After the sudden loss of my mom, expectations became my nightmare.

I was just 23 when my mom died. Until then, I had zero experience with the level of pain and grief that became an integral part of my life.

I was in uncharted territory – cue the sudden crying jags that made me pull over in my car every time I realized I’d never see her again. But of all the things that I struggled with, expectations got the best of me. I found myself completely overwhelmed by expectations I didn’t even know I had, and by what I thought others expected of me. I was trying to perform for everyone. But in the end, all I did was hurt myself more.

It’s hard to comprehend and navigate the loss of a loved one, let alone the complex emotions that often surface. As I talk with people who have experienced the death of a loved one the more I see families torn apart because of expectations they put on each other.

For a family that’s grieving, it’s important to recognize that every person needs to find their own way through grief while allowing the others their processes.

Hopefully there’s some mutual support in there, too. It’s not easy. It takes a lot of patience, understanding, and empathy.  

Though there is no one-size-fits-all reaction to loss or grief, so here are six simple ways to keep your expectations from standing in the way of healing:

1. Get Some Support

It would have been helpful to receive advice, get into a support group, or see a counselor when my mother passed, but instead I felt like I had to just keep helping others. It didn’t fill me up or make me feel better, instead it took me to a place of emotional distress. If your child is grieving, make sure they are surrounded by people who help strengthen them, rather than extract energy.

2. Communicate Your Needs

Here’s where expectations can really make or break relationships. Conflict arises when we have a fixed idea of how something should go and it doesn’t. Making sure our needs are met is our own responsibility – it’s the only way to avoid disappointment and blame. While it might be uncomfortable, let your loved ones know what you need from them so they can show up for you. If it’s too hard to do in person or over the phone, send a heartfelt text message. If you’re a parent, ask your kids what they need from you!

3. Express Your Pain

Three years after the death of my mom, I began to journal and revisit each emotion I had experienced. I allowed myself to feel and address any hurt that came out. I encourage finding a way to express your pain so you can heal the hurt and get back to living.  

4. Give It Time

Our society expects us to recover from tragedy way too fast. For the first few years while I was grieving I couldn’t handle multi-tasking. Even simple things like cleaning my room or going to the store felt impossible. I punished myself with shame. Young people and students are expected to perform on tests, turn in papers, and score the winning goal within weeks of a trauma. It’s important to remember that healing takes a lot of time and you have to adjust and make space for it.

I found myself completely overwhelmed by expectations I didn’t even know I had.

5. Show Your Support

When I was grieving I needed someone to pry me open so I could get the pain out so I could begin healing. Teens often cope with loss by pushing people away. Don’t be fooled by their “I’m fine” responses. Keep gently trying to get them to open up.

6. Keep Showing Up

I think one of the most important things for someone supporting a person who is grieving is to remember it’s a process. It is easy to ask someone how they are doing the first few months when it’s fresh – showing up months or even years later takes awareness. Even though I had seemingly moved on with a husband, a baby and a new house, I was emotionally stuck and needed someone to pull me out of the mud.  

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For more tips on how to help someone who is grieving, read this article 10 Ways to Be a Good Friend In Grief.

In memory of those we’ve lost.

Now What?
3 Possible Action Steps:

  1. Gently start a conversation with your loved one about their grief and just listen. In six months, and as time goes on, continue to ask.
  2. Ask what it’s like to do _______ (their responsibilities) after the loss or change.
  3. Ask for and offer practical ways that you can be there for them.

Let’s Talk:

What action step are you going to take to heal or help someone heal? What kind of help did you or someone you love find helpful while grieving?

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