Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: What is a Normal Grief Reaction?
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-3544,single-format-standard,ajax_updown,page_not_loaded,,vertical_menu_enabled,qode-title-hidden,side_area_uncovered_from_content,qode-theme-ver-13.1.2,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.4.5,vc_responsive

Slice of Life: What is a Normal Grief Reaction?

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hI received this from the hospice that cared for my mom.


It is a list of the type of grief reactions to expect. I agree there is no “right way” to grieve, but it strikes me that there is nothing positive to expect on this list. There are no good feelings one might feel. What if the list included:

Feelings of appreciation

Moments of joy

Feelings of comfort

Laughing at unexpected times


Seeing the world through a new lens

Feeling your loved ones presence all the time

Touched by the kindness of others

Surrounded by people who care

More food than you know what to do with

Random acts of thoughtfulness



Seeing beauty in everything

Strength you never knew you had



Wanting to make the most of every moment

I am not suggesting that the responses on their list are wrong or inaccurate, but if those are the only things you expect you might miss some other responses you might encounter. Grief is complicated and intense. Tennyson said, “ Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I think these words are painfully true. The pain is both joyous and sorrowful. The experience is both lonely and comforting. Grief is the loss of one and the support of so many others.  It is normal to feel all those responses on the list, but if we keep our eyes out for some of these others as well, we might just experience them. Feeling the joy can help you balance the feeling of sorrow.

My mom always taught me to look at the bright side of things… I think she would add some of these other possible responses to the list. What would you add?


Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March.  Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.

  • Avatar
    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 11:12h, 20 March Reply

    So true! And you bring up an interesting point. There may be some people who feel a sense of guilt if they experience those positive feelings, as if they are wrong to feel that way having just lost a loved one. Seeing those positive reactions on this letter from the hospice might help them understand their feelings better.

  • Avatar
    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 11:33h, 20 March Reply

    I really like your added “what to expect” from grief. I know I have experienced things on both lists.The two that stick out for me:
    appreciation -the hospice workers for my father-in-law were amazing, the people at my mom’s rehab truly cared about her every need and made her feel so special, and my dad’s neighbors looked after him up until his last day, stopping by with food, offers of help around the house and yard, etc.
    Loved ones and kindness – I was so touched by those people who traveled a considerable distance for both of my husband’s parents and for both of my parents’ calling hours and/or funerals. The comfort that brought each time was invaluable.
    Thanks for shedding light on another aspect of grief.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 11:52h, 20 March Reply

    I agree! I am an optimist by nature and always try and see the silver lining. I think grief can be those things from the list, but I like your list much better!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:03h, 20 March Reply

    WOW! What a positive post. When I think back to losing my brother, I could never have anticipated how many different emotions and thoughts I would experience. Sometimes I felt guilty for laughing, but my sisters and I had so many wonderful memories that were hilarious. Our family was totally overwhelmed with food and I have to say the comfort that others offered was a truly positive experience. It’s true that there is no right way to grieve. I hope your post inspires others and reassures them that good feelings are ok and normal, too. Thanks for this beautiful slice!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:09h, 20 March Reply

    I believe what you are describing here is the sense of gratitude that often comes up, off and on, during the grieving process, a process that is very personal in nature. Just as grief has it’s moments, so does the thankfulness and the gratitude towards the people who reached out, etc. For instance, I am grateful to my good friends Lynne and Ralph, for without them, I would have just crumbled. They held us up. I am grateful that she left this world and is no longer suffering. I am happy for her–she doesn’t have to do something she doesn’t care to do anymore. But I am grieving her departure, no matter how happy I am for her.
    You can grieve anything…a baseball glove, a broken leg…I might be grieving that I am not able to play on the team due to a leg break, but I feel gratitude for the time to read, write, breathe, be mindful of the other things in life.

  • Avatar
    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 12:27h, 20 March Reply

    Clare, I love your list. Even at the darkest times, we also remember the happiness that comes from love. Tears at odd times I have plenty, but the unexpected moment of pure joy when I hear a song we loved or a joke he told or a photo of a place we promised to visit one day–all help me to keep living my life. All my loved ones who have died are still a part of me every day.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:32h, 20 March Reply

    Feeling the joy can help you balance the feeling of sorrow.
    What a wonderful reminder, Clare. I agree, the joy is often in the form of gratitude, which helps us get through the sorrow.

  • Avatar
    Kimberley Moran
    Posted at 13:07h, 20 March Reply

    What a wonderful post. You and I think the same, I think. I love to say that each time I think about a special moment with a loved one who has died, I am invoking their spirit. So I might add, “Invoke their spirit as often as you can.”

  • Avatar
    Anna Cockerille
    Posted at 13:24h, 20 March Reply

    This is amazing. I’m so glad I read it this morning. I have been grieving for my dad for over two years now (really longer since I was grieving in many ways during his illness, not just after he died). I still have so many of these responses on both lists. I suspect I always will. Your list helps me to think that there can be beauty in grief, because the grief, as the Tennyson quote implies, comes from great love. Thank you Clare.

  • Avatar
    Maureen Barbieri
    Posted at 13:28h, 20 March Reply

    So beautiful and so true. It is a kaleidoscope of emotion, trying to live with loss. Thank you for sharing this reflection on grief.

  • Avatar
    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 14:14h, 20 March Reply

    Clare – How do you do this? I am moved by this piece. I want to post the list you have created on the refrigerator door, in my notebook, and inside of my heart. I still do not know how to deal with the loss of my mother – over 30 years ago now. I think when we lose a parent, it is like losing a piece of ourselves. And when we have lost both parents, we feel somewhat like an orphan.

    Then we turn to family, friends, and our precious memories. I do hold fast to memories of reading together, trips to the library, shopping for school clothes, helping me think through projects. That’s when I can smile and sometimes even laugh. Writing about our feelings and our memories really helps – making them permanent, a history to pass on, a gift to people we do not even know.

    A special post from you today (although I have treasured every one!). Thanks for sharing with the Slicers.

  • Avatar
    Carrie Gelson
    Posted at 17:16h, 20 March Reply

    As I am experiencing the grief a young student is going through right now, this list is beautiful. I would say that breathing and connecting are huge.Those out of nowhere moments are especially rich and beautiful. Such a wonderful post Clare.

  • Avatar
    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 17:23h, 20 March Reply

    Clare, Thank you for another great post. My favorite quote:”Feeling the joy can help you balance the feeling of sorrow.” So true!
    After experiencing my great loss, I read a wonderful book written by Lorene Duquin. In her book she writes that in our grief we are like grapes -and we have a choice to turn into bitter vinegar or a fine wine. I love that analogy, and have many days had to make that conscious choice to be a fine wine. No one likes vinegar!

  • Avatar
    Posted at 19:33h, 20 March Reply

    I love this beautiful tribute to your mother and the joyful outlook she left behind in YOU. I love the uplifting nature of this post. Your grief is evident, but the sweet moments come through in the tone of your prose. Thank you.

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 00:48h, 21 March Reply

    Here’s what I think: I think you need to share this post with anyone and everyone who helps people move through the death of a loved one. It’s not all about the sadness and the grief and the crying. It’s also about the celebrating.

    Clare, you write the most beautiful, emotional posts. You’re writing exactly what I need. How do you do it?

  • Avatar
    Kathleen Sokolowksi
    Posted at 02:07h, 21 March Reply

    I agree with all the beautiful comments above, Clare- your writing is a gift and I know your mom would be so proud that you are helping so many of us to find that silver lining. My Grandmother passed away in December and she was such a huge part of my life. It’s the oddest thing, but every time I think of her, I feel the sensation of warm hug. It’s very sad she’s not here with us, but I have so many happy memories of her that when she comes to my mind, I feel myself being hugged and it’s happy. In my heart, I hope that’s her way of letting me know that she is happy too now, in Heaven with so many special people in her life. Thank you for such a poignant post.

  • Avatar
    Margaret Simon
    Posted at 11:01h, 21 March Reply

    Melanie sent me over to this post today. And I know why. I love your positive grief list. A friend of mine lost her second husband (number one died from cancer). I told her I could not imagine losing two husbands. She said that she draws strength from knowing she was loved by two wonderful men. When you look for the good, it’s there and it strengthens you through the not so good. Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Molly Hogan
    Posted at 12:33h, 21 March Reply

    I followed Melanie’s link as well and I’m so glad I did. I always find that the most moving funeral services are those that celebrate a life well lived, where there is laughter amidst tears and much love among the living. It’s important to recognize the things you list on your grief list. I hope you share this post with the hospice organization that cared for your mom. Please, please do. Your post is so powerful and important.

  • Avatar
    Linda Baie
    Posted at 20:03h, 21 March Reply

    Melanie sent me too, & I’m sorry I missed this earlier. I cared for my husband for five years before he passed away & I would never have survived without the help of so many many people, including my family, and those very close, my son & daughter-in-law, my daughter & son-in-law, and even the (at the time) two grandchildren. For those who care for someone with dementia, the grieving begins before death, what I often called the longest goodbye. Thank you for this, Clare. There are many positive moments in grief. Your list tells us how it really is.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 12:26h, 22 March Reply

    I followed Melanie’s link here, but I think God actually sent me here. I lost my mom last October and this was exactly what I needed to read! My mom also always encouraged me to look on the bright side! 🙂 Thank you for such a wonderful post! Your writing is truly a gift!

Post A Reply to Diane Dougherty Cancel Reply

Verification *