Don't You Tell Me How to Grieve!

trees in park We all like to know what to expect. No surprises. Nothing unexpected. That’s the way most of us like our lives to be. So it’s not surprising that when we lose a loved one we go to the “experts” in grief to find out a game plan, a set of rules or a “to do” list for grief that lets us know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and what we’re supposed to do when it does happen. In grief we mourners and our caregivers want to be prepared. No surprises. Nothing unexpected.

But grief is not predictable. In fact, each grief and every mourner is different. There are no two losses or resulting griefs that are exactly alike, even when the losses are right-down-to-the-details identical. There are just too many factors that shape each grief and all those factors in every loss differ in some way.

Even when we are in a family, neighborhood or community where all of us experience losing the same person to death, each individual mourner experiences the loss of that one person differently. Also each mourner will have different needs to help them get through their grief and to adjust themselves and their lives to the same loss.

Why? Because the major factor shaping your loss and your grief is the unique, one-of-a-kind in-all-the-universe relationship you had with that person. There is no other relationship exactly like the relationship and memories you have with your loved one who died.

So don’t fall for the cookie cutter grief formulas that give you a set of rules, predictable stages or levels, or a “to do” list of things you have to do in order to heal or have “normal” grief. And stay away from the grief guide who tries to orchestrate your grief to fit how he or she thinks is the only right way to grieve. Because of the unpredictability of grief and the uniqueness of each mourner and his or her grief, what works for some may not work for others. To try these rigid models or guidelines for mourning, only sets up the grieving person for possible failure, disappointment and the resulting feeling of being abnormal or wrong in your grief. They say to themselves "I tried the fool-proof grief process and failed so there must be something majorly wrong with me!"

Go with the grief experts who know that only you can teach them about your unique grief. Only when the caregiver or counselor has been taught about your grief by you, can they walk alongside of you to find out what is natural and healthy for you in your grieving process to meet your unique needs.

Also, look out for those who try to rush your grief. Grief has its own timetable and forcing mourners to try to move through grief quickly can cause more emotional trauma and struggles for the mourner. Let your caregiver or counselor know that you are wanting to move through grief in a manner and at a speed that will be healthy for you. You don’t want to do anything in your grief that will hurt you or others around you.

Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise”  available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or

The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunica Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on

Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX