So how long does grief last? This is the most frequently asked question by grievers. Depending on with whom they speak, they will be bombarded by a variety of answers that really offer them no useful information. We need to first look at some of this “misinformation” before we look at the truth!
The timelines frequently suggested
As we discussed in a previous article, many employers feel that three days is the adequate time to deal with the loss of an immediate family member and that other significant emotional losses don’t even qualify for consideration. Those three days may give someone time to plan and attend a service, but that has nothing to do with time necessary to process that emotional pain.
Others will tell them that it takes a year. Some years ago I was the guest speaker for a grief support group. During a break, one women was talking to me about how emotionally overwhelmed she was with the death of her son. Just as I was starting to discuss with her how to deal with her situation, another woman came up and said, “honey, there is no sense in you trying to do anything now.” She continued, “It has only been a couple of months, and it will be a year before you can think about feeling better!” The lady, with whom I was initially speaking, shoulders sagged as she now felt she had been sentenced to a year of misery!
The New England Journal of Medicine highlighted yet another time frame proposed by the American Psychiatric Association. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) suggests that grief lasting more than 2 weeks be diagnosed as complicated grief, paving the way to prescribe medication to deal with the symptoms. The problem with this is that while medication masks those symptoms, it does nothing to actually deal with moving through and beyond the real issues generating that emotional pain.
One of the first things that I ask people who are training to work with grievers is “How long does grief take when it comes to recovering from an emotional loss.” The most common answer I hear is “it takes as long as it takes, and every loss is different.” While this may sound logical, it’s yet another horrible thing to tell a griever. Since everyone grieves at 100% for each of their individual losses, this may sound like a lifetime sentence, since they see their level of pain being so intense.
The problem with each of these different answers is that they all perpetuate one of the greatest of all grief myths. Each one of these sources is telling people “that grief just takes time” or that "time heals all wounds." The passage of time has nothing to do with actually moving through the pain of loss. If anything, all that happens as time goes by is that grievers become so accustomed to living with the pain that it becomes an everlasting part of their lives. That pain will continue to control them if they fail to take meaningful action to actually deal it.
The amount of time grief lasts is directly related to the time needed to take effective action!
This is exactly what I tell anyone who suggests that time is somehow a factor in recovery. This is what I ultimately told that woman at that support group meeting. Once I said this, she once again looked at me with hope in her eyes.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any change in our familiar behavior pattern and experience. It’s related to the many conflicting emotions that are felt related to that change. To move beyond the power of that change, it’s necessary to fully examine that relationship and deal with the things that we might have wished had been different, better or more related to it. It’s about discovering what has been left incomplete, and those things that continue to overwhelm them with that sense of bereavement and loss. Once these things have been identified, the griever is then in the position to take directed action to move beyond the stranglehold that limits their ability to face another day.
Many grievers tend to become so overwhelmed with those moments at the end of a relationship, or the problems within it, that they can think of little else. Recovery isn’t about forgetting, but rather taking the needed steps to once again be able to enjoy any fond memories they might have. By taking positive and directed actions, they will find that when something reminds them of that relationship, the positive feelings in that moment are not then overshadowed by those previously incomplete elements that still generated grief.
Recovery can impact people in other ways as well. If, by chance, they were in a situation that involved abuse, they often find that the negative power of that abuse lasts well beyond the end of the relationship. Taking recover action can put an end to that sense of loss of control over their happiness, self-image and personal value as well.
A proven way to take that action
The Grief Recovery Method has been in place for nearly 40 years. It’s an action plan that’s proven effective around the world in assisting grievers to move beyond the pain of emotional loss.
How long does grief last? A Certified Grief Recovery Specialist can help you find success in moving beyond the pain of loss in as few as seven or eight sessions together. If that still seems like more time than you want to be overwhelmed by that pain, The Grief Recovery Institute offers two-day intensive personal workshops to move you through the process. For those that cannot meet with a Specialist, “The Grief Recovery Handbook” can guide you through this process and explain how to find a partner to the assist you in taking this action independently. While you may still find yourself missing the physical presence of the relationship, these programs will make a tremendous difference when it comes to the overwhelming emotional pain of loss.
The Grief Recovery Method is a step-by-step approach that focuses on your broken heart. No one will ever tell you why you shouldn’t be feeling whatever it is that you feel. Instead it’s about taking action to deal with those feelings in a meaningful way to move beyond the power of your grief. It worked for me personally and for the hundreds of people with whom I have had the honor of assisting on this journey. It can work for you as well.
Photo Credit: 123RF Stock Photo - iqoncept