It can be common to hear that “time heals all wounds,” even if you don’t feel like it’s true for you. But grieving for someone or something that you've lost is a necessary process to undergo. It takes time to work through your pain and loss.
It can take several weeks, months, or years for you to begin healing from your grief. Many factors can play a role in how quickly it takes to work through the stages of grief. Keep in mind that this isn't a race to the finish.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Long Does The Grieving Process Take?
- How Long Do Certain Parts of the Grieving Process Take?
- Can You Speed Up or Slow Down the Grieving Process?
The question, "how long does grief last?" is one that's often asked by those suffering overwhelming pain and sorrow. They may end up losing focus on the healing aspect of the process. People dealing with grief may focus on developing a formula to end their grief.
There's no magical number that when reached causes grief to end. External and internal influences alike both affect how long grief lasts, and how well you cope during this time.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
How Long Does The Grieving Process Take?
Different types of grief affect people differently. No one grieves in the same way, not even when they’ve suffered the same type of loss.
For example, a mother who’s lost her child to cancer will grieve differently than a mother who’s lost her child due to drowning. The result is the same, but what leads to death is completely different.
No matter how much pain you may feel, try not to pit yourself against someone else’s grief. There is no comparison to what others are going through. Everyone’s grief journey is unique to them, and the way you heal from yours will vary greatly.
There’s also no timeline for grief. You can do certain things to help you along, or you can allow the natural process to take place. Eventually, your suffering will begin to lessen.
You’ll need to know and understand the five stages of grief so you can understand where you’re at in your grief. The stages are:
- Denial. When you first hear the news that your loved one has died, it can be difficult to accept the news as true. Your mind may try to come up with different scenarios. The denial stage is usually short-lived. It may take you several hours to a few days to accept the news. Sometimes it takes longer for the initial shock to wear off. Our mental receptors may keep us in a state of shock and denial as a way of coping with loss.
- Anger. Lashing out in anger at everyone and everything after suffering a loss is a typical reaction to grief. You may even find yourself feeling anger toward your loved one who’s died. This happens mostly in cases of accidental and preventable death. Your reaction to grief can sometimes be unpredictable and out of character for you. Allow yourself to go through the process without being so critical of your reactions to grief.
- Bargaining. When things settle down a bit internally, you might find yourself wanting to make deals to bring your loved one back. In normal circumstances, you can understand that this isn’t rational. But grief can make you see things differently. People in this stage of grief will usually say something like, take me instead, or, I’ll do anything to have her back.
- Depression. This is the stage that needs to be watched more closely than others. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, you may find yourself overwhelmed with pain and sorrow. It's important to recognize when your sadness or despair is more than you can tolerate. If you find yourself consumed by your grief, consider reaching out for help. Ordinary grief can turn into something more serious if left untreated.
- Acceptance. The final stage of the formal process of grief is accepting your loss. When you find acceptance, you begin to heal from the sadness and pain you've been suffering from. This doesn't mean that all your pain is instantly gone. Or, that you no longer grieve the death of your loved one. It simply means that you've worked through all of the expected reactions to grief and that your healing has started taking place.
How Long Do Certain Parts of the Grieving Process Take?
Every stage takes a different amount of time for different people. There are guidelines for how long you should expect these to take. But there are no hard and fast rules that state an exact amount of days.
For some people, death has no overwhelming impact on them. Their spiritual beliefs, religion, or faith may guide them to believe that death is not a time to be sad or bereaved. For others, it can be the most devastating news they can ever get.
You can expect your grief to last anywhere from six months to several years. You will start to feel better within weeks. As you progress through each stage, you'll find yourself feeling better and better.
One day you might feel fine and able to function. The next, you might find it difficult to get out of bed. You should expect this ebb and flow of emotions to take place for several months to a year.
You might bounce between grieving and not grieving through every stage of the grief model. Try not to give too much attention to it. Allow the process to take its natural course. Don't try and rush through it.
The stages of grief will give way to mourning. There is a distinct difference between grieving and mourning, but sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.
Grief vs. mourning
Grief is the pain and sorrow that you feel when you experience loss. It’s often internalized and worked through emotional and mental processes that take place within. Mourning is the outward manifestation of that grief. It’s the public display of grief and is often characterized by grief rituals, crying, and lamentation.
When grief turns to mourning, there are additional things to look out for. When you seek professional counseling, your therapist will likely check for the completion of the four tasks of mourning. As you become familiar with these tasks, you'll begin to recognize your progress.
Can You Speed Up or Slow Down the Grieving Process?
There’s no reason to rush through the grieving process. Healing takes place on its own time. But the surest way of slowing it down is not getting the help you need. When coping with your grief becomes unbearable, consider getting outside help. To effectively work through your grief, consider the following:
When in denial, allow yourself to imagine your life without your loved one. If you’ve lost your spouse, go out to dinner by yourself to your favorite restaurants. If you’ve lost your child, go to the playpark by yourself.
Take out your anger on a punching bag. Go for a run, or start exercising. Find an outlet for that pent-up energy you may be feeling.
Sit still and ask a higher power to take you instead. Take a deep breath and see what happens. Repeat until you understand that you can’t control what happens.
Accept that this is the hardest part of the grieving process. Seek the help of others to get you through the lowest points of grief.
When you work through the other stages of grief, your depression will slowly lift and things will eventually get better. In the meantime, get the help you need.
When you’re ready to accept your loss, the official end of your grieving process is near. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never again experience grief over your loss, it just means that you’re ready to move forward with life.
Grief After Death
Grief can be all-consuming. It can make you feel overwhelmed and at a loss on where to go from here. Understanding how grief works will help you in your healing journey.