Asking how long grief will last is the most common question asked. Whether it is you who has suffered the loss that is asking the question or others wondering when you will return to “normal.” There is no “normal” timetable for grieving a loss. We live in a society that encourages us to “get over it.” But grief is a lifelong process. It is not something you get over like the flu or the common cold. Your response to grief is individual and depends on your coping skills.
With time the intensity of the pain diminishes but it is never completely gone. It can be described as having an open wound that gradually heals, eventually leaving a scar. Initially the pain may be excruciating but as it heals the pain lessens, leaving you with the scar as a reminder of the loss.
EVERYONE GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY
Grief is very personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. And there is no timetable. Some people may feel better in weeks or months; others may heal over a period of years. Some people cry, some don’t.
A couple I saw many years ago were at odds because of the individual way of expressing their grief after the sudden loss their 50 year old son. Mrs. M could barely talk without crying. She also made daily visits to the cemetery. Mr. M shed tears the day of the funeral but has since remained very controlled when expressing his feelings. They judged each other’s grief responses as being “wrong.” He was annoyed with her continuous crying. She felt he didn’t grieve for their son because he didn’t cry. With time they were able to understand and accept each other’s grief responses, acknowledging that there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Also, grief is not linear. It can almost feel as if you are going up and down on a rollercoaster. There are many “triggers” that impact on your grief over time. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays can reawaken feelings of grief. These reactions are completely normal. It is best to plan ahead to address grief “triggers.” Make sure you are not alone. Create a way to honor your loved one.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” While this was based on the study of her patients with terminal illness, it was later used to define other losses including the death of a loved.
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
v Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
v Anger: “Why is this happening to me?”
v Bargaining: “Make this go away and I will do……..”
v Depression: “I can’t do anything because I am too sad.”
v Acceptance: “I’m now able to accept what happened.”
Following a loss you may experience these five stages. It may help you understand your reactions. However, not everyone experiences all the stages and you do not necessarily go through each stage in order. Some people may heal without going through any of the stages, others may go through some of the stages. Remember, there are no “shoulds” when it comes to grieving.
I continue to see Ms. A. in my practice who witnessed the sudden death of her long time boyfriend. After two years of addressing this sudden loss, she has come to terms with her feelings of grief. She moved in and out of the different stages, some lasting briefly, others longer until there was an acceptance. She now feels stronger and is able to move on with her life.
THE MYTHS OF GRIEF
MYTH: if you ignore it, the pain will go away.
REALITY: Ignoring or suppressing the pain will make it worse. At some point your feelings of grief will surface and be more difficult to handle. To heal it is necessary to face the loss.
MYTH: You must be “strong.”
REALITY: Any feelings are normal. Crying does not mean you are weak. Feeling you must be strong for other members of the family can have negative impact on your own recovery as well as their ability to heal.
MYTH: Grief only lasts a year
REALITY: There is no right or wrong length of time. How long it takes depends on the individual person, their personality and their individual coping skills .
While this article focused on loss through the death of a loved one, there are many other types of losses that one can grieve.
v Loss of health
v Loss of independence
v Selling the family home
v Loss of friendships
v Moving to a health care facility
Some of the symptoms of grief may include, shock, sadness, guilt, anger, fear as well as physical symptoms. All are normal reactions. A most important factor in healing from a loss may be to seek the support of others. You might join a support group. If you find you are not able to handle your grief, that may be the time to talk with a therapist to work through your overwhelming emotions. As a therapist, working with an elderly population I have dealt with with grief and loss issues, covering all types of grief. You can be helped.