Is there a right way to grieve?

5 min read

Steps to relieving social pressure around grief

  • How to grieve is up to you. Continuously remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to experience loss.

  • Try not to suppress your grief or push your feelings down.

  • Take it slow, feel your feelings as they come, and consistently check in with yourself— whatever you are feeling, know that your feelings are right, valid, and deserve to be felt.

  • Be compassionate and kind to yourself and to those around you.

When someone close to you has died, you’re going to be in pain. It’s awful, and we are so sorry that you're going through this. 

This kind of pain can feel very different for different people and at different times. You’re bound to experience a whole range of complex emotions, some of which you may not expect, or even be able to name. And it’s normal and understandable to wonder if the feelings you’re experiencing are the right ones. 

Whatever you are feeling, know that your feelings are right, and valid, and deserve to be felt. 

Grief, in the simplest terms, is deep sorrow over a change you did not want to happen. It is, of course, not so simple as the words “deep sorrow” suggest.

It can be helpful to understand what experts have to say about how grief affects us, but it’s also important to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how we grieve for loved ones who have passed. Everyone grieves in their own way, and that is OK.

As you seek to understand your loss and how you’re feeling, you’re going to find many ways of interpreting grief, different methods for processing it, and various versions of what to expect. 

It’s possible that, even with all the information you can find, you’re still going to be overwhelmed at times. Take it slow, and feel your own feelings as they come. Remember that this is an extremely personal experience, and nobody can dictate the right way to deal with it. 

Take stock of your emotions

You have probably heard about the stages of grief, established by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and popularized around loss by expert David Kessler. A lot has been written on their work, which originally centered on five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As their work continued, Kessler added a sixth stage: meaning-making.  

As you process your emotions, it can be tempting to think of these stages as a sort of flowchart, with each emotion coming after the other. You might be tempted to think that you can “work the system” by going through the stages and coming out the other side. This is in no way the expectation, nor is it the point of trying to reckon with your grief.

Wherever you find yourself at this moment, and as you go forward, it can be useful to consistently check in with yourself. Are you feeling shock? Helplessness? Are you angry or relieved? Is sadness ruling your day, or do you find yourself surprised by it in little moments or memories? Many people find it helpful to take a minute to write these feelings down.  

All of these emotions are understandable and valid. You might find yourself feeling them in succession, on a spectrum, or in combination. Sometimes you might feel one emotion for a long period; other days, your feelings might change within minutes. Try not to deny your feelings or push them down. If you suppress how you are feeling, for whatever reason, you might find yourself manifesting unhealthy or destructive behavior. 

When you are in grief, it is almost always helpful to express yourself out loud to a close friend or family member, or a professional who will listen unconditionally. 

Everyone grieves in their own way

One of the hardest parts about dealing with grief is when it does not meet our own expectations. You might find yourself being overly productive as opposed to being unable to get out of bed. Or, you may joke through the funeral, rather than shedding tears as you thought you would. 

We are often hardest on ourselves in these situations. Along with everything that already comes with grief, we’re adding the pressure to live up to our own expectations emotionally. 

It’s important to allow yourself this time to only take on what you can handle during the grieving process—including understanding complicated questions about your own emotions. Allow yourself to be distracted by a favorite movie, or briefly transported by your favorite song. It is 100% OK to feel moments of relief and even joy. 

If you look around you at others affected and wonder why their grief does not look like yours, keep in mind that struggling with grief can and does look different for everyone. 

Even knowing that, you might still feel confusion or frustration over their expression of emotions. This can often cause tension, and even rifts in relationships during a fraught time.

If you find yourself questioning the way someone else is grieving (or if they’re even grieving at all), remember that you have both just experienced a life-altering loss. Just as you have been dealing with a range of possible emotions, they are also experiencing feelings that might be expressed in various ways. And of course the way their feelings appear outwardly might not reflect what they're experiencing emotionally.

Their way of grieving might not match yours, but you are both finding a way through the process. Instead of judging, it is a good time to reflect on your shared loss, and the ways in which you might be there for each other. Ask how they’re doing. Or open up a conversation in which you can remember the person together. 

What if you suppress your grief?

Be compassionate and kind, both to yourself and to those around you. Throughout dealing with your grief, it is especially important to be honest and vulnerable, as well as recognizing shifts in your own habits and emotions. Try to stay tuned in, check on yourself, and know that there is no “doing it wrong” for yourself or others. 

Set aside time for remembering your loved one, either privately or in community. This can look like a simple ritual of remembrance like lighting a candle during family gatherings, or it can be an act as large as starting a non-profit or making a community space in their name. Whatever the outcome, this is one way (of many) to move forward ●