Grief Math

My friend just texted me about dates.  Her text wasn’t about a coffee date or an up coming dinner date.  Nope, her text was not about those type of dates.   Instead, she was referencing dates on the calendar that are significant because her husband died.

What a Joy Kill is what most people outside of the grief community might think; but, I’m widowed too.  I “get it”.  I  know exactly where she is coming from.  I have come to understand how time and grief are intricately and intimately tied together. 

My friend's text message made me stopped and deeply think about the practice of  “counting days” and “keeping track of time” based on something other than a clock.  Time tracking behaviour is common among the bereaved because we are grasping to measure the distance between their aliveness and their deadness.  We are trying to understand how their death seems so long ago; yet, in our mind, it concurrently feels like it was only yesterday that they were alive.  The reality is that Mike will have been gone from here for three years this November 2019; but to me it feels like only moments ago that he was real in this dimension.




Grief Math


In the grieving community,

Grief math is common practice.

We all do it. 

We keep track of dates. 

We mark dates.

We “celebrate” dates.

We honor our person on certain days.

And, daily, we privately attempt rough calculations

- in our heads -

regarding random dates and their deadness.



We complete these elaborate calculations involving dates for many reasons.  Maybe sometimes we do the mental math in our heads because none of this seems to add up.  Their deaths don’t make  sense in our hearts; so, in our heads, we calculate dates in order to somehow prove the realness of the situation to ourselves.  I think this is partly why we track dates and time -  along with a million other reasons.  We are trying to figure this mess out.  We attempt to make sense of the surreal by balancing things out.   We try to make things add up when they seem wrong.  We subtract numbers to some how find solutions to questions we can't answer.  We complete these detailed and nonsense calculations in order to understand and accept that we continue living in a reality where they no longer exist.


In grief, it is common practice to ask ourselves how long it’s been since _________ ...

(insert whatever quirky thing you’re missing or attempting to keep track of inside the blank.)

________ days since she was alive, ________ months since he last held me in his arms, ________ years since we planted the garden, ________ weeks since he brought me coffee in bed ______  months since I held her hand, _________ years since I kissed him,  _________ days since we made love, _________ was the last time he ever gave me roses,  ___________ years ago he was still alive.


The list is l-o-n-g. 

We count it all, or at least I have.

We measure time in “before” and “afters”. 

Before, “when they were alive”, and now since they are not alive. 


Time becomes a fixation in grief.  And, this is a mentally exhausting way to live.  And, quite honestly, it’s not really living.  Recently, I have stopped counting my time 'earned' in widowhood.  I no longer keep track of the months because it feels odd now that I am over 2.5 years into this mess.  This whole counting the months passed reminds me of when my sons turned from babies into toddlers. When my boys turned 2 years old, like most parents, I  stop referring to my children in months because I thought it sounded kinda quirky. 

Now, my sons are teenagers and I have no idea how many months old either of them are because it stopped being relevant a long time ago.  And, being Mike's widow has developed this same feel.  The time I have spent as a widow is less relevant than it used to be.  The fact is, I am a widow.  I am not going to become more or less of his widow with time.


Time and grief - it’s complicated and that is understating it. The practice of “date stamping” past and present events is a normal practice in grief.  The way I see it, we all become math wizards in grief. It is unavoidable.  Yet, like all things, grief changes and evolves.  And, in time, thankfully, we learn to set aside the daily mental math calculations.  Now, I do not perform “grief math” as often as I used to.  Somehow, the calculations seem less relevant and less meaningful.  I have reached a point where the numbers do not matter anymore.  Or, maybe, in my heart, they matter so very much that I have given up counting.  What is the difference if it has been 5 weeks, or 5 months because eventually the months become years and the years become multiple years and then decades.  Time continues without Mike.  I can not keep counting the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years because I have the rest of my life to live without him.  I have to abandon my relentless record keeping and impromptu mathematical calculations based on daily ordinary triggers.  I have to leave the counting and tracking behind to make space in my head for other more relevant things.  This is necessary. And, this is a good thing. 


Trying to move forward one day at a time without him,





Showing 4 reactions

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  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2019-06-13 09:09:06 -0700
    Don, I have a lousy memory – since he died – so this does help me avoid some of the pitfalls of grief. Initially, I was largely in a fog, and I am certain that this was by design. The first year is a blur to me. Now, I am becoming more present which is necessary for me and my sons. Best to you as always, ~S.
  • Staci Sulin
    commented 2019-06-13 09:04:11 -0700
    Jack , I am sorry you understand Grief Math. It is a universal practice and I do think it is part of the process of grief. At 2.7 years, I am beginning to do less calculations and more living. I hope this trend continues, but like everyone here, I never know where grief will lead me. With my grief calculator in hand, ~S.
  • Don Yacona
    commented 2019-06-11 11:46:22 -0700
    Having a good memory for these things sux. I hit 4 years yesterday, which according to an app on my phone was 1461 days, which feel like centuries. A week from today we would have known each other for 39 years. Crap I’m old.
  • Jack Foley
    commented 2019-06-10 20:21:01 -0700
    Hi Staci,

    You hit the nail on the head about the obsession with time in ‘Grief Math’. Since my wife died just over a year and a half ago I have become obsessed with bits and pieces of time. If I just learn that a niece is now ten years old I automatically think, My God she was only eight when that happened. If I am watching a film that was made, let’s say ten years ago, part of my mind is going back and forth doing the arithmetic of how many years that was before she died. I would like to give all this obsessive behavior a rest but so far have been unable to.