Here at Cruse Bereavement Care, people often ask us how long their grief will last. While this is a natural concern for those who are grieving, the truth is there are no set stages or time limits to grief. Starting to feel better after a bereavement can take a long time, and it’s important not to be hard on yourself for how you feel.
We all want to believe there is a set road map for our feelings, but the truth is that everyone grieves differently and we sometimes experience some of our most painful feelings many years after a bereavement.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common experiences people have in the months and years after a death.
How long does grief last?
Early stages of grief
In the early stages after a bereavement, you might find that you feel numb or feeling nothing at all. You might carry on as if nothing happened or find yourself focusing on administrative tasks such as cancelling bills or organising the funeral.
Alternatively, if you didn’t see the person who died very often, you might catch yourself thinking they’re still alive. This can then become particularly painful when you realise it isn’t true.
Later on, after the initial shock, you might find that reality sets in or to be taken aback by the depth of emotions you’re feeling. Some people feel a strong range of emotions from the start, while for others these feelings may take a while to develop.
Grieving after the first year
Sometimes people can feel that the second year after someone dies is even harder. You might find that people around you may have gone back to normal and you don’t feel there’s space for you to talk about your feelings.
Dates like anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and other festivities can also be very painful. You might find that even though a year has passed, you feel the emotions as strongly as when the person first died.
It’s important to remember that, in time, most people do feel better and more able to cope. This doesn't mean that you are ever completely over it, rather that it is possible to start to find pleasure in life again, while still remembering and missing someone you have lost.
Grieving several years on
As time passes, most people find they are able to adapt to their grief and return to some kind of normal life. While some experiences will still trigger your grief (such as films, songs or smells) you have learnt to grow around it and find space for other things in your life.
Some people find Lois Tonkin’s ‘Growing around Grief’ metaphor helpful. The grief doesn't ever completely go away, and sometimes the feelings can be as intense as when someone first died. But in time the feelings come less often - we start to grow around our grief and the space it takes up is not as great.
If you find that your grief is all-consuming after the initial months, it might be time to ask for help. Cruse supports people whenever or however someone died, and this is sometimes years or even decades after the loss.