Making a List

How the Bereaved Keep Score

Kellyn Shoecraft


When I visualize my grief underbelly it’s on the set of a film noir —
preferably with a light mist or drizzle. Photo Credit: Movie Still from Third Man

There is a grief underbelly: a dark and damp place swirling with thoughts that many grievers have but are too ashamed to admit. If these thoughts are ever spoken aloud it’s almost never in every-day conversation with ordinary people.

Instead, you may hear them uttered in the safe spaces of grief groups or in an honest conversation between grievers when they feel free of judgment. This is where you realize that the thoughts you were previously ashamed of are actually not shameful at all, and a lot of people are thinking the same things as you.

One of the more common reactions to a life-altering event is keeping score. The bereaved maintain a mental list of the people who have not done what was expected (like those guilty of sympathy by proxy) or those who have let them down in whatever way, and they will waste a lot of mental energy thinking about these people.

Illusration credit: author

If there were ever a time in your life where you shouldn’t be keeping score, it’s when you’re grieving. When you are deep in grief your brain physically hurts — processing everything that comes with your loss is exhausting and overwhelming. But in one of life’s cruel little jokes, it so happens that living in the wake of a personal disaster is when the impulse to keep score is absolutely irresistible. You just can’t help it.

I felt guilty that I had many texts/emails/voicemails/cards that I couldn’t/didn’t want to respond to and confused about why I was hung up on the people I hadn’t heard from.

When it comes to relationships with friends and families, I am generally not much of a scorekeeper. I never kept tabs on gift-giving, who-called-first, who went to the party…but in grief, all of my normal social habits are out of whack. I have a long list of people who have ‘wronged’ me, and I spend a substantial amount of time thinking about them.

In my journal, about a month after my sister died, I wrote, “There are so many people who have reached out in so many wonderful…



Kellyn Shoecraft

Navigating sibling & parent loss and trying to change the way people support each other in grief. Founder at