Grief Psychology Continued: Expectations

More from Sue Morris’ “The psychology of grief — applying cognitive and behaviour therapy principles“:


How someone thinks about life and death has a significant impact on how he or she will grieve. Most people expect that children will outlive their parents and that the majority of us will live long and healthy lives. When someone dies suddenly or prematurely many of these basic assumptions about life are challenged. Similarly, the diagnosis of a terminal illness and the subsequent death can also challenge a person’s belief about the world, often resulting in a discrepancy between what the bereaved expected and what actually happened. The greater the discrepancy, the more difficult it can be to adapt to the death of a loved one. This is one reason why the death of a child is considered to be one of the greatest losses as it challenges our beliefs about life and death and the way we think things ‘should’ be.

Expectations also play a significant role in beliefs about progress. It is not uncommon to hear the bereaved express comments such as, ‘It’s been three months, I thought I’d be better by now’. Such comments reflect the ‘fix-it’ mentality of our society. We want things done immediately and we tend to have little patience. It’s no surprise then that people, including those who are grieving, believe that grief should be something they can ‘get over quickly’ so they can ‘return to normal’, in much the same way as they’d recover from an infection. The problem is that this view of grief is incorrect. Grief is not an illness with a prescribed cure – it’s a normal and expected response to the death of a loved one. It is a highly individualised process that involves many ups and downs.

What expectations did you have about how you would grieve the death of your loved one?  What has been as you expected, and what has been different?

About Rebecca Hensler

Rebecca Hensler founded Grief Beyond Belief in 2011, following the death of her infant son Jude. She runs Grief Beyond Belief from her home and continues to write and speak on the topics of grief without faith and secular grief support.

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