How long does grief last?

G R. Smith, MD
The grieving process typically lasts at least one year; getting past anniversaries and other specials dates is an important step. In this video, psychiatrist G. Richard Smith, MD, explains why the course of grieving takes longer than we would like. 
Marty Tousley
Hospice & Palliative Medicine
Probably the most commonly asked question in bereavement is "When is grieving finished?" It's a little like asking, "How high is up?" Grief is a lifelong process. While the agonizing pain of loss diminishes in intensity over time, it's never gone completely. It is absolutely normal to feel the aftershock of loss for the rest of your life. Grieving is not a reaction to a single event, like an illness that can be cured and from which you will recover. It's more like a deep wound that eventually heals and closes, but whose scar remains and still can hurt at times.
Don't put a time limit on your grief. And don't let others set one for you either. A broken heart leaves many people feeling stunned and stuck. Try to focus on the basics of a daily routine. Get out of bed. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Feel the sun on your face. If you feel fragile, limit your exposure to emotionally driven events. That doesn't mean to cocoon yourself away from people. Decide what social connections will give you support, and which ones may be too hard. Consider seeking a mental health professional if you need help healing from your broken heart.
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.

Grief itself may last a lifetime, but one's coping skills are the key to its impact on one's life. Finding meaning in the loss, or finding a new perspective on the loss, often reduces the effect it has on or day-to-day living. Obtaining support through friends or the community when going through the acute grieving process helps one with coping and finding a healthy perspective.

David Kessler
Hospice & Palliative Medicine

“How long should my grief last?” you may ask of yourself. Others may even ask you “You’re not going to grieve forever, are you?” “Haven’t you grieved long enough?” “Isn’t it time to move on and get over your loss?” These questions are can be challenging and unwelcome after a loss. Grief is not just a series of events, or stages or timelines. Our society places enormous pressure on us to get over loss, to get through the grief. We often internalize this and begin to question ourselves. But how long do you grieve for a spouse of thirty years? A brother? A child? A year? Five years? Forever? The loss happens in time, but its aftermath lasts for the rest of our lifetime.

Each grief has its own imprint as distinctive and as unique as the person we lost. The grief is real because the loss is real. It is important not to measure your grief or compare it to another’s. Grief is the reflection of the love you shared with someone. Your time, your process and your feelings will be different from anyone else’s in the world. It is important to remember that grief is our internal feelings and mourning is how we externalize them.

Your grief will most likely become a part of who you are now. Not in a negative way, but in an authentic way. Your loved one will always live inside you and you will miss them. Eventually others will no longer be able to see your mourning. It is important that grief remains fluid. It is not a straight uphill climb to recovery. Some say the second year can be a little more challenging than the first. Birthdays, anniversaries can take us back when we may feel like we’ve gotten a good grip on ourselves. I don’t believe that there is a timeline and that you will eventually recover or get over a loss. Why would want to? it’s not a cold or a disease, it is someone you loved very much. You will eventually begin to live with the loss. People in grief often report that a friend or family member is not honoring their loss, but ultimately it is important that we honor our own losses. We hold them sacred and we allow them to heal in our time. The truth may be that it will always hurt and in time it will eventually hurt less.

Kathy Sowder
The duration of grief is a very individual thing. Part of the intensity and duration of grief depends on the relationship and attachment the person had with the object or person lost. It may also depend partially on the person`s coping style with dealing with other stressors. For example, a person who asks for support from friends and family members and has ways of expressing emotions may be able to work through his/her grieving process more easily than one who keeps everything to him/herself. Commonly, grief of a loved person is more pronounced at anniversary times, such as holidays or birthdays. Grief may come in "waves" for months or even years, and still be considered "normal" grieving.

The duration and intensity of grief varies among individuals. It often depends on what caused the person to grieve. The death of an elderly relative, although beloved, often elicits an entirely different response than the death of a child.

Children who never saw a divorce coming, for example, may be in even greater shock than children who witnessed their parents arguing daily.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.