Letting Go of Expectations in Grief

Maybe you think you should be better by now. Probably you wish you were. Both of those responses to grief are understandable, but expecting your pain to evaporate by a certain date is a means to disappointment and frustration.

My grief was still very present after the one-year mark. Different but present. I learned to keep quiet about it so others wouldn’t chastise me or give pitying looks that suggested I was stuck. These judgments contribute to your expectations about the progress of grief.

Now, years later, I’m as healed as I can imagine being. But there are still occasions when I remember what it felt like to be grieving in full. It shocks me that I’m the same person as that woman who was clawing through a painful daily existence. And the fact that I can still feel now what I felt then, even briefly, is a surprise that didn’t meet my expectations. Like a cut finger, we expect to heal, and when we’re healed, we imagine we’ll no longer think of the wound. In this way—and many others—grieving is different from our other human experiences.

I observe this experience and try to do so generously. If I have a day of remembrance, an hour of sadness, a mournful week over an anniversary, I try to let it be even all these years later. Grief is nothing like what I expected it would be. But if I can allow myself to pass through it honestly, I can see it as a part of my larger experience of life, a painful one but still part of a journey. Trust that in time, you’ll experience your loss with less sharpness and fear, more acceptance and self-compassion. Share what you’re feeling in the comments. It helps us all.

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