How Long Does Grief Last When A Loved One Dies

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I am often asked, “how long does the grief last, will I ever get better”?  The pain and sadness that accompany the loss of a loved one is so uncomfortable everyone wants to know when it will stop.  The answer to this question has many variables and is different for each person. The way in which a loved one died, when they died, how they were related to us and our own style of coping are just a few of the variables that will influence the grieving process.

Type of Loss, Expected or Sudden

The type of loss will influence the grief process.  Grieving an expected loss is different than grieving a sudden or violent loss.  When we expect a loved one to die we generally begin grieving before the actual death. 

Anticipatory Grief

We watch our loved ones change and grow weaker as the disease process continues.  Consciously or unconsciously we begin to process our goodbyes.  We move into a process of anticipatory grieving. We vacillate between knowing we are losing them and at the same time expecting them to pull through. Sadness, pain, hope and denial ebb and flow as the days or months unfold.

Anticipatory grief can peel away a few layers of the pain of loss prior to the death. There is the opportunity to have important conversations and help the loved one prepare for their death. 

The loved one is also experiencing grief, knowing their life is ending and they will be saying goodbye. Providing caregiving and support will impact the overall healing process. The exchange of gratitude and love will soften the pain as we reflect on their absence. 

If the relationship with your loved one has been strained or hurtful it can be a time of forgiveness or healing of old wounds. Unresolved issues are more difficult to address after the death of a loved one. This can significantly impact the intensity and duration of the pain emanating from grief.

Sudden Death

With a sudden death we do not have the opportunity for adequate preparation or to move through a goodbye process.  When the death is violent or a suicide the grief process will also include great questioning regarding why, and how.  Complications of anger and or guilt may also become considerable variables impacting the length of the grieving process.

Currently we are experiencing thousands of deaths due to Covid-19. Many families have not been able to participate in a goodbye process. The deaths were essentially unexpected and unattended. The grief process due to Covid-19 deaths has been incredibly painful.

 Additionally we have been unable to participate in the traditional rituals of funerals and the gatherings of support the time of death. These factors will complicated the related grief process both in intensity and duration. 

Grief and Healing Differ By Person

Grief is different for each person and the experience of “getting better” is also different for each person.  “Getting better” may mean to stop crying, or to become involved with society again, or to have a peaceful sleep, and for others just to get an appetite back and feel human again. 

 Grief is a process and there will be comfortable good days intermingled with difficult painful experiences of deep sadness.  A good way to monitor the healing process is to keep a journal.  Record how you are feeling each day, both good and bad.  

Overtime you will see that the bad days are fewer and fewer and the lows are less low while the highs are progressively higher.  A bad day this week may be what a good day felt like last month.  It is very difficult to be an accurate observer of our own behavior and emotions.  

For this reason a journal is perfect.  We can reflect back on our experiences written in our own hand and see that we have indeed made progress even though it may not seem to be so at the moment.

Strength and Type of Support

Other factors influencing the time frame for healing include the current support system.  Grieving is an emotional process.  If it is suppressed the process will take longer and can last forever. 

 A safe and nurturing support system will allow for the sharing and healing of the loss.  There is healing in the telling.  If you can talk about the loss and more importantly be “heard” as you tell your story the loss will move from an intellectual episode to an emotional episode. 

 Healing does not take part intellectually it occurs at an emotional level.  To feel our sadness, to express our despair and to feel empathy and receive compassion brings about healing or “relief”.  

Keeping the feelings inside, and unexpressed is what causes sleepless nights, loss of appetite, anger and depression.  A safe, compassionate support system allows for the expression of our emotions.

Covid-19 has had a tremendous impact on the amount of support available to grieving families. Isolation and social distancing has aggravated the pain associated with grief. We have been unable to outwardly express our sorrow or to tell our story. We are isolated from our support network. Non-Covid deaths have also been impacted by the absence of our normally available support networks.

Grief Lasts Forever

We will grieve as long as we remember our loved ones. We will always miss them and wish they were nearby. Fortunately the pain and loneliness of grief can be resolved and healed. Understanding grief, processing grief, and rebuilding a connection with our support networks will hasten the healing process.

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