Misguided Ground Rules of Grief


BY: Laurie Mason, MSSA, LISW-S

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

When someone we love dies, we expect– and often receive – wonderful support. However, many grieving people discover misguided "grief ground rules" which society seems to place upon them.

One unwritten ground rule: Life should return to normal shortly after the funeral. Grieving people often receive caring support just after the death, during the funeral and for some days thereafter. However, friends and relatives begin to return to their lives, forgetting that the grieving person's life will never be "normal" again. Mrs. S was very close to her mother who died. At first, her family and friends were quite supportive. They prepared food and brought it to the house. Her husband took over some of the household chores.

However, after about a month, her friends stopped calling. She felt sad to think they might have forgotten her. Her husband returned to their previous routine, and expected his wife to do so as well. He would become irritated with her for not doing things around the house as she had before her mother had died.

Another unwritten ground rule: Widows/widowers must voluntarily give up associating with their couple friends. Sometimes the death of someone close to you can be a reminder of your own mortality. Because of this, couple friends of a widow or widower may avoid the surviving spouse. This is often very hurtful to the grieving person who really needs their support more than ever. Mrs. J's husband died and for a few weeks the couples with whom she and her husband socialized were supportive.

However, after a few months, she was no longer invited to the regular gatherings with her couple friends. When she asked about this, she was told that her friends did not want her to feel uncomfortable being together with them without her husband. Mrs. J. realized it was her friends who were uncomfortable with her presence.

As a family member or friend of someone who has suffered a loss, avoid these false "ground rules" which harm more than help. Since everyone's grief journey is personal, it is best to support the bereaved in whatever way is most helpful to him or her. If you don't know how, ask. Make sure the support is something you can be comfortable giving. Recognize your own limitations, and don't promise things you can't deliver. Just being present and available may be the best gift you can offer a grieving person.

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