How long does this grief process take?

BY: Kathryn Harrison Brown, MA, PC

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

Bereavement counselors are often asked, "When will I be over the death of my loved one?" Perhaps the question is the result of feeling as though the sharp, raw pain of grief will never end. Or maybe the question arises because well-meaning friends and family have asked "shouldn't you be over this by now?" The answer to the question "when will I get over this" is NEVER. Grieving is a lifelong process, not a long-term or short-term process. This does not mean you are doomed to a life of misery and sadness. It means that grief will be part of your life history and become a part of who you are as you redefine the relationship you once had. The relationship with your loved one does not end because they are no longer here physically; rather, a new type of relationship is created based on memory, spirit, and love.

Memories are painful, but they are also comforting and beautiful. At first, memories can hurt so much, you avoid them as much as possible. You may put away photos of loved ones because the reminder is too painful. Or you may jump into one project after another to stay so busy that there is little time to think or mourn. Although these strategies may help for a while, eventually memories will surface as well as the emotions they trigger. You must acknowledge the pain and then the steps of healing can begin.

Be aware of feelings/emotions. You may feel pain, fear, anger, anxiety, regret, anguish, and/or hopelessness. These feelings are normal and may occur at different times throughout the journey of grief. Find someone with whom you can share these feelings. This may be a friend, family member, support group, or religious community. Talking with someone who thinks there is a certain time frame for recovery will probably not help. You may think something is wrong with you because you "aren't over the death yet."

Be sensitive to the suffering of others. Your own personal experiences help you provide strength and courage to others in similar situations. As you give empathy and compassion to others, you also receive this from them. People who share their grief, can offer each other the strength to face another day.

Allow the necessary time to grieve. Despite responsibilities, make your own time frame for healing which will discourage others from pushing you to "get over it." Spend time each day setting aside worries to focus thoughts and feelings on your loved one. This helps you to understand that death is not the end, but simply one form of ending. You may find comfort in creating a sacred place in your home with pictures or objects that have special meaning where grieving can occur and you feel reconnected.

Let your tears flow. A good cry has many benefits: chemicals built up during stress are released; blood pressure is lowered; and heart rate decreases. Although this emotional release is healing, it is also tiring so make sure you renew your energy.

All of us will face loss during our lives. It cannot be avoided, but there is a choice in how you respond to the loss. Hope, healing, and a renewed spirit will come in time but your life will forever be changed because of the death of your loved one. So when someone asks how long your grief will last, you can answer honestly forever.

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