This series will explore common grief questions and experiences. While we hope this information can be helpful, we know each person experiences grief differently. Please feel free to reach out for additional support and resources.
This month, we’ve been discussing the relationship between grief and time. We began by defining the stages of grief as emotional states we occupy repeatedly, simultaneously, not at all, and/or in no particular order, rather than a linear process. Last week, we compared two grief theories about ways we can actively engage with our grief, rather than waiting for time alone to bring healing. Now that we’ve created space for ourselves to experience grief in our own ways with suggestions for how to start moving forward, the question is: how long does grief last?
Some of us may have grown up with the assumption that grief ends with acceptance. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s also likely that many grievers have encountered well-meaning friends and family who think we should have “moved on” by a certain point. The belief that grief is supposed to end may cause distress when we find ourselves continuing to feel sadness or yearning for our loved ones. Many people find that accepting grief as a natural, ongoing part of their lives is a helpful step in moving forward.
Sometimes it may feel as though we’ve reached a place of peace and acceptance with the loss, only to be blindsided by a fresh wave of emotion. This is especially likely to happen around holidays, birthday, anniversaries, and other milestones or occasions we may have expected our loved ones to be physically present for. For example, a child whose parent died when they were young might temporarily return to more intense feelings of grief when they become parents themselves, mourning the guidance their parent might have provided and the joy they’d experience as a grandparent. Someone whose spouse has died may encounter that intensity upon retiring from their job, having imagined they’d have more time to spend together. It’s normal to need time and extra support around such occasions, as we process new aspects of our grief. Each time we experience these “grief bursts,” we gain more information about what we need to care for and replenish ourselves.
We often talk about the more uncomfortable aspects of grief, such as sadness, anger, and intense longing. Grief encompasses all of that and much more. Grief can also give us a deeper appreciation for our other relationships, a renewed sense of meaning and purpose in our own lives, and an abiding connection with the person who died. We keep them alive in the stories we share about them and the ways we honor them. Grief has no end, but it will change and won’t always be as difficult; love, also, has no end.
For more in-depth discussion of learning to live with grief, see the additional resources below. If you’re feeling “stuck,” overwhelmed, or that you may benefit from additional support, please contact us.
The Myth of the Grief Timeline – This post by What’s Your Grief discusses the lack of a grief timeline, but includes indicators of when you may be making progress in your grief.
The Pressure to Get Over Grief – This is another post by What’s Your Grief that may be helpful for responding to the pressure to “get over” one’s grief.
Will I Ever Get Over This Grief? – The advice columnists of Dear Sugars respond to a woman grieving the loss of her sister.
Like Minds: Why Grief is Not Something You Have to “Get Over” – This video by BBC interviews a grief therapist and people discussing their own experiences with grief.
Passed and Present by Alison Gilbert – This book is a guide for discovering creative and meaningful ways to keep the memory of loved ones alive.