Grief Recovery: You Know You’re Getting Better When...

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 grief:

• 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 ignorance.

• 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 guilty.

• Your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns return to what they were beforehand.

• 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 before.

• You can establish new and healthy relationships. New friends are now part of your life and you enjoy participating in activities with them.

• 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 painful.

• 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.

The You Know You’re Getting Better When article was originally published on the American Hospice Foundation website. © 2002. American Hospice Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Related articles:
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.

Photo by KitAy/Flickr Creative Commons


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Comment by Taurus Duncan on July 25, 2011 at 5:43pm
I thought that I was getting better, but inside I am falling apart. I have done everything that I know how to do to face reality. I know that she is gone and not able to come back. I can't deal with it. There is nobody to talk to. Everybody has to deal with this, but I am having a harder time because I need it to stop. I can't sleep at night, I can't function at work, I am confused most of the time, driving is scary. I constantly feel like I want to follow her. I am so tired everyday, can't stop thinking about her especially when trying to go to sleep. I miss hearing her breathing and watching over her. She was sooo sweet near the end, and I don't believe that it was her time to go. I'm not sure, but something seems wrong. I've shared and told people but the outcome is the same, there is nothing that is going to bring her back.
Comment by Wyvonia Woods Harris on January 18, 2011 at 7:13am
Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of my mother Mae. I remember getting the telephone call as if it was this morning. She is not here physically but I probe into our mother-daughter spirit  as I look at her beautiful smile and remember the sacrifices she made for me to be in this place and this moment. We will always be surrounded by the angels in the Woods because the trees that we are branches from being brought to good fruit.

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