You Grieve the Future, Not the Past

Published on 7/4/2022

It’s easy to assume that grief revolves around everything you’ve lost. Someone passes away, and with that, you focus on exactly what you lost, everything you had in them. You think of their smile, their voice, their laugh, the warmth of their hug. You lose yourself in the memories of what you once had.

And while grief does involve that, I’ve come to realise that this is actually a small part of it. This aspect usually follows the loss, as it’s what you cling to as your world falls apart. You hold onto the sadness of everything they once were. But once that shock passes and you try to find a way to keep living without them, you realise something far sadder.

You realise everything they will never be. You realise everything you will lose, rather than what you’ve already lost.

Everything they’ll never be

There is so much future lost when someone passes. There is so much potential gone so suddenly. Because when we’re alive, we always have the hope, as unlikely as something could be.

I’ll never be a celebrity, but I could be. I’ll never move to California, but I could. Life exists in all of these possibilities, as far off as they may seem. There is always the chance. There’s the chance you reconnect with that person, the chance you follow that unrealistic dream, the chance you learn to love your body as it is. We live in these chances.

But with death comes the loss of every chance, and you’re left with everything they’ll never be. You’re left with all of these unfinished lines of text. You’re left wondering ‘what if?’, and suddenly all of those possibilities twist into harsh realities.

My father passed away in 2018, leaving me to fill in the years that could’ve come. He was in the process of building his dream home, and so I can only wonder what it would’ve been like. I can only imagine how happy he could have been, as he won’t get that opportunity. He had many dreams that will never become realities.

A large part of grief is recognising that all that they were is all that they will ever be. It’s the finality of that truth that hits so hard.

Everything you’ll never have

But when someone dies, you don’t just lose their future, you lose a part of your own. Because if I get married, my father won’t be there. If I have kids, he’ll never meet them. If I manage to achieve my dream of getting published, he’ll never know.

Considering everything I won’t get with him is agonising, as they’re things that too many people will take for granted. So when I mourn him, my sadness is directed at everything we won’t have rather than everything we had.

It’s harder to conceptualise a future without someone than a past you already had, and so the confusion and anger of grief directs towards that future, towards what’s missing rather than lost.

This is another way that grief is so similar to a breakup, in that you focus largely on everything you and your partner never got the chance to share, rather than what you shared.

Losing someone isn’t just losing what you had, it’s losing what you could have had. It’s every possibility and hope for the future, many of which you likely never even bothered to think about until they were gone. You grieve the future, not just the past, because it feels like something you were once entitled to. All you can do now is acknowledge that alternate path and focus on the one you’re on, while taking moments to remember why you’re doing this. Carry them with you and know that they would’ve been proud of you in this future, regardless of whether they’re in it.



Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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