Healthy Boundaries in Grief

As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been  easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.  

So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.

But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optional, they are necessary for survival.  

So what are healthy boundaries?

  • Saying “no” without guilt
  • Asking for what you want or need
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Saying “yes” because you want to, not out of obligation or to please others
  • Behaving according to your own values and beliefs
  • Feeling safe to express difficult emotions and to have disagreements
  • Feeling supported to pursue your  own goals
  • Being treated as an equal
  • Taking responsibilty for your own emotions
  • Not feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions
  • Being in tune with your own feelings
  • Knowing who you are, what you believe, what you like

What does this look like in real life?

  • Not being “guilted” into engaging in social/family/church activities before I am ready
  • Letting family and friends know when I need encouragement, companionship, solitude, help or space
  • Keeping or making doctor’s appointments and staying on top of my physical well-being by sleeping/eating/taking medication/exercising as best I can
  • Participating in what is helpful and life-giving to me when I want to and not because I feel like I have to.  
  • Giving myself space and time to figure out how losing a child impacts my beliefs, my sense of self, my understanding of the world-being honest about questions and about struggles.  If I have to take a break from church for awhile, that’s OK.
  • Expecting support from friends and family to do the work grief requires.  If some in my circle can’t do this, then I’ll put those relationships on hold until I feel stronger. I am not required to live up to other people’s standards.
  • Embracing and acknowledging my own emotions.  Not expecting someone else to “make me better”.  No one can take away the sorrow and pain of child loss.  It is excruciating.  There is no way through but THROUGH.  Face the feelings.  Get help from a counselor if necessary.  Join a support group.  Find safe friends.  But I will not be able to distract myself or ignore the heartache forever.
  • Understand that though I share the loss with others-a spouse, my surviving children, my child’s grandparents, etc-I am not responsible for how they are dealing with loss. I may offer help, may arrange counseling (especially for children), should strive toward an environment where feelings can be expressed-but I can’t work through their loss experience for them.  
  • Pay attention to my own feelings and what triggers grief attacks.  When I can, plan around the triggers.  When I can’t, accept the feelings and go with them.  If I need to leave a venue, leave.

What it doesn’t look like:  

Healthy personal boundaries are not an excuse for bad behavior.  They are not to be used as blunt instruments to bully others into submission or to advance my own agenda against theirs.

My boundaries don’t give me the right to be hateful, hurtful or unkind.  They are not permission to pitch fits, make public displays or belittle others.  


And they are absolutely NOT a reason to plaster hate speech across social media.  If I have a personal relationship issue then it needs to be handled personally and privately not publicly. Vague Facebook statuses that suggest I’ve been offended by half my friend list are off limits.

Establishing healthy personal boundaries is work.  

Already exhausted from grief, the last thing I want is more work.

But if I don’t defend the space and time I need to do the work grief requires I cannot make progress toward healing.

If I don’t limit my interaction with those who are unhelpful or downright hurtful, I will be dragged down further in the mire of sorrow and sadness.

If I don’t purposely pursue physical, emotional and psychological health, grief will kill me.

Author: Melanie

I am a shepherd, wife and mother of four amazing children, three that walk the earth with me and one who lives with Jesus. This is a record of my grief journey and a look into the life I didn't choose. If you are interested in joining a community of bereaved parents leaning on the promises of God in Christ, please like the public Facebook page, "Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child" and join the conversation.

21 thoughts on “Healthy Boundaries in Grief”

  1. Thank you for this. Until I read this post, I BNB thought I was doing OK with my boundaries. But you have pointed out a lot if areas that I have not addressed. Self care being one of them. Ugh. More work. But you are right. No way around it. Just through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Melanie, Thank you for this. I found it so helpful as one of my friends recently said something so hurtful to me. I struggled with asserting my own feelings while not attacking her’s. I still don’t know how I feel about it all as I am sure she is unaware of the depth of pain she caused. My daughter has been gone from this world for almost 3 years, and it’s amazing to me how much “better” people think I must be by now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for re posting this Melaine, it resonates so much with me at the moment. I’m fed up with myself for responding because I feel guilty and it’s wearing me out.
    I can’t believe I have been off work for the school holidays for six weeks but still feel exhausted!
    Already I am dreading the autumn calender. I know I need to put some strategies in place before I become a heap in the mire you speak of.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, what a wonderful blog. You hit a grand slam home run with this. Thank you so much. I’ve been slowly learning all this through chats with other bereaved parents, but this is it. Concise and all in one blog. Thank you. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m copying this into my journal for future rereading. ~Roger

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am always encouraged by your words because they express exactly how I feel if I could speak as eloquently as you. I am reminded as I read your blog that I am not completely crazy and that we are not alone on this terrible path we must walk. Hoping today is one of the better ones for all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Melanie,
    Thank you for this. It is so very practical. We lost our 22 year old a little over a year ago. I have filled life with work. It kept me sane. Now I am taking a break and need to embrace this advice as I am faced with my heartache, anger, doubt, despair without the distraction of my sweet students. So far my solution has been sleep, TV and a little yoga. Dragging myself to church, but it is hard. I appreciate your honesty as you write, and really love your honesty as you seek God in all this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you need a period of rest before plunging into grief work. Life circumstances in our family meant that for the first four and a half months after Dominic ran ahead to heaven I was also very, very busy and distracted. Then I crashed. It took another couple months for me to get enough physical rest to begin working on the grief. I’ve cycled through distraction/busyness and more focused grief work now for almost 33 months. When I think I’m “better” (read distracted/busy/trying to ignore my pain) my body “tells” on me with increased fatigue, sleeplessness, worse RA symptoms, shaky hands, headaches. I’m learning to read the signals and step back from outside commitments. It’s hard. Silence means I hear the hurt. Praying that the Lord will guide you with His wisdom into doing what you need to and that you will feel His loving arms around you. May He fill your hurting heart with His grace and mercy.

      Liked by 1 person

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