Grief Recovery: Learning to Live Healthily with Your Loss

By Therese Rando, Ph.D.

How do you know if you are recovering from your loss? What signs can you look for to see if you are resolving your grief? Below is a list of signs for changes in self, relationship with the deceased, and relationships with the new world and others in it. They are only some of the possible indications that you are learning to live with your loss and are adjusting to your new life accordingly. Rate yourself on each one as to whether or not “I am here now,” “I am having a little difficulty with this,” or “I can’t do this yet.”

Learning to Live with the Loss in Terms of Yourself

You have returned to your normal levels of psychological, social, and physical functioning in all realms of your life.

There is a general decline in all of your symptoms of grief.

You are not overwhelmed by emotions in general or whenever the loss is mentioned.

You are back to your normal level of self-esteem.

You can enjoy yourself without feeling guilty, and you don’t feel guilty for living.

Your hatred and anger, if any, doesn’t consume you and is not directed inappropriately at others.

You do not have to restrict your emotions and thoughts to avoid confronting something painful.

It is not that you don’t hurt, but the hurt now is limited, manageable, and understood.

You appreciate how you are similar to and different from other bereaved persons.

You do not have to obsess about nor think solely of the deceased and the death.

You feel that you have done what you needed to do, either to atone for your guilt or to learn to live with it.

You lead the pain, it doesn’t lead you.

You can appreciate the bittersweet quality of certain experiences, such as holidays and special events in which you feel the sweetness of those who are around you as well as the sadness of not being with your deceased loved one.

You are able to meet and cope with secondary losses in a healthy fashion.

You don’t become anxious when you have nothing to do. You don’t have to be occupied all the time to be without tension.

You can remember without pain, and can talk about the deceased and the death without crying.

You no longer feel exhausted, burdened, or wound up all the time.

You can find some meaning in life.

You do not have to hold time, or yourself, back.

You have “accepted” the loss in the sense of not fighting the fact that it happened.

You are comfortable with your new identity and the new adjustments you have made to accommodate being without your loved one in the world. While you wouldn’t have chosen to have to change, you are not fighting it now.

You are comfortable with the emotions that temporarily are aroused when you occasionally bump the scar from your loss (for example, at anniversaries or special events). You know how to deal with the grief and you understand that it is normal.

You know how and when to take time to mourn.

You can look forward to and make plans for the future.

You have a healthy perspective on what your grief resolution will and will not mean for you.

Learning to Live with the Loss in Terms of Your Relationship with the Deceased

You can realistically remember the good and the bad, the happy and the sad of both the deceased and your relationship.

Any identification you have with the deceased is healthy and appropriate.

You can forget the loss for a while without feeling like you are betraying your loved one.

You have a comfortable and healthy new relationship with the deceased, with appropriate withdrawal of emotional energy but also appropriate ways to keep that person “alive.”

You are able to stop “searching” for your lost loved one.

You do not have to hold on to the pain to have a connection with your deceased loved one.

The rituals that keep you connected to your loved one are acceptable to you and healthy.

You can concentrate on something besides your deceased loved one.

In your relationship with your deceased loved one, you have achieved healthy amounts of holding on and letting go.

Learning to Live with the Loss in Terms of Adjusting to the New World

You have integrated the loss into your ongoing life. You are able to relate to others in a healthy fashion and to work and function at the same level as before.

You can accept the help, support, and condolences of others.

You are not inappropriately closed down in your feelings, relationships, or approaches to life. For example, you do not overprotect yourself or fail to take any risks.

You can let the world go on now without feeling it has to stop because your loved one has died.

You can deal with others’ insensitivity to your loss without becoming unduly distressed or overemotional.

You are regaining interest in people and things outside of yourself or which don’t pertain to your lost loved one.

You can put the death in some perspective.

There may be other signs that would indicate to you that you now are learning to live with your loss in as healthy a fashion as possible. The ones listed here will give you some examples of the ways in which resolution and recovery can be shown. You will note that none of them suggest that you not have some connection with your deceased loved one, or that you forget that person. They all center around learning to live with the fact of your loved one’s absence, moving forward in the world despite the fact that the scar will remain and, on occasion, bring pain.

And, in the end, this moving forward with that scar is the very best that we could hope for. You would not want to forget your loved one, as if she had never existed or not been an important part of your life. Those things that are important to you in your life are remembered and kept in the very special places of your heart and mind. This is no less true with regard to the loss of a beloved person. Keep this loss, treasure what you have learned from it, take the memories that you have from the person and the relationship and, in a healthy fashion, remember what should be remembered, hold on to what should be retained, and let go of that which must be relinquished. And then, as you continue on to invest emotionally in other people, goals, and pursuits, appropriately take your loved one with you, along with your new sense of self and new way of relating to the world, to enrich your present and future life without forgetting your important past.

Taken from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp 283-7.

Related articles:

You Know You're Getting Better When...

The Little Things We Do Make Us Stronger

I'm Trying to Move Forward, But...

Also by Therese Rando:

What 'Recovery' Will and Will Not Mean

The Work of Grief

Sudden Death

Family Reorganization After a Loss


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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