11 Normal Thoughts Every Person Has During The Stages Of Grief

There's no right way to react to a loss.

grieving woman aldomurillo | Canva 

As a therapist, when people call me about grief, more often than not they're not only dealing with grief of their own but are also holding on to the strong belief that they're somehow grieving the wrong way. Something about that reaction always makes me think of Reese's peanut butter cup commercial and their campaign; "There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's." Why do so many people think that they're still not getting it right? For the most part, there is no wrong way to grieve. I've written about this in my book, The Next Happy, but over and over, people seem to have the same anxieties about grieving and how to move on. Are they doing it right? Is this reaction normal? I'll tell you right now: yes, it is normal. If you have any of these questions, you're not alone. 


Here are 11 normal thoughts every single person has during the stages of grief:

1. "Shouldn't I be over it now?"

Sometimes people ask me that question as soon as three weeks after suffering a loss! Three weeks! Grief takes as long as it takes. We live in a culture that's in a hurry to get over it and move on. While we do have a pretty cut-and-dry definition of "pathological" grief, there is no cookie-cutter timetable that fits everyone. I cannot provide people with a crystal ball. Honestly, it isn't how long you're grieving that worries me. What matters is if someone's grief is so significant, consuming, and debilitating that it is impacting their ability to function or causing them to have suicidal thoughts. In these cases, it is extremely important to seek out professional help and determine if medication and therapy might be helpful.


RELATED: What To Do During The Grieving Process To Be Happy Again After A Devastating Loss

2. "Are my feelings normal?”

In the face of grief, people feel angry, sad, enraged, guilty, shameful, fearful, relieved, numb, and even nothing. There is no normal. Normal is a setting on the dryer. What's more of a problem is when we get so stuck in one of these feelings that we aren't able to move on and access other emotions. Feel what you feel, but if you feel stuck, it's time to seek help.

3. "I'm not sad. Does that mean I'm not grieving?"

No. It just means that right now you are feeling other things, and I'm guessing that the sadness is there somewhere. It still may show up. If someone isn't feeling sadness, then they are likely feeling something else: shock, numbness, overwhelm, fear, or anger. However you are feeling, your feelings are okay. Sadness is not the only way to mourn. That said, if you feel you are having difficulty accessing your feelings, then therapy or a grief support group may prove helpful.



4. "I am really angry. That's not grief, is it?"

Yes, anger is most definitely part of grief, and it's hard for some people to deal with. People are often surprised to find that they are angry at a lost loved one, even though there is another part of them that is sad and lost without them. Anger in regards to other people around the loss is a very common reaction, as well. When I lost a loved one, I got very angry with a hospice worker who made an incredibly stupid suggestion as my loved one suffered. Anger is an expected part of grief, but if it's causing you to act out, then it's time to get some help from a counselor or a mental health professional so you can find a way to express the anger in a safe and meaningful way.


RELATED: What To Remember If You're Dealing With The Pain Of Loss

5. "It doesn't feel real. Is that weird?"

No, it's not weird. It's hard to adjust to this new reality. It's a reality that you don't want to accept. The "not feeling real" is your psyche's way of not accepting the new reality. Some things are just too hard to accept as real. This will likely change in time, but even then you may experience moments when the new reality can still seem unreal.

6. "I feel guilty. I feel like this is all my fault."

When we have lost a job, a relationship, or even a loved one, guilt is a way to attempt to gain some control. If we find fault with ourselves and revisit life before the loss to see how there was something we could've done differently, we may feel better in the moment. Yes, it is valuable with the end of a relationship or a loss of a dream to take a look at our own choices. However, it is also NOT good to take 100 percent responsibility when you're dealing with death. Death is never your fault.



7. "I haven't cried yet. Does that mean I didn't love him or her?"

No, it just means you haven't cried yet. Some people cry a lot and some people don't. Your unique experience of grief does not in any way mean you didn't love that person. Just because you haven't cried doesn't mean that one day you won't.


RELATED: Grief Doesn't Only Come With Experiencing Death

8. "I am not feeling all the stages of grief. Does that mean I am doing this wrong?"

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the author of On Death And Dying, wrote about the stages of dealing with grief when someone is facing death. Her stages weren't created as a black-and-white guide. She didn't intend for them to be experienced in a linear and lockstep fashion. Your grief is as unique as you are and you don't have to do this a certain way. You just have to do it your way.

9. "I feel like I shouldn't be feeling so much. I mean, I'm not the only person to have ever dealt with this before."

Just because other people know loss doesn't make it easier to deal with our own. Comparing our experience to others doesn't do anything to help our feelings. Yes, it's valuable to know that we aren't the only ones to know such loss, but it is not useful to minimize the real grief you are dealing with in reality.

10. "I find I am making jokes and laughing about this loss. Does this mean there is something wrong with me?"

Humor helps us heal and deal with really difficult times. Victor Frankel, the Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist and the author of Man's Search For Meaning, lost his entire family in Nazi concentration camps. He wrote, "I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily... out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable... survivable." Laughing at funerals and the like isn't unusual. It can be a way to deal with anxiety triggered by intense loss.


11. "I don't feel closure on this. Is there something wrong with me?"

I don’t believe in closure. I do believe in coming to accept that this has happened to you. Loss is a wound that is part of you, and closure means that the wound is gone, healed forever.

RELATED: 15 Healthy Ways To Mourn When Someone You Love Is Suddenly Gone

Tracey Cleantis is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Southern California and the author of the critically acclaimed book The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward. She has been featured in Psychology Today, Redbook, Aeon, Maclean’s, Sojourner, Mode magazine, Yahoo News, Salon.com, Psychologies magazine, The Daily Mail, and more.