How long is it normal to grieve?
Written by: Mark Leveson BSC (Hons), Cert Ed, MBACP
People often ask, ‘How long is it normal to grieve?’ and the appropriate, although perhaps frustrating, answer is, ‘It depends, everyone is different’. Whilst one person might start picking up the pieces of his or her life just days after their loss another might still be deep in mourning after six months.
What matters is how the individual is coping with their grief and how much it interferes with the normal progression of one’s life. Often a close friend or relative, if not the bereaved themselves, will be able to tell when things are not right and there seems to be no sign that they will improve.
Obviously, perhaps rightly, grieving can be very painful. One has to try to come to terms with the permanent void that results from the death of someone who meant something, whether they were a family member, lover, friend, work colleague, or just an acquaintance. This is likely to involve emotional, psychological and even physical responses and the bereaved have to be given sufficient time to process all that grieving entails.
With the support of family and friends, especially when they are people who can cope with the bereaved expressing their emotions and anxieties, most people will manage to work through their grief and recover. It may take a few weeks or a few months but gradually most people will feel the worst aspects of their grief subside as they accept and even make sense of their loss, learn to live without the deceased and find, instead, a permanent place for them in their hearts and minds.
However, when this doesn’t happen satisfactorily, and whenever people simply cannot cope, it is time to seek support to help one through this process. For some it may be that the pain and deep sadness never showed any signs of receding whilst perhaps for others earlier progress has stalled or things have even started to get worse.
A counsellor may be able to help a bereaved person face up to their loss and guide them through the process of grieving in a way that family or friends cannot.
This may well be the case where there are factors which lead to what might be called ‘complicated mourning’. This includes, for instance, where there were especially difficult circumstances surrounding the death. People who have lost someone through suicide, the death of a child, a sudden or unexpected death, an horrific accident, or perhaps have suffered multiple losses over time, may need help from a counsellor to cope with the more complex or traumatic nature of their loss.
Difficulties may also arise if there had been a troubled relationship between the bereaved and the deceased in which case counselling may be needed to help come to terms with that before the loss can be fully accepted.
Alternatively pre-existing or newly triggered psychological or emotional difficulties may obstruct the process of mourning or compound the impact of the loss to the point where the bereaved cannot cope. For example, depression or anxiety attacks may arise or re-emerge and sufferers of obsessive compulsive disorder or people who struggle with addictions may find their symptoms or rituals flare up or spiral out of control. Often the illness and the loss can exacerbate each other.
In all these cases help may be needed because it is not just the loss that has to be addressed but also other, deeper issues which may be blocking the natural progression of the grief.