I am often asked, “how long does the grief last, will I ever get better, “? The pain and sadness which accompanies 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. How 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 can 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. We watch our loved ones change and grow weaker. Consciously or unconsciously we begin to process our goodbyes. With a sudden death we do not have the opportunity for adequate closure 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.
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.
It does get better in time. Stages of the grief process do differ for each person and circumstance.