I recently sat down and generated a list of 30 words that could be used to describe grief.  Obviously this list relates to my experience with grief, so I am interested to see if anyone else can relate with some of these words.  I plan on doing a series of postings that will not only define these words, but expand on why I thought they would be good descriptors.

 The third word I chose is:

Debilitating:  Defined as to impair the strength of”

This word speaks to me as a descriptor of grief because I felt like I lost all of my strength.  There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and when I did I would hurry into the shower, get ready and then hurry back to my wife’s bathroom door and stand there and cry while she was getting ready for work.  I had no strength, it was gone and I was looking to my wife to help me.  It was like we switched roles.  She became my strength and I would ask her all of the time “am I going to survive this?”  If I made it to work, I would walk in and sit at my desk and cry all morning.  I wouldn’t speak to anyone unless they came to me, and we all know people love to talk to someone that is crying or dealing with grief.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time by myself while I was at work.  At the end of the day I would hurry home and change out of my work clothes, grab a book about grief and try to understand what I was dealing with.  I was trying to answer the one question that was on my mind “is this normal?”  I had been stripped of everything.  Most of this behavior occurred after the death of my second child.  Because I didn’t deal with the first loss, my body was forcing me to process both losses at the same time.  I was the strength for my wife after our first loss, but she had now become mine.  Prior to both of my losses, I was a “get out of my way, take on the world” kind of guy.  Nobody or nothing could stop me.  Apparently I was wrong, because not only did this stop me, it brought me to my hands and knees, literally.  Most people around me witnessed this strong personality crumble into a beaten down scared man.

Although grief is debilitating, it is also survivable.  I sit here and write this almost 5 years later and I can tell you, it is survivable, but I know there are times when you don’t think you will.  My strength is back in full force and I use it to reach out to others that have lost theirs.  I do my best to offer my strength to the many people that are currently in the same place I was.  There were many people that had strength that reached out to me and pulled me up; I feel it is now my turn to offer my hand to others on this journey.

Anyone else agree that this word is a great descriptor of grief?

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User Comments ( 34 )


    I just lost my son Rob age 30 to an overdose one month ago. The pain in horrible but the guilt is immeasurable. I don’t think I tried everything to help him. I tried so many things but this time around his addiction was more than I could handle and because of that…..he is gone. I should have done so much more. I tried the Dr. Phil approach “tough love”. He has no idea what he is talking about. Had I not kicked my son out he would be alive right now. Tough love does not work! My son moved in with his grandma who enabled him all the time with money and never holding him accountable for his actions of stealing, lying etc… It was a bad situation and I made it a whole lot worse and I have to live with that the rest of my life. The pain in my other kids eyes is hard to handle. I hope this feeling of dibilitation does get better for my other kids sake.

  • I appreciate your connection to this word, debilitating. thank u. many of us feel less alone because of your voice. thank u for your stories and bringing out the stories of so many others of us. keep on.

    • Sana,

      Thank you for visiting my blog and thank you for your kind words. I know the feeling of being alone, thats what inspired me to start this blog so others would have a place to tell their stories and share their thoughts.



  • John Wolfe


    Glad to hear you got back home safe and sound. I hope the journey will help to bring some peace of mind to you. I’m with Kelly, when you feel up to it, please share your journey with us.


  • Dustin C. Duncan

    This trip was good, and at the last place I needed to get gas at, to get me and my brother home,Crystal Beach ,TX. There was a penny from Heaven laying next to the gas pump, every penny I see I pick up. Then I had another 2 hour drive to my house. Dayton,TX, I was some how thinking she would be at home. But knew she was not. Hit Hard, but she was on the trip with me. it is, I can not describe the feelings and emotions. I could say a lot , but me and Delana or tired. dcduncan@att.net. take care .

    • Dustin,

      I too get pennies from my daughter, she send this at the right moments. The weird thing is my son sends me dimes. I never find a penny or dime along with another coin, but I always find them together of by themselves. Love it, it makes me smile.

      Glad you had some time to reflect while on your important trip. When you get some rest, please tell us more about you and Delana’s adventures.



  • John Wolfe

    I think I might have to revise my previous comment that I’mno longer “debilitated”. I looked up the definition of the word and according to the American Heritage Dictionary, it means, “to sap the energy or strength of”.

    That certainly describes me as I write this. I feel this way quite often, really. Usually when at home alone, which I am most days as I work 3rd shift at the plant and my wife works days. We see each other about 8 in the morning and again around 10pm for about 10-30 minutes each time. I get Wednesdays off and every other weekend off, but I’m sleeping a lot of those hours away because of working nights.

    I’ve worked 3rd shift in a couple of jobs for over 10 years, and it’s never been a problem for us. It doesn’t appear to be a problem in our marriage right now, but it’s a problem to me because I can’t seem to focus on anything for any length of time. Oh sure, I get the basics of life done, such as the laundry and cooking dinner when I need to, but the other interests I have such as woodworking and such have fallen by the wayside.

    I’m debilitated in the sense that I’m apparently in survival mode. I work, I eat, I take care of the most basic chores around the house to get us by. But there are many other chores that need to be taken care of that fall by the wayside because I have no energy nor desire to do them.

    I was going to erase all that I’ve written so far, but decided not to.

    OK, so here it is…the single-most”thing” that paralyzes me is the night she died. I keep reliving that in my mind. Sometimes daily, other times every few days or up to a week. But when I see my baby girl laying there “not alive”, it just kills me inside.

    I guess I am debilitated after all.

    • John,

      Reliving that night in your mind is normal. I use to relive the moment my son died all of the time. When I would even start to tell my story I would have a complete melt down. I forced myself to go there and keep telling the story. Eventually the story became easier to tell because I went there so often and processed it so many times. There are some details that I still get emotional over when I tell the story, but thats just part of this really screwed up journey.

      Having no energy is something I dealt with for several years. I use to get mad at myself because I put a lot of pressure to get back to the old me. Problem was, the old me wasn’t coming back. I finally realized I needed to change the expectations I placed on myself. I learn to accept that I will not be the same guy that could take on the world. I never ran out of energy before. I thrived on the fact I could do anything I set my mind to as long as I applied myself hard enough. Well, I still beleive that, but I don’t take on as much as I use to. I force myself to approach life from a different perspective. I take more naps in the last year than I have my previous 41 years. I will still do projects around the house and work at my job, but I have learned what my new limitations are. This takes time to figure out. Don’t be hard on yourself because you don’t have the energy. Your body needs all of the energy it can get just to get you through the day. You’re exhausted because your brain is trying to heal it self from the trauma it endured. Let it. Desire will return slowly, very slowly.

      I am glad you didn’t erase everything. It’s an important issue to discuss here and acknowledge. I have heard this from countless grieving dads.



  • Dustin

    I know i should not do this, but at all the national and state parks we have been to, grand canyon , mesa verde, palo duro canyon, etc. people write there name on a rock or something, so I stopped and bought a sharpie pen to write Delana Michelle Duncan was here. We got caught in a snow storm going through wolf creek pass Colorado,10mph , I told my brother Delana is laughing about this. Me and my wife also have planted some trees and flowers from the services. I did have a moment today when we were driving in rain, it hit me hard, but had to keep it to my self. take care, Dustin

    • Dustin,

      Great story. I love the fact that you are driving in your daughter’s car and visiting the various places she would have loved to see. Delana is right there with you. You are going to have those moments when it hits you hard, it’s just part of this terrbile journey. I encourage you to let your brother know next time how you are feeling. Talking about it and letting it out is a sloppy mess, but it releases a lot of the stuff on your mind. Enjoy the journey!

      If you get near Chicago, call me (630) 561-5989. I would love to hear more about your adventures and interview you for my book. I think what you are doing is pretty cool. I know a lot of us would have loved just packing up and taking off for a while. I took 3 months off from work/life and spent the time with my wife eeryday just hanging out all summer thinking about my children. It gave me a chance to breath and feel life again. We get so busy with the “stuff” in life, that sometimes we just need to hit the reset button.



  • I think you hit it right on the mark, it takes everything you can to get out of bed, as you really do not think there is any real purpose anymore, but it is so good to realize this and to let yourself grief and to reach out to tohers who have been there.. It is so hard to talk to people who say I know how you feel, you want to yell no you really don’t and now I like to be the one to help others who have recently lost a child, a club you never want to be in but when you are it is good to know you can help others, Thank you for this insightful post, Bridget

  • Dustin

    John , I have been in denial,I understand, at work I feel like everyone is looking at me,and they do not no what to say,every where I go I think these people do not know what I am going through. Delana was my baby girl, 18, Rebecca was my sons fiance,20 I function also. it is so hard. I have good and bad days, some very severe also. But this trip is for the two young lady,s. driving in my daughters car. Her picture,Cross ,and ribbon from her friends is on the dashboard, people say it gets better,but I don,t know, I will never get over it, her first semester at college and big dreams take care Dustin C. Duncan Dayton,TX,

    • John Wolfe


      I truly understand your frustration about the loss of big dreams. Allison was our only child and only a month before her death, she and her husband announced they were going to have a baby. Two weeks after that she had a miscarraige and a little more than two weeks after the miscarriage she was dead, along with all of her hopes and aspirations of becoming a mother and having a large family. She would have made a good mother!

      While you are honoring your daughter and daughter-in-law by driving across America, my wife and I will be building a sort of “place of solitude” in the backyard. It will consist of a gazebo/pergola, shaded by a tree we got from the funeral services. It will be a place we can go to and quietly just “be” with Allison, watch the sunrise/sunset, read a book, or talk with our baby girl.

      As Kelly, our host, has said many times, doing nothing solves nothing. Only by embracing the pain of our loss can we ever hope to move through it. I’d like to believe that I’ve come to accept that this will be a long and sometimes arduous journey, but one that I will come through, scarred but intact. With the help of family, friends and the people of this community, I will make it through this dark abyss, as will you, my friend.

      As Jennifer Blue Rozman so eloquently put it, “Your girls are with you every mile of the way.” Talk to them often, point out the sights along the way. But more importantly, at least to me, is for you to listen to them. I feel confident that if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear them pointing out sights of interest to you and your brother. They’ll also be sending you messages of love, hope and comfort.

      Listen hard…..

  • John Wolfe

    Five days until the 5 month mark of my baby girl’s passing at age 24.

    Debilitating? No, not really. Perhaps at first, but not anymore. The emotion I feel more than any other at this point in time is a probably not even an emotion, but rather a sense of floating in time, kind of like being in a bubble and watching life go by.

    It’s weird because my coworkers who know about my loss treat me differently…or do they? Perhaps it’s just my perception of how they treat me that has changed. I see strangers on the street that would have absolutely no clue as to what my personal situation is, and yet I feel like I’m being treated differently somehow. So I float in time and space and wonder and wander, looking for answers to the logic behind my baby girl’s death and not receiving any.

    Like most people, I function from day to day…chores need to be done and I muster the courage to go to work to pay the bills, but I sometimes wonder,

    “For what? I don’t like the job I’m in, so why can’t I just retire and sit around the house all day?”

    And that’s where my single strongest source of strength comes in to play, my daughter Allison. She may not be here physically, but she is here in spirit and I feel her every single day. She has become yet another voice from beyond, including my mother, brother and grandparents, advising me in how to live my life well, free from regret, and looking toward the future.

    Make no mistake, I have my good days and bad days, my ups and downs, some of them rather severe. But debilitating deosn’t really describe what I’m going through.

    Any thoughts?

  • Dustin

    7 months tomorrow April ,24th. I lost my daughter 18yrs,4 months,9 days young,an also my future daughter-inlaw.20 years young,they are buried next to each other. two young lady,s just wanted to go see a movie, A little rain shower,road slick lost there life.my son came up on the accident,and called me……….there gone dad. HIS SISTER AND FIANCE.MY DAUGHTER and FUTURE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW. MY LIFE HAS BEEN TURNED UPSIDE DOWN. Did not loose 2 people, but 4, my wife thinks of me as the invisble man, my son moved out. They where both going to college at Lamar University. Me and my brother are on a road trip across america ,but we are driving in her car. she wanted to see the world.this trip is for her.

    • Dustin…all I can say is be present with the road trip and enjoy the ride. Your girls are with you every mile of the way. She is gleaming down seeing the sites with you. She’s laughing…she’s oohing and aahing with every stop. My heart goes out to you and try to remember that time will help a little. Your wife and son will feel closer with time. Everyone has their way of grieving…just wait with open arms and an open heart. Be well and safe travels.

  • Terri

    Wow…until I read that last line I didn’t realize that much of what I was feeling was that I don’t have any dreams anymore either. My dreams seemed to have died with my daughter. I have hopes…mostly that I don’t ever experience this kind of pain again. I hope my son will be safe. I hope my granddaughter will do well. I hope we can pay our bills…and I hope I can survive this. But no dreams anymore. My dreams used to be that my son and daughter and all our grandchildren would have wonderful times in the future. My dreams were of and for them mostly. Now half my world is gone with my daughter and the grandchildren I will never have from her. Half of my world, half of my heart. Sad but true, both the recognition of this and the resignation to it.

    • Mike Marini

      When I read what you were going through tears streamed down my face. I don’t know you; nonetheless, as part of the human race (both of us) I feel some of your pain. If I could take it from you for a day, an hour, a moment, I would. But I cannot.
      I realize you are one of the people Mother Teresa spoke about: the poorest of the poor. I think that is true. If you give someone who is hungry a piece of bread, their hunger is satisfied. But how does one help with this type of debilitation? The loss of dreams? The despair? All I can do is be here for you if you want/need to talk; I can offer a hand of friendship. And no, it won’t take anything away. You have a heavy cross; maybe I can help carry it for a bit.
      I am going to services tonight. Being Good Friday and Catholic, at one point during the service that we “venerate the cross;” that is, kiss the feet of Jesus. I know I will be thinking of you at that moment and I will bring your pain and suffering with me to the cross.


      Mike Marini

  • Mike Marini

    the word is perfect for letting others and yourselves understand what you are going through. I keep you men in my prayers daily since I found your group on Twitter. Although I am not a parent who has lost a child (and I will never know your feelings as you do), I can empathize with you. For me another word would be horror. Again, I honor you for this project and supporting one another and allowing the public a better understanding of the needs of grieving Dads. God goes with you.


    • Mike,

      Thank you for your encouraging and kind words. I am glad you found this blog. My mission is to help bring awareness to what men go through after the death of a child. As you know, society expects men to respond with strength and to toughen up. Like I tell the many men that attend my workshops, “there is a time and place to be strong, the death of a child is not one of those times and no one should expect it”.

      Thanks for being here Mike.



  • Christopher

    I would add loneliness to the list. After my 10 year old son, Robbie died in an accident about 18 months ago I miss him everyday. While I am around people I feel lonely because he is not here. With his death a part has been ripped out of my being that will never be filled again.

    • Laura

      Christopher, I would agree. For me, its that my oldest son is not here, that I miss everything about him and how he affected our lives, but also that I feel differently than other people. That they can not truly comprehend how horrible it really is, that you can not truly connect with them in the way that you used to, that is lonely.

  • Allen Nuzik

    Yes. Debilitating. My memory is lacking. I really don’t “care” about a whole lot anymore. I used to be a newshound and Nascar fan. They both seem so insignificant and trivial now. Like you, my wife is much more resilient. Yes, she is grieving, but it does not get in the way of her daily routine.
    Debilitating in the sense you have actually lost a huge part of yourself. You are now permanently disabled, no less than someone who has lost arms or legs or sight. However, I have learned to put on a pretty good show for the folks.
    It has just turned 6 months for me. We can never have another child. My wife has cancer and has had most of her internals removed. But even if I could, it would be a bandaid and somewhat selfish.
    Pain is debilitating. It limits what you can do. It takes away the joy in things you once enjoyed. Yes, I would say debilitating is a good descriptor.

  • Tom,

    I totally get the “I can’t renew any fire regarding goals, work or desires.” I was so deep in my despair, I too lost hope and drive, you name it, I lost it. It wasn’t until this project came to me (after a lot of thought) that I started to regain many of those lost items. I tried to regain them on things that I use to apply them to, but it didn’t work. The “stuff” that use to make me happy or motivated no longer did. I use to love doing the “deal”. I was a Real Estate Broker, a good one, but I didn’t have it in me to put on a smily face and act like nothing was wrong, because there was. I now use my drive and apply it to this project and bringing awareness to what dads go through after the death of a child. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days where I have no motivation.

    Thank you for sharing you thoughts on this.



  • I think it is the perfect word. I have used it many times myself thus far. I think the question I ask the most is, even if we are able to survive, why do we want to?

    • Laura,

      I must say I use to ask myself that all of the time. Then I realized I can make a difference in someone else’s life. I real difference. There were a lot of people (strangers) that helped me up. Sitting with someone else and let them cry when they tell you their story or watching them open up and tell their story for the first time. Very powerful.

      However, I completely understand your questioning.

      Thank you for sharing.


      • Laura

        I have always believed that things happen for a reason. That we may never know that reason, but its there none the less. It is almost impossible to apply that thought to this situation, however, I feel somewhere it is still there. I feel an incredible pull towards changing my life, that maybe its meant to help others or to do something else. I still have two kids to take care of also, so of course that is why I must go on. But it doesnt stop me from asking the question, or feeling that way. God bless you.


  • Debilitating is how I’ve described it to people. They ask what it is like and I just say debilitating. It takes all your strength and it is hard to imagine a future.

    You described it so well.

    • Dana,

      It is hard to imagine a future. One has to spend a lot of time (sometimes years) processing and thinking about where they want their life to go, how do they want it to look. I couldn’t do the rat race thing any longer so I made a decesion that I was going to change careers from engineer (and real estate broker) to a counselor/recovery coach. I am in transistion and it gives me hope. I show up, do my job as an engineer and go home. I don’t put in above and beyond anymore. Why? To make more money, for what? It’s just my wife and I and we don’t need much. Going through something so profound as a death of a child changes your perspective. It gives you a chance to reconstruct your life the way you want to live the rest of it.

      Thanks for your comments.



  • Excellent description. I would also add emptiness. An emptiness that never truly becomes full again. My heart wraps around each of you who have lost a child or children…I cannot imagine.

    My mom/best friend (also my matron of honor for my wedding) died of esophageal cancer at age 56 just 6 weeks before my son was born. My entire pregnancy was helping my dad take care of her as she fought an incredible battle. Hospice came multiple times a day the last few months.

    In the same breath, I had to say good-bye to my mom while becoming a mom for the first time. I then had a dad who was lost, crumbling and lonely, who was inexperienced at how to manage his life because my mom did everything. So I stepped in… The emptiness for me was so overwhelming that it physically hurt.

    It will be 4 years September 9th. I always try to live in the present moment. When I’m sad and miss her, I cry. When I remember her brilliance and beauty, I smile. When I reflect on our times together, I laugh. Yes…life goes on. And all of our loved ones are smiling down at us…waiting with open arms.

    • Jennifer,

      Agreed, emptiness is a great word and one I didn’t not have on my list. There are so many ways to describe grief and most of them are right on.

      Thanks you for sharing your story about your mom (and best friend).



  • Jj

    Perfect for what I’m feeling these days…every word so very horribly true…

  • Sondra sanders

    Yes, that is a good description. The one word I have come to despise is Closure. When a child dies there is never closure. You just learn how to put one foot in front of the other and go on. You never forget that child. I just find closure a ridiculous word. My son was 32 when he died suddenly 8 years ago. I still miss him. Sometimes I sit and cry for my loss, but for the most part life goes on. But I have never experienced closure.

    • Sondra,

      I am with you, there is no closure, but life goes on whether we want to particapate or not.

      Thank you for sharing.