After my daughter’s death, I learned that the first year’s grief doesn’t flow neatly from one stage to the next; it has multiple patterns, fluctuating cycles, lots of ups and downs. First-year grief will surprise you in many ways, but here are a few things you can expect.Expect sudden “grief attacks.” Practical matters demand attention in early grief when we are the most confused and least interested in things we used to care about. We must decide how to get through each new day. Some days, getting out of bed may take all the energy we have. Trips to everyday places like the grocery store feel so different. In my case, simple things like seeing my daughter’s favorite cereal on the store shelf brought immediate, excruciating pain. I call these unexpected reactions “grief attacks.” And unlike the response we would get if we had a heart attack while shopping, those around us don’t know what to do. We get good at hiding our pain, at postponing grieving for a more appropriate place, a better time. Expect exhaustion and disruption. Early grieving is perhaps the hardest work you will ever do. It is common to have difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and blood pressure, tense muscles that are susceptible to strains, a weakened immune system.Many bereaved parents return to work, school, or other activities feeling vulnerable, less confident about their capabilities, less able to concentrate, distracted by memories, and flooded with emotions that disrupt thinking. For others, work is the only place they are able to concentrate- focusing on tasks helps take their mind off their loss for awhile. Those around us may have unrealistic expectations as we return to work or school. When one mother whose only child had died returned to work, her supervisor greeted her by saying: “I’m sorry about your loss but I want to talk to you about improving your work performance.” Expect to be stunned by the ineptness, thoughtlessness, and discomfort of some people, and to be thrilled and deeply touched by the kindness and sensitivity of others. Sometimes those you expect to support you the most can’t or won’t meet your needs, while others you weren’t that close to before reach out unexpectedly. Expect ongoing “echoes.” We experience so many emotions after our child dies. We may feel relief that our child is no longer suffering, then feel guilty about being relieved. For a time we may be unable to feel much at all. While learning to live with the hole in our heart and fatigue in our body, other responsibilities beckon. We must file insurance claims, pay bills, write thank-you notes, decide what we want to do with our child’s possessions, and on and on.Just when we think everyone surely has heard of our loss by now, the reality of our child’s death echoes back to us. A call comes from the dentist’s office about scheduling her a checkup, or we run into our child’s old friend who just moved back to town. Once again we must tell our story, respond to someone else’s pain, experience fresh waves of grief. Knowing certain events are coming, such as seeing the grave marker or reading the death certificate or autopsy report, does not prevent us from hurting. These are tangible reminders of the reality of death, while part of us still hopes it’s all been just a bad dream. Our child’s death causes us to re-examine our beliefs about the Universe, God, and how the world works. Your faith and belief system may comfort and sustain you during the first year or you may feel angry and disconnected from it. Remember that it is okay to question. You may be drawn to people who have experienced a loss like yours and can understand some of your feelings and questions. This is one reason many people in early grief find comfort in bereavement support groups. But remember that no one can ever totally understand your grief, your questions, and what your child means to you. Like all relationships, each person’s grief is unique and complex.During early grief, you may want to stay busy all the time, avoiding painful emotions and the exhausting work of grief, hoping time will heal you. There’s no set schedule and no recovery period for grief. But time alone does not heal- it’s what we do with the time that counts. Take the time you need to do your grief work. But also take time away from grieving to do things you enjoy, to rest and replenish yourself. When our child dies, our hoped-for future dies, too. Beginning in this first year, and continuing on from there, living with your loss means taking on new roles, new relationships, a new future- without forgetting your past. Sometimes, life takes surprising turns. Before my daughter’s death, I never would have imagined I would become so involved in grief support. It wasn’t part of my “plan.” Confronted with loss, we can weave the strands of our past into a new, meaningful future we never would have planned to live. Doing so is a conscious choice. Getting through the first year of your grief is like winding a ball of string. You start with an end and wind and wind. Then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor. Some of the work is undone, but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but never do you have to begin at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds; you’ve made some progress. My daughter’s spirit and our continuing bond of love gives me strength each day. May your child be there to help you during this painful first year, and in all the years to come.