By Helen Fitzgerald, CT
The progress through grief is so slow, and so often of a
"one step forward and two steps backwards" motion, that it is
difficult to see signs of improvement. The following are clues that
will help you to see that you are beginning to work through your
• You are in touch with the finality of the death. You now know in
your heart that your loved one is truly gone and will never return
to this earth.
• You can review both pleasant and unpleasant memories. In early
grief, memories are painful because they remind you of how much you
have lost. Now it feels good to remember, and you look for people
to share memories with.
• You can enjoy time alone and feel comfortable. You no longer need
to have someone with you all the time or look for activities to
keep you distracted.
• You can drive somewhere by yourself without crying the whole
time. Driving seems to be a place where many people cry, which can
be dangerous for you and other drivers.
• You are less sensitive to some of the comments people make. You
realize that painful comments made by family or friends are made in
• You look forward to holidays. Once dreaded occasions can now be
anticipated with excitement, perhaps through returning to old
traditions or creating new ones.
• You can reach out to help someone else in a similar situation. It
is healing to be able to use your experience to help others.
• The music you shared with the one you lost is no longer painful
to hear. Now, you may even find it comforting.
• You can sit through a church service without crying.
• Some time passes in which you have not thought of your loved one.
When this first happens, you may panic, thinking, "I am
forgetting." This is not true. You will never forget. You are
giving yourself permission to go on with your life and your loved
one would want you to do this.
• You can enjoy a good joke and have a good laugh without feeling
• Your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns return to what they
• You no longer feel tired all the time.
• You have developed a routine or a new schedule in your daily life
that does not include your loved one.
• You can concentrate on a book or favorite television program. You
can even retain information you have just read or viewed.
• You no longer have to make daily or weekly trips to the cemetery.
You now feel comfortable going once a month or only on holidays or
other special occasions.
• You can find something to be thankful for. You always knew there
were good things going on in your life, but they didn't matter much
• You can establish new and healthy relationships. New friends are
now part of your life and you enjoy participating in activities
• You feel confident again. You are in touch with your new identity
and have a stronger sense of what you are going to do with the rest
of your life.
• You can organize and plan your future.
• You can accept things as they are and not keep trying to return
things to what they were.
• You have patience with yourself through "grief attacks." You know
they are becoming further apart and less frightening and
• You look forward to getting up in the morning.
• You stop to smell the flowers along the way and enjoy experiences
in life that are meant to be enjoyed.
• The vacated roles that your loved one filled in your life are now
being filled by yourself or others. When a loved one dies he or she
leaves many "holes" in your life. Now those holes are being filled
with other people and activities, although some will remain empty.
You are more at ease with these changes.
• You can take the energy and time spent thinking about your loss
and put those energies elsewhere, perhaps by helping others in
similar situations or making concrete plans with your own life.
• You acknowledge your new life and even discover personal growth
from experiencing grief.
If you or someone you know is grieving, please consider this
35-page guided journal by the American Hospice Foundation:
Your Personal Journey Through Grief: A Guided Road Map Toward
Learning and Healing.
You Know You’re Getting Better When article was originally
published on the American Hospice Foundation
website. © 2002. American Hospice Foundation. All Rights
What "Recovery" Will and Will Not Mean
Do Men Grieve Differently From Women?
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
How Long Is This Grieving Going to Last?
Also by Helen Fitzgerald:
Writing a Condolence Note
Helping Children Through Grief
Helping Your Bereaved Friend
Helping a Grieving Parent
Helen Fitzgerald is a Certified Thanatologist, author and
lecturer. Her books include
The Grieving Child: A Parents' Guide,
The Mourning Handbook and
The Grieving Teen. She has appeared
on the CBS Morning Show and the NBC Today Show and was previously
the director of training for the American Hospice Foundation. You
can ask Helen a question about dealing with grief and loss by
Ask Helen on the American Hospice Foundation website.
Photo by KitAy/Flickr Creative Commons