don’t want to dwell on the details because I replay everything in my mind more than enough for all of us, but Dagny was like our child and such a comfort to me after my mom died. Dagny was by my side ever since I moved to France and the loss hits so deep. The hole in my heart after my mom died has become a crater and words can’t even express what the loss feels like.
That said, at the time to lose my mom and to have my dog go into heart failure a few days later felt like really bad timing… a cruel joke even. I was so angry. And sad.
But after a few months when we knew Dagny’s time was really running out, I reframed the whole situation. I realized that Dagny’s heart failure timing was a gift. Her little body held on as long as it could before heart failure and I an so grateful I was able to visit my mom in her final months.
I rested easier knowing Dagny was OK and with my in-laws (and being treated like a queen, might I add). Her condition didn’t worsen until right after my mom died, as I was preparing to leave the US and go back home to France.
I don’t know what I would have done if Dagny had gone into heart failure over the summer instead as my mom was on her deathbed. It would have ben an excruciating decision to leave her in France, knowing her heart wouldn’t hold on for long, to go be with my family. A real lose-lose situation.
So that’s all to say despite the emotional rollercoaster of it all, I’m grateful things worked out the way they did in terms of timing if both loved ones had to die in the end. The timing was actually a gift even though I didn’t see it that way at first.
2. Cumulative grief is no joke.
If you’ve been following me here and on YouTube, you may have pieced together that it’s not just my mom and Dagny’s deaths that have turned my world upside down. My family has been dealing with my mom’s cancer for several years and Dagny’s health hadn’t been great either. Since the pandemic started, two other loved ones have passed away. So it’s been…. a lot.
I’m not letting any of this define me, but when you have one thing after the other, the effects of cumulative grief catch up with you. It can feel like a literal punch to the gut. The body keeps score, which leads me to….
3. The physical side effects of grief.
This is the most unexpected, SHOCKING (yes, I’m putting that in caps because I was blindsided) part of grief. Long story short, after my mom passed away, I had some physical symptoms of grief that you’d expect. I was ready for those. You know the ones. You feel tired. You don’t have much energy. Maybe you feel sick to your stomach, have trouble sleeping, crazy emotional, you know, the normal stuff.
While I still worked out regularly, I noticed I was maybe doing 70-80% of what I physically felt capable of in terms of being able to push myself in the weeks after losing my mom. Normal. Expected.
In the immediate aftermath, my dad and I were even catching ourselves doing silly absentminded things like driving past the supermarket by accident, putting our pants on backwards, and even driving through a red light. Our minds were elsewhere. The cognitive issues were real.
But the physical side effects of grief that I just mentioned were child’s play compared to what hit me after Dagny passed on. I felt like the other shoe had dropped and everything hit me then. In addition to everything I mentioned, the biggest physical symptom I experienced, which actually scared me, was that my heart rate when working out was MUCH higher than normal.
I’ve been working out with a heart rate monitor since college so I know my heart rate zones and where I should be in terms of numbers for various effort levels. Thirty seconds into a simple strength warmup where I’d touch my toes and do knee lifts, my heart rate would be up 30-40 beats/minute higher than usual, a number that would take me at least until a few minutes after the warmup to achieve. And I was tired at that point. Tired, as in using all my willpower to get through an easy 20-minute workout.
My capacity to push myself was about 50% of what it normally was. Maybe less. So I listened to my body and scaled back.
That went on for weeks. My VO2 max was noticeably down too. Heart rate was wayyyyy too high for my effort levels. I experienced such an emotional shock with this cumulative grief that of course my body compensated for the punch to the nervous system. I thought I broke my heart and was scared I’d never be able to work out the way I did. Exercise has been my saving grace over the years so I was seriously worried I’d lose that too.
We planned on contacting a cardiologist to check things out (better safe than sorry, you know, even if doctors can be rude as hell) if things didn’t improve in another week. Luckily, my heart rate while exercising got back to normal after a month or so. I probably feel I’m at about a 90% level in terms of what I know I can physically do. I’m relieved to say the least because that was crazy stressful.
4. People act weird.
This includes people I’ve never met who have left rude, tone-deaf, and even cruel comments on YouTube after I’ve opened up. It also includes people I know in real life. People who knew my mom too who have said zip. Zilch.
The category that hurts the most is people I considered friends who have pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. I’m talking about people who knew my mom and Dagny were sick, who I’d speak to regularly, at least a couple of times a month (not people I barely talk to). They knew about the losses, but beyond a quick message or text expressing their condolences, I haven’t heard from them again.
It’s been six months since I lost my mom. I’m not a Debbie Downer, am not going to cry on you, and would love to hear about your life. Anything to distract me is great. It’s like they don’t know grief isn’t contagious. For the record, I reached out several times too (not a one sided thing) to let them know it’s OK to be in touch and the replies never came.
Anyway, the past six months have shown me who is worth my time and who isn’t. There are people you’re friendly with and people you’re friends with and this whole experience has made that distinction clear. It’s hard, though, to learn that people you considered friends really aren’t. They’d disappear or at least become really distant at at time when you need them the most. Anyone can send a 5-second text from the toilet or before they go to bed. Even a small effort counts for a lot.
It’s also taught me a lesson on how I’ll interact with people in the future when they go through a loss. I know what feels good on the receiving end and what doesn’t.
5. People can be SO kind.
I want to end this on a positive note and balance out #4. Despite it all, I still try to find the silver lining. You can count on me for that. 😉
Between so many heartfelt messages from my readers and YouTube subscribers to even a woman I know on Instagram (yet haven’t met in person) who bought an actual star and named it after Dagny — with coordinates in the sky, a certificate and everything — I can’t stress enough what all of that has meant to me.
No, kind words and thoughts can’t bring our loved ones back but they have made me feel less alone, have softened the blow, and made me feel supported. That has meant everything to me and contiunes to count for SO MUCH.
Finally, I want to re-recommend Megan Devine’s book “It’s OK That You’re Not OK.” It’s been a lifesaver and there’s so much to identify with in pretty much every chapter. She lost her husband in a tragic accident and understands grief better than any author I’ve ever read. Her words really resonated with me and her podcast called Refuge in Grief is fab too. If you’ve lost someone recently (or are anticipating it) or someone you know has, I really cannot recommend her book enough. It’s extremely validating in so many ways and will put into words what you just quite can’t wrap your mind around yet.
I will get through this. I know that…. even if right now mentally/emotionally I’m nowhere near that point yet and the physical side effects of grief are still hitting me hard. One day at a time. Resilience is a beautiful thing and I look forward to carrying the grief well and making it out of the fog…. until then, be well. Thank you, as always, for being here, and especially for reading this one.
P.S. Staying active on the blog and YouTube has really helped me, so if you haven’t checked out my videos in a while, I’d love it if you’d give ’em a look!
P.P.S. My favorite workout apps are Peloton and Les Mills+ (formerly Les Mills On Demand). Both have been immensely helpful to me in working through my grief. I did a full review of Les Mills+ here and you can get a free 30-day trial here.
P.P.P.S. Did you know I’m making a diamond from my mom’s ashes?
PIN my physical side effects of grief post:
Loss and grief are such personal, intense, emotional journeys and we need our support systems. I know exactly what you mean about fair-weather friends (never mind the mean, casually cruel comments from strangers on the internet!), and being sucker punched by their lack of empathy and outreach.
And I completely understand the anticipatory and regular grief for a pet and/or a person battling an illness. In our instance, it was our cat, who was 19 years old when he passed. He was my cat first – I was 21 when I rescued him. He stayed up with me while I studied for my graduate school exams, he listened to every post-date analysis, he waited for me to come home from work, he watched scary movies with me, he snuggled in my hair at night, and he moved into my (future) husband’s apartment before I did! He decided that my husband (who doted on him!) was good people, so I knew husband was a keeper!
He was a “people” cat, super friendly, talkative, affectionate, and he put up with me squeezing the bejeezus out of him, because he was so damn cute. He loved shrimp and marshmallows. He disliked loud noises and catnip. He would get mad if we vacationed for too long, so he’d tear up my parents house, shredding their paper towels and toilet paper. Then he’d throw up in my shoes as soon as we brought him back to our house, and wait for me find out – when I went to put my foot in my shoe! He be WAY MAD! He’d sit at the bathtub with me, he’d favor my husband with cuddles if I didn’t feed him fast enough, he’d drop toys at our feet, imploring us to play hide and seek with him, and he bore the weight of his progressive kidney disease without complaint.
My anticipatory grief with him dragged on for 2 years, and 3 years after his death, I still miss him. I remember that I couldn’t face putting him to sleep, and I was stalling. I asked him to hang on for an extra day, because I scheduled an at-home vet to come and give him the medication. He hung in that extra day for me, but it was an effort for him. Even as I worried that I was letting him go too soon, I knew that he was so thin and in such pain, and the vet said it was time. He used the litter box for a final time, he took a drink from his water bowl, and he crawled into my arms. I think he knew. He passed in my lap, while I was stroking his head, and it was heartbreaking. My husband and I were in floods of tears for months before and months after.
Now, we’re dealing with elderly parents (both his and mine! timing is awful!) who are progressing with ailments on both sides of the Atlantic, and we don’t know which way to turn. We are in the midst of anticipatory grief for my parents and husband’s parents, and it just sucks. Falls and broken bones (my mother), a new Alzheimer’s diagnosis (husband’s mother), poorly managed diabetes and macular degeneration (husband’s father), and progressive COPD (my father) – we are overwhelmed.
So I feel your pain, I hear you, and just know that I (an anonymous internet stranger, for what it’s worth ) remind you to take your time, be patient, don’t cover yourself in “I should do… I should say…” and give yourself the space and breadth to grieve in your way. There is no right way (or one way) to grieve, and no one can tell you when it’s been long enough. And for those who disappeared during the time when you needed them most? F* them, I say. It may be an age thing for me (I’m in my 40s), but our time is precious and life is short, and I refuse to waste it on people who can’t even meet me halfway. I think of it as shedding emotional weight. Now you have more room (at your pace, at your time, and at your interest) to embrace others who will support, uplift, and positively impact your life. Take time for yourself, lean on those who support you, and keep writing if it helps you…it’s lovely to read your posts and I’m always looking forward to your writings. Big hugs.
Whoa! BRAVO to your letter to Dianne. Your kitty was indeed a LOVE. She may be gone from your site, but she is Alive and with the Lord. Rest assured she IS HAPPY, but misses you Both. To return to Diane, I want to share the Same encouragement. Precious Dagny is with the Lord. And she is NO NO LONGER ILL. She misses you Both, but She Is Happy. I have lost 2 Labradors to illness and. Cancer in the last 7 years. I am Single. I Know the pain from the loss. But knowing both my girls are healthy, at home with the Lord and Waiting for me…brings me Much Joy. They went Back to the One who created them JUST FOR ME.
And we will be together again one day…but in the meantime…I Trust God to care for them. Even though I know HE isnt going to Kiss them on their Big Wet Noses like I always did. And Im ok with that.
I too just recently lost my beloved mom ( March 29th at 10:11 pm. I was with her in the hospital. ) And Yes. The grieving process is tough. I have said that “it feels like smeone turned off my motivation switch, and it feels like I’m moving in slow motion.” Im normally a very Up, Up , active, a mile a minute type of person. So Now I have to re-group my life. I was caring for mom a Long time thru several medical issues. One being Alzheimers. Its a Blessed relief for my mom, and to me too in some ways. I Know she isnt ill anymore.I Know shes with the Lord, I know shes Happy. I Know she is in her Prime…in other words, shes Not 87 years old. I Know we will see one another Again one day…And This Is Good. It will be a transition. Daisy ( my little pittie) and I do miss her, It Very quiet in my home suddenly. I am getting my sleep now, I can do things for myself now ( because I never had time while caring for mom- she was 24/7.) And I can get back to taking care of Yvette now. I could Not before. And one thing Ive returned to doing is Quilting and Applique hand-work. Hobbies are NECESSARY to help reduce Stress. You mention exercising. I used to. be a Runeer for Many years. And I had to quit because Life got in the way. (It takes hours to train for distance runs, marathons. 1/2 marathons.) Something one enjoys doing that occupies oneself is a stress reducer.I need to get back to exercusing in some form, for my contnued health. I can do that now. I extend My deepest sympathy to you and you family at the loss of your mom. Perhaps you can think about fostering a new pet. The presence of a beloved animal is a very good way to feel renewed Hope, continued Love and Reduce stress. Blessings to you and your family as you slowly recover.
Thank you so much, Johanna, for your kind comment. I’m so sorry about your cat but also grateful you understand what it’s like. 19 is amazing! Guinness Book of World Records kind of cat! He sounded like a real sweetheart.
Thank you again for your support and I wish you so much strength with what you’re going through with your parents and in-laws. Really appreciate you taking the time…
Diane, I’m glad you wrote this post, and I hope it helps you even a tiny bit with your grief. Losing two loved ones so close together really sucks! I’m glad the timing worked out, even if it didn’t look that way at the time. I know you’ll get through this, and thanks for sharing your personal journey with grief. We all need any advice and thoughts you can give because we’re all on the same journey. I think that’s why some people drop away instead of being supportive – it’s not like death and grief are catching – but they don’t realize that. I hope your dad and family are coping okay after losing three family members.
Thank you so much, Susan. We’re all doing relatively OK but it’s a long process. I really appreciate your support.
Totally understand your feelings..my story is similar..with 4 people involved.
I just find I’m more emotional than I’ve ever been. But try to move on and be positive
Hoping you feel better soon..
Sending you a gentle hug, Karen. I think we move through and carry the grief with us for life. That’s what I’ve learned. Hoping it gets lighter in time for us both. xx
Diane–I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother and Dagny. I can so relate to much of what you say. Several years ago, my brother died suddenly. He was one of the closest people in my life. What I never would have anticipated, was that in addition to dealing with the loss, I had to deal with the insensitivity of others–even including close friends. Once, I just burst into tears, about 3 months after my brother’s death. My sister-in-law said something like, “Oh, I thought you were over that.” And of course, there were those who said he was in a better place. Love those platitudes. I found that there was no way to side-step the grief. It was in my face all the time for a long time. Gradually, I accommodated my new reality. I wish you comfort and peace. I think what you’re doing here is great, because grief is something that seems to be hidden away in our culture. As if it’s something shameful. It’s not. If we have these difficult conversations, we all benefit.
Hi Jackie, so sorry to hear about your brother. It’s so hard. ;-( The insensitivity of others is so strange, almost laughable at times. My dad and I had a few good laughs over what people have said to us, so at least there was a little levity. Had to make light of it. But in all seriousness, grief is such a universal thing yet so isolating. Thank you again for your kind words.
A gentle hug, Diane.
Merci Barney 😉
Lily Fang says
Sending so much love, Diane! Thank you for being vulnerable and open with us and writing about these experiences.
Much appreciated, Lily. Thank you!
I’m so sorry you’re feeling so much pain. Our dog is close to the end of her life. She and our cat are our children too. They have been through so much with us and were the bright side of life when life was dark. (I had breast cancer.) Now it is our turn to support her and make her days the best we can. I can’t imagine the pain of having my mother going through this too. I hope time brings you relief and happiness.
Thank you Beverly and sending you a virtual hug as you navigate the rest of your dog’s life. It’s so hard.
Francoise Peterson says
I am so sorry about the losses that you experienced ! With time, the pain will lessen a bit, the memories will never go away, and that’s ok, you will be able to deal with those in time and will slowly find peace and happiness again.
Take care of yourself.
I don’t know you but I send you hugs…
Merci beaucoup, Francoise ;-))
Donald Tysor says
I lost my best friend too, he was a beautiful silver gray Weimarianer and he died of old age. I miss him every single day. He traveled across the country with me from coast to coast, and joined me as I started a new career. A few years later my mother went to live in Florida with my sister and her family, and every time I visited she was a little older. She passed away just as I got my dream job, I had worked years to train for, but it just didn’t mean as much not being able to hear her voice on the phone. And I’m still wishing every day the phone would ring and it would be her. Diane you are doing fine, it’s just life. You now have the job of not missing any great moments; a great sunset, a full moon over the ocean on a calm clear night, or a nice beach on a sunny day. Enjoy your life, your writing is helping so many enjoy theirs. I’m sure mother and puppy would want you too. I’d like to leave you with this:
“Life on earth is a test. The good news is that God wants you to pass the test of life.”
You just passed an important part of the test, you have a great purpose, now go out and do it! Things are going to get better.
All the Best to you.
Thank you, Donald. Your pup sounded like a really special guy. It’s crazy how they steal our hearts. I’m sorry to hear about your mom as well. Hoping that with time things will improve.
Nancy Carter says
I understand. Although I didn’t grieve when my parents died (a story for another day), the death of, Midge, my beloved English Cocker, eight months ago (of kidney failure at the age of only 4 1/2) completely flattened me. I am still heartbroken, but at least I’m no longer sobbing in the shower every day.
I highly recommend the book “Goodbye, Friend”, by Gary Kowalski, which I received within just a few days after we lost our silly little girl.
The “silver lining” is that, before Midge’s death, I couldn’t truly empathize when a friend or colleague was grieving. I made all the appropriate gestures, but I didn’t get it not really. I do now. In a strange way, I feel more fully human and more connected to others.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with all of us. Take care…
Hi Nancy, so sorry to hear about Midge. 4.5 is a tragedy. I will look up the book.
Yes, so true what you said about truly empathizing. Once you experience something for yourself, you “get it” and I wish I was still in the blissfully ignorant category.
Thank you for your kind words.
Thank you for your post.
I lost my darling Princess hound, a Great Dane of 13y8m, on 29 Jul. To the day, a month later, my mom of 102y6m passed. The loss of the two most significant women in my life, the two women who were my entire world, a mere month apart, totally and utterly shattered me.
I was the primary care giver to both. They both lived with me. They both passed in my home.
I have moments in the nearly two years since their passing where I feel lighter. When I can embrace life moving on. But mostly I’m simply paralysed.
Grief is such a personal journey. So unique to each who travels its path.
Wishing you light, happiness and much love.
Sharon Crigger-Stokan says
Hi Diane…I really do enjoy your blog. And especially now, for you, writing about your grief is a very healing thing for you to do.
I lost my first husband 34 years ago. We have two fabulous sons. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, even though I have remarried – and to a great guy – (28 yrs ago). In 1996, I started and continue to lead a grief support group for men and women who have lost their spouse. Your point #4 “People Act Weird” – or as I call it, “Where the Heck Did My ‘Friends’ Go” is one of the hardest things to go through and accept as it is one of the most surprising and is an additional loss to our already hurting heart. I hear this from my group participants all the time. It is so sad that it is 100% truth. But we have to remember that until our loss, we very likely did or may have done the same thing, so we need to give them some grace.
Keep writing about your grief whether you include it in your blog or not. Every time. Every. time. you talk about or write about it, healing is taking place. Keep moving forward…I’ll keep praying for you.
Thank you, Sharon. I’m sorry about your loss but so glad you found love again. I appreciate you taking the time to read this one. Also, for the record the “friends” I was referring to just faded away despite me speaking to them pretty much weekly up until my mom passed away (for years). I even reached out after a few times to make sure it wasn’t a one-sided thing and no reciprocation. So I didn’t do the same thing to them and never would. But better to know sooner rather than later who your friends are, so I guess that’s one positive thing that came out of it.