Grief is not a mountain to be climbed and then descended with map in hand. Its boundary lines differ greatly from one person to another and from one culture to the next. Americans often labor under cultural injunctions to attain "closure" within months, or certainly by the time a year has passed. Popular culture also promotes the misconception that there is an orderly progression of emotions that will lead the bereaved to this end. The truth, though, is that grief doesn't neatly conclude at the six-month or one-year mark—even if a person follows every prescription for healthy grieving—and there is no single way to grieve. Each person has a different experience. Depending on the strength of the bond that was broken, grief can be life-long. Parents whose children die often say they never get over the loss. Usually, though, grief softens and changes over time.
The more integral someone was to your life, the more opportunities there are for happy and sad reminders that underscore the massive loss in your life. Indeed, the death of a spouse ranks at the top of the scale of life events that require social readjustment. Alongside warm or warring memories, you may always carry a hollow spot in your heart. Feelings of sadness, abandonment, loss, and even anger are especially likely around birthdays, weddings, the anniversary of the death, and holidays or other occasions you might have shared. A familiar scent, song, or likeness can trigger feelings of grief, too. All of this is entirely normal.
It's also normal for the raw, all-consuming shock of early grief to ebb slowly within weeks or months. Gradually, at their own pace, most people do find themselves adjusting to their loss and slipping back into the routines of daily life.
More Answers from Michael Hirsch, MD