In normal grief, symptoms will occur less often and will feel less severe as time passes. Recovery does not happen in a set period of time. For most bereaved people having normal grief, symptoms lessen between 6 months and 2 years after the loss. Although many bereaved people have similar responses as they cope with their losses, there is no typical grief response. The grief process is personal. -NCI: PDQ® Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss
The first question I get asked by new widows is, “Will I always feel like this?” The pain at the death of a loved one is so intense that we wonder how we can possibly survive…. yet we do. We are remarkably resilient, bending over like a green twig without breaking, although at times we think we are broken. As the weeks and months drag on, a sense of hopelessness and panic can settle in. We wonder if life will always be so difficult, so painful, and so empty.
I remember the first time that I laughed after my husband died. My son said some funny and all of us laughed. I felt guilty in that moment, wondering if it was okay to feel a spark of joy when I had been so consumed with sadness. I worried that I would forget Scott and that being sad was the only way to honorably remember him. But as I looked around at my children’s faces, a voice in my head told me to dismiss that thought. I knew that I still have to enjoy them, and that to help them heal I would have to learn to enjoy life again. I saw a glimmer of hope with that thought.
Those moments gradually became longer. I remember the first day that I didn’t cry and then the first week. All were hurdles or miles stones along my journey. Yet after each new break through, I still experienced setbacks. Sometimes these were intense grief burst or pangs that lasted part of a day. Other times there were weeks when I felt that I was swimming in deep water struggling to keep my head up. Some centered around particular places, things, or days on the calendar, while others I couldn’t find a source for. However, I consistently found solace each time I was plunged back into grief by turning to spiritual things. I found that I was able to feel peace again and renew my perspective. It became a pattern for healing for me.
Grief is sometimes described as a process that has stages.
For me, I think it is best described as a roller coaster. In the beginning the highs and the lows are extreme, but over time they begin to even out. It has also brought me comfort to know that the lows do not last, they are always followed by periods of relief.
How long is too long to grieve?
The passage of time helps grief, but it does not heal it completely. The healing part depends on the things we do and choose as we move through grief. So in the end, that question and choice is up to you. Grief has to be felt and dealt with, but it doesn’t have to be dwelt upon. We can choose times to feel grief and we can choose times to direct our thoughts and actions away from ourselves and into cherished relationships, helping others, and good things. We can choose to focus on the past and waste away today or we can face the future and live for today.
Grieving is the way that loss can heal. Yet many people do not know how to grieve and heal their losses. This makes it hard to find the courage to participate fully in life. At some deep level, it may make us unwilling to be openhearted or present, to become attached or intimate. We trust our bodies to heal because of the gift of a billion years of evolution. But how might you live if you did not know that your body could heal? Would you ride your bike, drive a car, use a knife to cut up your dinner? Or would you never get off the couch? Many people have become emotional couch potatoes because they do not know they can heal their hearts.
Unless we learn to grieve, we may need to live life at a distance in order to protect ourselves from pain. We may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us or allow ourselves to be touched, to be intimate, to care or be cared about. Untouched, we will suffer anyway. We just will not be transformed by our suffering. Grieving may be one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise. – Rachel Remen
When you are ready to take that step forward to healing we invite you to visit the healing section of our website and participate in our corresponding grief program. It is about choosing healing, choosing joy and choosing life again. Take the time you need and be patient with yourself in the process. Grief is a difficult thing to pass through, but it can be refining and life changing for the better.
National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified <03/06/2013>. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/bereavement/Patient. Accessed <03/25/2015>.