How Long Does Grief Last
People deal with grief in different ways and how long it lasts can be just as varied. What doesn’t change, is that everyone who experiences loss needs time to mourn and heal before moving on with their life. It’s also perfectly normal to grieve for a loved one long after they’re gone.
We can’t tell you exactly how long grief should last after death as there’s no answer that would be true for everyone. There’s also no wrong or right way to feel after losing someone you love.
However, we can tell you that if you know what to expect, you’re more likely to find things easier to cope with. It can also help you determine whether you need additional support when coming to terms with your grief.
How long will my grief last?
There’s no set way to deal with grief. Grief feels different for everyone which can affect how long it lasts. If you’re worried about your feelings after losing a loved one, the important thing to remember is that there are no rules on the length of time you should grieve.
Grief is natural and in most cases, completely uncontrollable. However, different stages of grief have been identified and you’ll usually need to go through these stages before you can come out the other side.
Factors that prolong the mourning period
There are several factors that can affect the duration of grieving. They include:
Your relationship to the deceased: The relationship you had with the person who died plays a considerable role in how long grief might last. For example, the time it takes to grieve after the death of a parent, spouse, or child could be longer than that of a distant relative or friend. So it very much depends on your relationship, how close they were to you, and the impact their absence has on your life.
The circumstances in which they die: The circumstances of a person’s death can also play a role in the grieving process. When a person expects the death and has time to prepare for it, they may not grieve for as long as when someone dies unexpectedly. Having closure can also make a big difference in the grieving process.
Cultural beliefs: Grief is experienced in different ways among different cultures, so a person’s cultural beliefs can also play a role. Some cultures, for example, have mourning rituals that may help them cope with a loss.
Your own life experiences: A person’s life experiences or outlook on life can affect their grieving process. Difficulty accepting loss, personal beliefs/views on life, previous losses, or pre-existing conditions also play a role in how long someone grieves.
Why grief after the death of a spouse is so long
Several studies have shown that the loss of a spouse might result in more intense grief reactions than any other type of loss. Such extreme reactions often increase the risk of suffering from prolonged grief. Bereavement and its effects can last anywhere from a few months to forever, but more typically somewhere in between.
The complicated grieving timeline
Having a neat timeline for grief would be very convenient, but it’s nearly impossible as everyone experiences grief in their own way and at their own pace. The way grief is processed is an individual thing. Your experience will always be different from anyone else’s. It may come in waves or hit you all at once or may even be delayed.
That being said, there are certain stages to be aware of. Knowing what they are can help you decide whether support or a bereavement counselling service is necessary.
Anticipatory grief is something you might feel before your loved one dies and it can extend the grieving process.
For example, you might have received the terrible news that your loved one has a terminal illness. This is when the grieving begins. You might be grieving over time lost or a future that will never be. Whatever the reason, this stage can be just as fierce as the grief after a loved one has passed, but it does add a whole new layer to the grieving process.
Early stages of grief
Grief tends to hit very hard after the funeral is over. Friends and family go home and return to their everyday life but your life is still far from normal, and your grief is still raw. Of course, you’ll be able to keep busy tying up loose ends such as closing bank accounts and collecting life insurance and pensions, but that doesn’t mean you’ll stop grieving.
Try to keep track of the things you need to get done, and you’ll feel more proficient once you start ticking some of those small tasks off your list. You’ll begin to learn a new normal for yourself, which will help with your grief.
The first year of grieving
During the first year of grieving, you’ll have to get yourself through a lot of those awful firsts. For example, your first birthday without your loved one being present, or the first Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, wedding anniversary, or other special days that were unique.
Getting through the first year is challenging, and each of these first occasions may bring up the sadness of living without your loved one. It may help if you keep in mind that your grief may return with intensity when you have to cope with a death anniversary.
Still grieving in time
It’s perfectly reasonable to say that people who have lost someone close to them never fully “finish” their grief. For some people, it’s like a shadow that follows them. It’s not always visible or always felt, but it’s still there.
However, as time goes on the memories that used to haunt you may bring you comfort. The things that used to make you cry may make you smile and fill your heart with remembered joy.
‘Normal’ thoughts when grieving
When a person is grieving the loss of a loved one, they may be thinking certain things, for example:
I feel guilty about being happy
I could have done more to prevent this from happening
I can’t be the same person anymore
Nobody understands my pain
I need to talk about them. Why won’t the rest of the family?
I should be okay by now
I feel even worse than before
These thoughts and many more are all perfectly human and normal. But, they are more typically misconceptions that will prevent you from healing.
One of the hardest things you’ll have to cope with is other people’s reactions. You might want to talk about your loved one, but others won’t know what to say. Because of this, they’ll often avoid talking about the person who has died or the feelings you might have. Don’t feel bad that you might want to mention them in conversation or want to talk about them.
Bereavement counselling services
If you find that you're struggling with your grief after the first few months, it might be time to ask for help. While grief is an intensely personal experience, many people find they need some support from other people. This may be from family, friends, professionals or others in your social circle.
It can also be constructive to talk to people who aren’t directly involved in your life. Is grief getting too much for you? There are numerous support services you can contact if you need additional help and advice.