What Is Grief Actually Like?

Participate in Slate’s survey about mourning and loss.

Take an anonymous survey about grieving here. We encourage anyone who has experienced grief following a death to take it, whether or not you feel that you had a particularly acute response to loss.

What is grief actually like? This is what I began to wonder after my mother died, at Christmas of 2008, after living with colorectal cancer for two-and-a-half years. She was 55 and I was 32. Few of my friends had lost parents or close loved ones. In the first months, I felt adrift, confused about how long I could expect to feel the way I felt, concerned that what I was experiencing wasn’t “normal”—whatever that meant. Sometimes I was extremely sad; at other times I found I was tired or had trouble concentrating. Grief didn’t look like the wailing or incessant sorrow I saw on TV; I still laughed, enjoyed movies—but at the same time I found myself trying to make my way through a world that seemed newly alien to me. I wrote about my experiences in a series for Slate, which became the seed for a book about grief, The Long Goodbye, to be published this April by Riverhead Books.

Recently, I talked to Dr. Leeat Granek, a critical health psychologist and researcher who studies grief and loss. She also lost her mother to cancer, in 2006, when Leeat was 25 and her mother was 53. We quickly realized that not only did we share the unfortunate role of grieving daughters, we also shared a curiosity about what grief is really like for other mourners. Leeat said, “When my mom died, I couldn’t ride two subway stops without sobbing. I knew it was going to hurt, but I didn’t know it was going to devastate me. The year after she died, I turned my attention to studying grief and discovered that there’s a lot we still don’t know about what this experience is like for people.”

We decided to team up and ask you, our Slate readers, to tell us more about what grief is actually like. We share a belief that it will help all of us understand this human experience better if we can hear more stories from mourners themselves, in their own words.

If you have experienced a loss, please take our survey. Fill out as much or as little as you like. Your responses will be anonymous. In April, we’ll write up what we learn about what helped or hurt you as you mourned.

…………………………………………………………………….—Meghan O’Rourke