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:
- Is There a Grief Timeline? When Will You Feel Better?
- 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?
- How Does Grief Change With Time?
- How Can You Deal With Feeling Like You Should’ve Already Moved On?
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.
Is There a Grief Timeline? When Will You Feel Better?
Generally, a person will suffer through the effects of grief anywhere from six to twelve months after the death of a loved one or other significant loss in their life. The first year post-loss is when grief manifests and takes shape. In the beginning, you can expect to experience the process known as the five stages of grief.
After this initial cycle, prepare yourself for the continued long-term effects of grief. The emotional pain doesn't just magically disappear. You can expect your grief to transform into something entirely different from what you experienced initially as the healing process begins to take shape.
While most people start to feel better at the 12-month mark, they may still experience the effects of their loss, such as profound pain and sorrow. They may also still feel other grief-related symptoms such as loneliness, depression, and brain fog. The one-year mark tends to be an indication of the progression of grief where most people can expect to start feeling better.
After one year, a bereaved person may find that they're ready to begin the next chapter of their life or reinvent themselves entirely. Most people reconnect with their friends and family once they start to feel better, another indicator that their grief is lifting.
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.
How Does Grief Change With Time?
Because everyone deals with death and loss differently, there is no clearly defined timeline for how you may feel months and years after experiencing a tragic event in your life. However, research and experience indicate that grief is an ever-evolving process in a bereaved person's life that seldom completely goes away.
You'll learn to adjust to the emotional consequences of your loss along with the effects that it has directly on your life. Here is a closer look at grief’s transformation over the months and years.
The initial bereavement period begins soon after or even months and years before a significant loss occurs. Depending on the type of loss suffered, a bereaved individual may experience grief in the form of anticipatory grief as the result of an expected event.
Some people may suffer through their grief in a state of shock and disbelief for weeks or months after the death of a loved one, while others may feel the effects immediately upon hearing the news. Over time, grief begins to lessen its hold on the bereaved, and they'll start to heal from their pain and suffering.
The grieving process may be transformational for many people who've suffered through loss as it fosters the development of independence, new life's expectations, and confidence in oneself. Post-traumatic growth may develop from the meaning-making activities of bereaved individuals as they try to make sense of their experiences.
This effort may lead to a new identity, a new perspective on the world, and a new sense of purpose. The way a person evolves from their loss is another one of grief's transformational powers.
3. Spiritual awakening
From a spiritual standpoint, grief can evolve from the feeling of profound despair to having renewed hope in the future after a period of acceptance and adjustment. Some bereaved individuals may develop more authentic and meaningful relationships as a result of their loss, as well as a deeper connection to their spirituality, religion, or higher power.
The spiritual aspects of grief are central to rebuilding a new life and moving forward from loss, especially among individuals who've suffered the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one. Tragedies such as these become the catalyst for a more profound connection to their spirituality.
4. Post-traumatic growth
After about two years following a significant loss, a grieving individual can begin to see their life from a different perspective. Many people who've experienced a traumatic event will soon begin to develop positive characteristics due to their loss. These changes manifest as:
- An increased appreciation of their life and the people in it
- The development of a stronger sense of meaning and purpose
- Becoming more thoughtful, decisive, and independent.
How Can You Deal With Feeling Like You Should’ve Already Moved On?
There are no rules to grieving, and the closest to being said rules are the developed five stages of grief discussed earlier. Even then, those are guidelines to what you can expect in the grieving process and not hard and fast rules to follow.
Suffering creates an intense psychological turmoil in the minds of the bereaved that takes time to work through and heal from any lingering effects. Some grieving individuals may feel that they have to move past their pain due to pressure from their support circle, their employers, or simply not understanding how grief works.
Others may experience the sudden realization that they've moved on from their grief following an instantaneous transformative event that's shifted their perspective on death and dying. They can tell the exact moment when they've accepted their loss and were ready to move forward from their grief.
Typically these life-altering realizations occur when least expected and in some of the most unusual ways. For example, a mother grieving the loss of her child might feel a sense of relief after an intense argument with her spouse. Or a bereaved father might come to terms with his child's death after reading a letter detailing the lives saved because of a last-minute decision to donate the child's organs.
People have different attitudes toward death. You can't predict what life-changing event will trigger the acceptance of your particular loss. That time might never come for you as it's not an expected outcome of grief, and not everyone will experience this shift.
Unfortunately, sudden and dramatic transformations do not happen to every person who's suffered through loss. Some people will develop and continue to have an unhealthy relationship with the concept of death and may never fully accept their loss.
Moving on from grief isn't a personal choice in some cases but rather an adjustment to how an individual sees death. Developing a different attitude toward loss can help you learn to let go of the pain and sorrow stemming from your grief. The relationship between your suffering and personal development also links to your ability to move on.
Give yourself adequate time to process your grief before deciding if it's time for you to move on from it. At a minimum, try to reevaluate how you're progressing at six months post-loss, then again at the first anniversary of your loss. Go easy on yourself and allow the natural grieving process to occur despite any outside pressure to move on.
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.