Learning to Accept the Unacceptable

People grieve because they have loved, and while each person's sense of love is different, so is their grief. Accepting death and recovering from grief require hard work over a period of months or years.

Protective Disbelief

The feeling of disbelief that follows the death of a loved one is an adaptive and temporary response—one that protects from the pain of loss and allows a survivor to manage all of the details that follow a death.

Embracing the painful reality does not happen quickly or easily, and it can be an exhausting process. When the loss finally sinks in, it can be surrounded by profound sadness, doubts about ever feeling okay again and difficulty imaging life without the loved one who has passed away.

Death also can shake confidence in surviving family members, and it often forces a surviving spouse to establish an identity as a single person again, assuming risks or tasks previously handled by the partner.

Tears and Irritability

Some bereaved people have difficulty being with others. Small talk seems trivial. Many cry unexpectedly or are irritable. Some feel embarrassed about the emotions they have, and sometimes feel like they “should be feeling better by now.”

Others experience guilt, questioning whether they could have done more to prevent death or suffering, or about things that did or did not happen in the relationship. They might feel guilty if they survived, or if they experience a sense of relief or a lack of sorrow.

In addition, almost all bereaved people feel angry at some as they grieve. They may feel angry at themselves, at their family and friends, and even at God for letting their loved one die.


Over time, however, they experience a growing acceptance and reawakening. Energy and hope begin to return as survivors begin to define (or redefine) what is meaningful to them and find confidence in acquiring new skills and confidence. Old relationships are restored; new ones are formed.

All these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process. Even though they are painful to experience, they need to be expressed in order to move forward in life. The grieving process allows people to grow in ways they could not imagine when they started on the journey.

Find out if hospice care could help your loved one.