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How Long Does Grief Last?
By Maureen Hunter

Sleep was the only peace I had. When I woke in the morning, if I was lucky, I had about two seconds of peaceful awareness before I remembered again that my son had died. It was the same every morning for weeks and weeks. Now, nearly four years on I can't actually remember when that morning feeling of dread disappeared. It just did...somehow.

I wanted to know that answer too. I needed to know how long the intense and debilitating pain, the fresh pain of grief and loss was going to last. I needed some timeline in order that I could somehow traverse the hours, days and weeks hopefully to a time when I would feel better, when the tears would stop, just a little. A friend gave me a lifeline, an old copy of an Edgar Cayce book on crisis. There it was in black and white. A major crisis will take three months minimum before you can begin to feel any semblance of order again in your life. If only it were three months. Even though that estimation was in no way the end of my grief, it did give me hope that the terrible pain I was experiencing would not last forever and I can honestly say it hasn't. Our emotions are raw and ragged in the early days of grief, but over time the intensity of feelings change and evolve as the days move on.

What I have learned about grieving is it takes so much longer than we think or expect and depends on so many different things. This can include your relationship to your loved one, the support networks you have, your personality and any previous losses. It is different for everyone and we can swing backwards and forwards on an emotional pendulum as our feelings fluctuate from moment to moment. Good days will be interspersed with awful days of longing, missing and sadness. Days where you wallow and cry, surrounded by a stack of scrunched up tissues. There are times when it can feel like you are wandering around in a dream like state of disbelief, as if they were never in your life at all, and then it becomes real again and the pain returns. That is normal - that is grief.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross famously describes the stages of grief but I prefer William Wordens premise that to heal from grief we must:

1. Come to terms with the reality of the loss
2. Experience the pain of grief - feel the feelings
3. Adjust to a new environment without our loved one
4. Reinvest emotional energy in life

How we do that and when is something that only you will discover and determine for yourself on your own journey through grief. Dealing with grief is different for everyone and it is not a simple process. The terrain is complicated and unpredictable, but you will do it. You are much stronger than you think.

On my own journey the first year was the hardest. The memories of those early times recede, but when coaxed spring easily to mind. The never ending tears, the feeling of acute and raw emotional and physical pain. I described to a friend that my heart was hanging out of me in tatters, and that's truly how it felt. I recall the terrible longing for him that could never be satisfied. Then there was the torrent of unpredictable and intense emotions: the shock, disbelief, anger and guilt. I struggled to cope with the minutiae of life and the insensitivities of others, and my intolerance for their trivialities. As a friend said, it was a year of firsts. The year of having to face birthdays, holidays and the dreaded anniversary date, my new environment and one that I never ever wanted.

I cannot say how long grief will last, but I can say that the intensity of grief does soften over time; you will not feel that raw and frayed emotion for ever. It does change. Crying lasts but might be less frequent and sometimes catch you by surprise when you thought you had cried as much as you ever could. Gradually the sun will come out again and you will start to take pleasure in the little things. Small things may bring a smile and one day you will forget just for a moment and in that moment you will begin to heal as you re-engage in life once more.

Your life will be changed forever, as a result of your loss, sometimes in ways you could never have envisaged and looking back you will not believe that you are and have survived. There is no end to this grieving journey; each day is a journey in itself. Grieving is a solitary excursion but we are not alone; our loved ones are with us, in our hearts where they will stay forever.


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