What Should I Expect as I Grieve

The Grief Process

Most of us are unprepared for the enormous grief we feel after a major loss. Sometimes our expectations of when we will “heal” are unrealistic. Too often, we receive insufficient understanding and assistance from society—and even from our own friends and family, despite the best of intentions.

Our grief response varies depending on the meaning we make of our loss, our own personal characteristics, the type of death it was, the amount and quality of our social support and our physical state in general.

Here are some of the ways grief may surprise you:

  • Your grief may take longer than you think.
  • Your grief may take more energy than you would have imagined.
  • Your grief may involve many personal changes and may continue to evolve.
  • Your grief may show itself in all spheres of your life—psychological, social, physical, spiritual, etc.
  • Your grief may include unexpected feelings such as anger, guilt, irritability, frustration, annoyance and fear.
  • You may grieve for things both symbolic and tangible, not just for the death alone.
  • You may grieve for what you have lost as well as for the hopes, dreams and plans you had for the future.
  • You may experience acute, unexpected surges of grief that may be triggered by certain dates, events or stimuli.
  • You may feel like you are going crazy.
  • You may be obsessed with the death and preoccupied with the deceased.
  • You may find yourself searching for meaning and questioning your religious or philosophical beliefs.
  • You may have physical reactions to grief that you did not expect.
  • You may feel confused about who you are and may experience low self-esteem.
  • You may have trouble thinking and making decisions.
  • You may find that your current loss has resurrected old feelings related to unresolved losses from the past.

These are just some of the reactions that mourners report after a significant loss. Your experience and reactions may be different. What is important is that you know your responses are normal and that sharing them with another can sometimes lessen their impact.

If you feel you cannot get over your feelings of anger or guilt, or can’t seem to stop crying, and if you think that professional assistance might help you feel better, you are probably right. Call your physician, mental health plan, a counselor or therapist, your faith leader or whomever seems appropriate to you. Or call a local hospice and ask to speak to a bereavement professional.

As with most things in life, the better you understand the grief process, the more successfully you can cope with the difference between your expectations and reality.

Find out if hospice care could help your loved one.