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The Million Dollar Question


I once had a grandmother call me to share her concerns about her daughter - she said, "it has been four months since her baby died and she is still not over it." My heart ached for that Grandma, who clearly wanted her own child to be better again. But grief is not done in four months and pushing grieving people to stop grieving is not only ineffective, but it adds to the pain of someone who is already saturated with sorrow and hurt.

How long does it last? That is the question I have been asked more than any other, and there is really just one true answer - longer than you think it should.

Grief is directly related to how valued and important the person was who died. If the death occurred in a distant relative, we probably will feel some brief sadness but since that person really was not part of the fabric of our life, there is no huge hole to mend. On the other hand, if that person who died is our husband - well, the fabric of our life is shredded.

And so we should expect that grief following the death of a significant person is going to last at least a year and probably two - but the truth is that it never really goes away. We always miss the one who died, and there will still be times when we have bursts of grief, as if the death just happened. But these acute grief attacks will happen less and less with time, and as our lives fill up with other people and experiences.

The death of a child is going to take longer - please do not expect a parent to be "normal" for quite a while following the loss of a child. That is a death that really levels a person, and it takes quite some time to stand up again, and even longer to find a "New Normal".

In general, functioning - which will be severely impaired by grief - should get better with time. It won't happen all at once but one should notice that as time goes by, more and more functioning is returning. In the first couple of weeks, I think taking a shower is a big deal but at two months that probably should not feel quite so burdensome -- at least not everyday!

People always think grief should be "done" sooner than it is, and this belief hurts grieving people. The ability to function again happens in "baby steps" and it is normal to take three steps forward and then find oneself in bed, eating cookie dough, sobbing and watching bad soap operas, having taken six steps backward.

Yes, it is hard to watch a person be in such pain - but it is worse for the grieving person.riverrocks

Grief has a starting line - that happens at the death or when we know the death will happen. But grief does not really have a finish line or a schedule - it is what it is - awful, messy, hard, and chaotic. It WILL get better but it is more important to concentrate on getting through this day, this hour than worrying about when it will stop.

And people who love grieving people need to provide support and love and understanding - and not try to push the grieving person towards some finish line that does not exist.

Think of grief as a river - at the start it is raging and crazy, with unseen boulders and undercurrent that sucks a person down. All we can do as a grieving person is try hard to stay afloat - in this moment. And those who love them can only shout encouragement from the shore, staying present until that river of grief carries that person to a calmer place. We cannot make it happen - we can just stay present and offer love and support as the grieving person is tossed about by the waves of grief.

Hard stuff for everyone - of course we want it to stop, but grief is what it is, and it doesn't involve a schedule, a stopwatch or a calendar. Trying to impose a timeline on grief only makes it worse - so just sit tight and have faith that there are calm waters ahead - because there are.