Grief: Appropriate Expectations

By Therese Rando, Ph.D.

The following is a list of appropriate expectations that you can have in grief. Evaluate yourself on each one and see if you are maintaining realistic expectations for yourself.

You can expect that:

Your grief will take longer than most people think.

Your grief will take more energy than you would have ever imagined.

Your grief will involve many changes and be continually developing.

Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life — psychological, social, and physical.

Your grief will depend upon how you perceive the loss.

You will grieve for many things both symbolic and tangible, not just the death alone.

You will grieve for what you have lost already and for what you have lost for the future.

Your grief will entail mourning not only for the actual person you lost but also for all of the hopes, dreams and unfulfilled expectations you held for and with that person, and for the needs that will go unmet because of the death.

Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions, not solely those that are generally thought of as grief, such as depression and sadness.

The loss will resurrect old issues, feelings and unresolved conflicts from the past.

You will have some identity confusion as a result of this major loss and the fact that you are experiencing reactions that may be quite different.

You may have a combination of anger and depression, such as irritability, frustration, annoyance, or intolerance.

You will feel some anger and guilt, or at least some manifestation of these emotions.

You may have a lack of self-concern.

You may experience grief spasms, acute upsurges of grief that occur suddenly with no warning.

You will have trouble thinking (memory organization and intellectual processing) and making decisions. You may feel like you are going crazy.

You may be obsessed with the death and preoccupied with the deceased.

You may begin a search for meaning and may question your religion and/or philosophy of life.

You may find yourself acting socially in ways that are different from before.

You may find yourself having a number of physical reactions.

You may find that there are certain dates, events, and stimuli that bring upsurges in grief.

Society will have unrealistic expectations about your mourning and may respond inappropriately to you.

Certain experiences later in life may resurrect intense grief for you temporarily.

In summary, your grief will bring with it, depending upon the combination of factors above, an intense amount of emotion that will surprise you and those around you.

Most of us are unprepared for the global response we have to a major loss. Our expectations tend to be too unrealistic, and more often than not we receive insufficient assistance from friends and society. Your grief will not only be more Intense than you expected but it will also be manifested in more areas and ways than you ever anticipated. You can expect to see brief upsurges of it at anniversary and holiday times, and in response to certain stimuli that remind you of what you have lost.

Your grief will be very idiosyncratic and dependent upon the meaning of your loss, your own personal characteristics, the type of death, your social support and your physical state.

Taken from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp 79-80.

Related articles:

The Grief Experience

Seasons of Grief

How Long Is This Grieving Going to Last?

What About This Thing Called 'Acceptance'?

Finding Strength in the Little Things

Also by Therese Rando:

The Purpose of Grief and Mourning

The Work of Grief

Myths About Grief

What 'Recovery' Will and Will Not Mean

Handling the Holidays

Dr. Therese Rando, author of How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, is a psychologist in Warwick, Rhode Island, where she is the Clinical Director of The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss. Having published 70 works pertaining to the clinical aspects of dying, death, loss, and trauma, Dr. Rando is a recognized expert in the field and has appeared on numerous television programs, including “Dateline,” CBS “This Morning,” “Today Show,” “Good Morning, America,” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

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Comment by Kathi lee on April 16, 2012 at 10:04pm
My son died a few weeks ago,he would have celebrated his 24th birthday next month.He went
to a methadone clinic to get help with prescription pill addiction.He died in his sleep after his
first dose.I miss him so very much,I don't understand why this happened,I feel I will never be the same again.I can't stop thinking about the dreams that have come to an end.I also am so
disturbed thinking about his body ,I know he is gone,but I can't stop the thoughts that are haunting me
Comment by River of Tears on June 20, 2011 at 1:55am

Dr Rando , I needed or wanted to come back to your article you shared with all of us to see if I could read or see anything more now that time has slipped by .  Yet it the  article is as good as it was before  . It may be that I never knew how deep this pain and anguish could get .  Or did I ?

Often knowing when my family was alive we used to say to each other we just would do not ever want to know what it would be like with out one of them . Yet here I am not as a someone that feels sorry for myself just one that misses them so much .    As I can read this  is what all are going through too one of the common bond that humans may have . Yet each in our own ways or paths we must take .   Complicated as it is as troubling and sad I can not seem to see the light of the day without them , yet I seem to move about as though I am ok . At least this is what everyone around me believes . I am pretty good I guess when not wanting to hurt of bother another with what may be feeling .  Yet when alone it feels like I can not breath at times or that I do not know if I know what my next step will be as each step before in life was with them or for them . Now alone yet not lonely which sounds strange to say . For I do not want or need another in my life right now . Maybe for fear they too could slip through my fingers like sand as my family did .  Time some how was not ours , or I did not care enough for it to stay or for them to still be here .  If I had maybe things would be so different .  How do you get past that guilt and pain of not doing what you believe you could have or others have said you should have .   Life still is wonderful , if not I would have never had the grace and fortune of my family I had . The Blessing that was given yet here for what only seems like a moment in time now .   Complicated it is .   If to relive each moment of what has happened as it is now a tape in my head that repeats over and over . If to go back and replay and start it all over again with them .  Yet to learn that we only have this one chance in life to do this , this one moment as it may be . If not we may never have another chance to be present in the lives of those we so love . To do what we do hope to do  . If to at least hug them or tell them how much you love them for who they are . In that alone gives credience of who they are .  If not a chance for us to thank them for all they have been and done for us in our lives .

 Time is ours for us to care for if not it is one that will slip by before we know it as will those we love .  To be present in ones life no matter how it may be is all it may take to let them know how very much you love them  . 


  If  only I  held on . Maybe they would still be here .


They did leave a special gift as they always did . Their love seems to be apart of my day no matter how much I may feel so much in pain . The love bring such comfort to the vast pain that seems to grow each day yet still wishing somehow .  Another chance for me to open up the fragmented heart of mine to let them know how truly I will never let them go at least this is one thing I know deep within my soul .




I thank you for this article


To all blessing to each of you .

Comment by River of Tears on March 8, 2011 at 4:05am

Dear Legacy Friends,    If setting the expectations to high or walking through life as only functioning .  OK I admit this me on both points just to make it to the next day then what .  Other thank goodness as you all must see that I come here to write and share , which at times or all it has become nearly deafening even when just reading .    

    I guess when there is no one other where does one go , though so many say , " there is so many there to talk to " or friends that you could share time with .  Well , would you not have thought I or most would have tried ( which is the worst word to use ) ,  Yet it maybe there are some in life that just do not have those to talk to .  At least I do not anymore .  The ones I did  , all have just passed . Especially my Sister who was like my best friend .  

  I so try  ( darn there is that word again ) not to compare anyone to here or those who I had . Yet those now around me , seem to clock me or tell me what it is that I need to feel , or determine even prior without even seeing me , which give reason why they believe they are clairvoyant .  Though it  seems to more painful  , which is something I blame myself for that I am not doing this right or is it wrong .  I am not sure as you can see .   

   I can not even go to the clinic where my Sister used to have her appointments as I now too have mine for the many memories come rushing back .  Maybe it is anger which I never admit to , just in walking by the clinic that she used to be seen at that told her for 2 weeks when she tried to tell them she needed to come in , that once she as able to talk to someone they told her a riveting excuse that plays back in my mind " they must have been distracted this is why they did not have time to call "    What expectations do I look for in me if I am not able to look for it in others around .  I know that I had them set high for my Sister yet now I have no expectation even in how and what this grief is all about .  

 How it is with out even looking at the calender  I become extremely sad inside , as I looked up today at the date , I noticed it was when she would have been in the hospital , the last days before she passed away , the time she never knew she did not know she was not going to go home .  As in even in one of our last conversations as I lay there in her bed beside her she kept on said  " when we go home we will go this "      How can I expect anything of myself now when I could not save her then .   Must be one of those really sad days ..  Those days to try ( will ) get through .


 Please take care . 

Comment by River of Tears on January 29, 2011 at 5:31am
What has been difficult that others seem to have a time clock or punch card that your grief should be over .  Though never sharing with anyone for I never seemed to be listened to or understood , others wanted to just move on as though the life of my Sister had any meaning.  Even at the hospital on the day she passed. as she lay  quite and still .  The social worker came with a note telling me of all the medical equipment they wanted back . Numb at the time I took the note and stowed it away feeling later how is it that the lack of feeling for someone so special was gone just because she went away.  I am not sure when the grief began if when she first was ill ?  Though her strength proved all differently living long pasted what anyone wanted said .  The last few days of her life though with the struggle and yet hope that her strength would come through decisions were made for her that it will what is said .  Weeks and days now have passed thinking of those days , why was I not what I had promise her the one to take care. Yet in life I found my voice will not match the stronger voice or ever compare .   My Sister passed silently , I will never know to this day if she knew that my last hug to her was going to be the last one before she went away.  I will grieve for her in my heart every for she was my friend in life and this reality is to stay .    So many now do not want me to feel or tell me every day so I find myself alone so to keep the a bay .  I do this not for me , but in thoughts for them as I seemed to always live my life . That others mean allot to me and never want to cause strife .  As Loving my Sister came so easily the pain just seems to flow though why did not life teach me what direction to go .   Maybe it was that I never thought or imagined or wanted to to be .  If heaven is what it is  promised then may she be held within my parents hands to be together for life's eternity once again .    The calender of grief for others may have ended or never had began .  The calender for me will always be what is and never began . Hopes and dreams gone away, though many a shared loving moments if only to turn the page back to see here once again .     To all that come to share thoughts and prayers are with you .  Take care
Comment by Donna Bills on March 12, 2010 at 10:31pm
hi I lost my husband in 2007 well last summer I thought I was over my grief and find out every day I'm still not over him I don't have anyone to talk to about this situation so I have to keep it to myself that's really hard
Comment by rachel carter on February 9, 2009 at 12:04am
appropriate expectations article was very good.guess i'm not as crazy as i thought. a lot of this must be normal but it sure hurts and people don't understand.that is the hardest part of all.i don't have anyone who understands.

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