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Taking Questions

How do I know that I am getting better? (for teens and the rest of us)

Progress through the grief process is so slow that it is sometimes difficult to know if you are getting anywhere. There are times when you may feel as if you are taking one step forward and then two steps back. It's a common feeling. If a member of your family has died, I would expect all of your family to be experiencing something similar. One person told me that she feels as if she is riding on the pendulum of a giant clock, swinging back and forth through her grief. Meanwhile, the clock ticks away the minutes, the hours and the days. She also said that time itself was really weird for her: in some ways, it was going by so fast that she couldn't believe that it was seven months since her dad's death; in other ways, the time seemed to drag. Fast and slow at the same time – that's what you can expect your recovery to feel like. Also expect that you will keep going back and revisiting your grief occasionally, especially at big events in your life. In times, those visits will be less painful than they were the first time around.

Following are some clues that will help you to see that you are beginning to work through your grief. These ever-so-slight clues can be missed unless you are aware of their importance:

  • You are really in touch with the finality of the death: You don't have those moments of thinking she has not really died, hoping that she is on a trip. You no longer burst into the kitchen looking for your dad to be sitting at the table with a cup of coffee.
  • You can review both pleasant and unpleasant memories. So often when a loved one dies, people want to talk about and remember only the good stuff, when, in reality, not everyone or everything is perfect. There are things about the deceased you realize that you don't miss at all.
  • You can drive somewhere without crying the whole time. It seems that when a person gets in a car and starts driving, it is easy to get into a hypnotic state, start thinking, and then cry. Many people tell me that driving is a time when they really mourn the loss of a loved one.
  • You realize that painful comments made by family or friends are made in ignorance. People often don't know what to say after a death, and sometimes say exactly the wrong thing. People who have not experienced what you have really don't have a clue about what you are feeling. Still, they want to be helpful. You're making progress when you come to realize this.
  • You can look forward to holidays and birthdays. You and your family have settled back into old rituals and customs or even developed some new ones.
  • You can reach out to help someone in a similar situation. It can be very healing when you can turn a tragedy into something useful by being able to help another person.
  • The music your loved one listened to is no longer painful for you to hear. When you turn on the radio, "that song" is no longer a bridge back to the pain.
  • Some time passes and you have not thought of your loved one. Yes, this is a sign that you are moving on. It means that you are getting on with your life and letting the past be the past. It doesn't mean that you will ever forget your loved one.
  • You can enjoy a party, a good joke, or the sunset without feeling guilty.
  • Your eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns have returned to what they were before the death. When once again you have a routine or schedule in your daily life, you know that you're making progress.
  • You no longer feel tired all of the time.
  • You can concentrate on homework, reading a book, or watching a favorite television program.
  • You can find something in your life to be thankful for, even something as simple as the beginning of a new day.
  • You feel confident again.
  • You can accept things as they are and do not keep trying to return things to what they were. You and your family have changed since the death, and you are no longer trying to go back and recreate the past.
  • The vacated roles your loved one played in your life are now being filled by others or even yourself. This is happening while, at the same time, you know that some roles will always remain vacated – and that is OK with you.
  • You can enjoy experiences in life that are meant to be enjoyed.
  • You can acknowledge your new life and even discover personal growth from your grief. You are a better person because of it.

Taken from The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends by Helen Fitzgerald, Fireside, 2000.

Suggested questions for future editions can be sent to (please put "Taking Questions" in the subject line).

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