The Purpose of Grief and Mourning

By Therese Rando, Ph.D.

Grief responses are natural reactions when you experience loss and separation from those you love. They express three things:

1. Your feelings about the loss.

2. Your protest at the loss and your wish to undo it and have it not be true.

3. The effects you experience from the assault on you caused by the loss.

However, the ultimate goal of grief and mourning is to take you beyond these reactions to the loss. It requires your working actively on adapting to it. If you fail to adapt following a major loss, if you don’t accommodate to the change but persist as if the world is the same when it isn’t, then you are not responding to reality, and this is quite unhealthy. The therapeutic purpose of grief and mourning is to get you to the point where you can live with the loss healthily, after having made the necessary changes to do so.

What must you do to get to this point? You must:

1. Change your relationship with your loved one—recognizing he now is dead and developing new ways of relating to him.

2. Develop a new sense of yourself to reflect the many changes that occurred when you lost your loved one.

3. Take on healthy new ways of being in the world without your loved one.

4 . Find new people, objects or pursuits in which to put the emotional investment that you once placed in your relationship with the deceased.

The bottom line of this active work of grief and mourning, therefore, is to help you recognize that your loved one is gone and then to make the necessary internal (psychological) and external (social) changes to accomodate this reality.

Taken from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp 18-19.

Related articles:

Giving Sorrow Words

How Can We Hope When There Is No Hope?

Tribute to a Dying Loved One

Bereavement Groups Can Help


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.”

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons/Cia de Foto


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Comment by patricia marie kluska on July 13, 2011 at 10:27am
I have been struggling with my 1st husbqnds  loss since 06. Although I had remarried I had buried my pain so deep that it has been coming out. He is not here to tell him how much I still love him.I do know that he still loved me. He is my true love.I pray for him to come to me and how much I want to be with him
Comment by River of Tears on February 6, 2011 at 4:20am

Still trying to figure out the purpose of grief other then that I loved my Sister so .  Other then that all of this does not make sense . As much as I read or seek for answers I fear that nothing will make sense of grief because- that nothing made sense of her having to die so early in life .  How do you make sense of something that there is no answer to especially for one that from the very start of life asked why ?  I know it sounds like I am asking for allot, but then  at least  I wish to know know (how) she is .  Just wanting to know that she is ok .  Isn't it funny that even now what what one used to believe how things were in faith that is now even at question .. Maybe because all my trust left with her  . I guess it start to slip away slowing after Dad and Mom just passed away too all so close together and why . ?  I am beginning to not like the word why at all . For I seem to use it all the time these days .  Grief = Pain one of the things not spoke of or something you really hear about . Maybe because it is something that can not be defined until on actually goes through it and then no one ever want to speak of it again .   Just wish I had been there now more for my parent when they lost their loved ones , though comforting as I may have been never really understanding the retching pain that came along with it all yet some how they went on this I do not know how was it love ? Maybe this is what grief is,  the other side of all the love one feels for one .  Still not sure if ever an answer will be found or know , maybe we are not suppose to know but again from one that always asks is WHY?

Comfort to all




Comment by River of Tears on January 27, 2011 at 3:17am
I have been seeking answers to this question as though there was an answer, and to be honest as in loving those I loved the have just recently passed loving them was never questioned at least by me .  My heart and soul some how knew that they were apart of my being and I was fortunate to be apart of their and now that they are all gone the emptiness is one that  I only imagined when one would speak of if I am not here anymore .  My Father a pivotal part of my life one I looked to for wisdom for some how he knew something more then many did not know .  My Mother in her gentle and graceful beauty was what one would see as someone who has had to learn allot in life through a life not one of ease yet she showed that her love for her children and hopes to be with them  was what kept her going .  My dear Sister my friend one who I shared so much with was there along a journey in life that know one else was there to be by ones side no matter what even though she herself had medical challenges that that she had beyond what I even could not imagine living with .  They all had what I felt was a secret of sorts to move forward no matter what they had to face.   Simple words as they may , that they loved their family and life .  For me this was a greater gift given that they gave me  .  As I often ponder what I want , and if I could have them here . Is this only a selfish thought only for me ?   I guess time passed before I knew that I would not have a thousand more chances to say I LOVE YOU , or to be able to hug each one of them .   Even in my heart each night I lay there staring at all of their pictures that lay beside me trying to say these words it is not the same. So many  did not realize that I may even be in such pain or just wanted me to move on as they were able to do .  I feel like I may be truly different but then they did not know or understand the depth how much I loved each of them that has passed .  A road that I feel that I traveling that is rocky muddy and alone , the direction I am to go is what is the unknown.  Silly as it may sound I ask them for guidance , not sure if to move from this stop sign of grief ,into the world of life again .  At times for me ,just the wait is what I feel I need but as you know other may want to push you into a world that one may not now  know  or even recognize with out the ones they loved. For I walked and shared my life with them a road with direction, hope and dreams . Now all slipped away with in the darkness of this world of sadness and grief.   I truly was fortunate in life to have the ones in life that I was able to love .    

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