When Two Loved Ones Die Days Apart


BY: Diane Synder Cowan
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​Recently, I heard of several stories of two members of the same family dying within days or weeks of each other. At the beginning of the summer my mother’s longtime friend of 47 years died the night of her husband’s funeral. The friend was unable to attend the funeral as she was in the ICU herself. During the funeral my mother sat holding hands with two girlfriends who made up their foursome. As children, we referred to them as the “couples club.” At the Shiva call, my mother noticed pictures of herself as a bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding. It was heart wrenching listening to the daughters first eulogize their father and then two days later, their mother.

A few weeks later one of my colleagues experienced the death of his sister who had suffered 37 years with a terminal illness. Two weeks later, his mother died of a different long term illness. Both he and his father were understandably devastated and overwhelmed with grief.

Sadly, there are many mind-boggling stories just like these. There are plane and automobile accidents and natural disasters where multiple family members die at once. How does one manage two or more devastating deaths so close together? How does one maintain a sense of self and a place in the world amidst so much loss?

Coping with multiple losses takes longer than coping with one loss. Each loss has a different level of significance based on the relationship with that person. It can take months to understand the role each loved one played in your life. You may feel closer with your neighbor that you have known only a few years than with your uncle who lives out of town. You may be estranged with one family member and extremely connected with another. Allow for differences and accept the varying grief reactions that occur with each death. You may experience deep pangs of grief. Give yourself permission to grieve, accept the pain and cry to your heart’s content.

Remember to:
  • Frequently check that you have balance in your life.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Although you may often feel overwhelmed, remind yourself that what you are going through is normal.
  • Educate yourself and become familiar with the normal experiences of grieving.
  • Remember that grieving takes time. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace.
  • Grieve each loss and talk about each death separately.
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of traumatic grief and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Grieving many losses concurrently can result in feeling overwhelmed or numb. You do not need to grieve alone. Reach out to family, friends or health care professionals or support groups to assist you on your grief journey.

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