Deleting “Shoulds” from Your Grief Vocabulary

Deleting “Shoulds” from Your Grief Vocabulary

One of the most problematic phrases in our culture’s grief vocabulary are the words, “You shouldn’t be … (fill in the blank with whatever makes them uncomfortable).” In general, our human nature is uneasy around sadness or any deep emotional pain that cannot be comforted. We fight to control or avoid grief in ourselves or others at all costs. We pick up this message subconsciously from the media, movies and even TV shows that don’t generally make time to illustrate grief but push on to the next shocking plot-twist or scandal and meticulously edit out the pain.

The worst though, is when we hear this message directly from someone who is seemingly caring for us but, very clearly, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I’ve heard so many stories of family and friends, sometimes even strangers saying things like,

“You should be over this by now,”

“You should move on,”

“You should have another kid,”

“You should think about dating,”

“You should celebrate their life, not cry about it.”

What do these “shoulds” do to us? It seems to me that they take. And, sadly, they are trying take away from someone who has already had something special taken from them.

“Shoulds” are an attempt to take away permission to feel whatever emotions accompany your grief. Because our culture struggles to look pain in the face and enjoys believing that positive thinking can fix anything, it’s little surprise that others attempt to manage or fix our feelings with “shoulds”.

What is the first emotion you associate with grief? Perhaps you thought of sadness. Sadness is a profound emotion in grief but grief is a whole spectrum of emotions that seems to vary just as widely as the scope of human relationships. Some of the most prominent emotions in grief include (but are not limited to): sorrow, anger, guilt, fear and loneliness. We can feel all of these at the same time, one for a long time and others for a short time, or any combination imaginable. But the point is, none of us really know how grief is going to feel or go on feeling because it will probably be all over the board and, over time, it will change.

Unfortunately, because our society doesn’t like or understand grief it is always trying to find ways to minimize the pain experience. This happens to such an extent that the bereaved can sometimes feel guilty for “still” being sad. With these pressures, it becomes very easy for the grieving person to begin believing that what they feel as a result of grief is wrong. I shouldn’t be feeling like this. And the internal struggle with “shoulds” begins.

I should be over it, back to normal …


I shouldn’t be crying anymore, missing them, feeling like this.

On Tuesday evening we held our Annual Candlelight Service of Remembrance. This year we honored 78 unique and wonderful people. We watch a photo tribute, have a reading of the names, a time of encouragement, and (perhaps most significantly) a time of acknowledgment of their pain.

Acknowledgment, noun:

1. an act of acknowledging.
2. recognition of the existence or truth of something:

3. an expression of appreciation.
4. a thing done or given in appreciation or gratitude.

Did you notice the word “given”? Acknowledgment gives what “shoulds” take. Acknowledgment offers acceptance, compassion, and understanding to grieving people who are experiencing loneliness, isolation and rejection. Acknowledgment validates instead of denies, it opens instead of closes.

The poem below is from our Remembrance Service and is a beautiful example of what acknowledgment looks like.

This poem was read as five candles were lit at our Candlelight Service:

We light One for our Grief,

One for our Courage,

One for our Memories,

One for our Love.

and One for our Hope.

This candle represents our Grief

The Pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

This candle represents our Courage

To confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, and to change our lives.

This candle is in your Memory

The times we laughed the times we cried, the silly things you did, and the caring and joy you gave to us.

This candle is the light of Love

As we enter this holiday season, day-by-day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your loving brought to us.

And this candle is the light of Hope

It reminds us of love and memories of you that are ours forever. May the glow of the flame be our source of hopefulness now and forever.

We will always love you.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Christopher Iverson says:


    Another insightful blog. It is so true that families default to the word “should” so often as they journey through their grief. It is the language that is unfortunately too familiar with our society as we avoid the real deep feelings of grief and we attempt to bypass the rough patches of the journey. My prayer is that we as a collective society welcome the grief that we need to experience as opposed to all of the activities that we “should” do to avoid grief.

  2. Joe Lavoie says:


    I thank you for being part of the Candlelight service this is a very difficult year for myself and my family , since my father’s death I can assure you the should’s do come out but I think of my dad and I can get through. That is what is more important is to surround myself by everyone who is getting me through this time.
    Thank You So Much
    Joe Lavoie

  3. Mark says:

    Thank you for your insightful blog about the shoulds. I am reminded of something Pastor Rick Warren said about the people who feel like you “should” be over your grief, “Grief is not something you ever get over, it is something you get through.”

  4. Anne says:

    Good Blog, Molly.
    The best way I avoid “shoulding” someone and hurting them is just to listen and ask questions, reminding myself, I am nothing more than their friend and not in charge of anything that concerns them. We must uplift without feeling the need to advise, especially in situations where someone is hurting already. If they ask, which happens a lot since I have lost Lou, I just tell my walk, letting them know theirs may be totally different.

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