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Is there a wrong way to grieve? |
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Is there a wrong way to grieve?

Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My parents died in an accident a year and a half ago. We had a wonderful relationship, and they were part of my family’s day-to-day life. I grieve for them every day and still find it difficult to talk about them without tears. I see a grief counselor and have been screened by my doctor for depression, and both said what I was feeling was normal.

I have close friends who have lost their parents and have said they’re fine, my sibling is doing OK, so why am I so stuck? I think about my parents multiple times a day, I replay how things could have been different, I just HURT.

I work, I exercise, I can still enjoy stuff. But I want to stop thinking about them constantly, and I want to be like my friends and family who have moved on. Feels like I’m doing grief wrong. Suggestions?

— Grieving

Such a terrible and shocking loss, I’m sorry.

There is no “doing grief wrong.” It’s too personal a process for that, too subject to subtle variables, too nonlinear.

You and your sibling suffered the same loss by title and number, but what each of you lost emotionally is completely different. We talk about it here all the time: Kids can grow up in the same family in the same home with the same parents and have completely different experiences. They can develop different attachments, form different opinions, pick up on different details, see things through different lenses. This variation in experience extends into your eventual reactions to leaving the nest, creating your own families, and, as now, grieving inevitable losses.

Your parents formed a large part of your emotional core. It’s quite possible your sibling or other people you’ve talked to were less influenced by their parents. Both can be normal and healthy, merely different, and both can profoundly affect how you feel now in your parents’ absence.

Remember, too, we don’t just grieve on our own schedules — we set our own pace for everything. Think of babies. They learn to walk and talk and grasp things at general milestone points, but individually each does it when good and ready. Processing emotions as adults is no different. We do things when we’re good and ready.

Please keep up the grief counseling, but also be patient with yourself. Your mind will do its work and, in time, make room for more and more other thoughts.

Re: Grieving:

Two points: not everyone who says they’ve moved on actually has. Also, you might just be a very sensitive person who feels tragic events more deeply and for longer. There’s no shame in that; the shame is in trying to change your nature to perceived “norms.” I’m very sorry you had such a terrible thing happen to you. I’m still not “over” my father’s sudden death 15 years ago; I can’t imagine losing both parents in an accident.

— Not “Over” It

Re: Grief:

I have found Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” to be a wonderful, comforting, and … therapeutic book. For anyone grieving a loss. We don’t handle grief well as a society; this gets the conversation and how we feel about it a bit closer.

— Anonymous

Seconded, thanks.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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