The answer to this question varies from person to person and can sometimes be in the eye of the beholder. It’s natural to mourn the loss of a loved one. You can also grieve after losing a relationship, a job, a home, and so much more. Regardless of the cause, grieving is natural — but unpredictable.
There’s no one right way to heal from a loss, but if the pain is not eventually processed, there can be a wrong way. That would involve something called complicated grief. In other words, don’t trust any exact answers to this question. A wiser path would commence with respecting the bereavement period.
Why Do We Grieve?
Grief is an expression of both love and loss. The sorrow you feel and show is a sign of love. You connected so deeply with someone that losing them causes intense sadness. It changes your life and demands that you adjust to that change. The time of bereavement is necessary for people to find ways to get past the initial shock. For example:
- Come to terms with the presence of grief
- Begin reframing and reimagining how the deceased person now fits in your life and mindset
- Accept the changes you’re undergoing due to this loss
- Discover healthy ways to move forward without the presence of the lost loved one
- Develop new connections and interests
So, How Long Does This Take?
Yet again, setting a timeline is not strictly advisable. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect a reduction of grief symptoms by the six-month point. A full resolution can be twice as long. This, of course, runs counter to how grief is portrayed and viewed in our mainstream culture. You may miss a week of work or school, but after that, you’re expected to get back into the grind.
Such a societal expectation requires all of us to walk a daunting tightrope. We have responsibilities and obligations to honor. However, we must also honor the needs of our body and mind. Grief should never be suppressed. This will almost always complicate matters in a negative way.
You may hear about the infamous “stages of grief.” These can be helpful to consider only if you recognize them as non-linear. You’ll likely hit all the stages but in no particular order and not without circling back and hitting some stages more than once.
Can You Grieve Too Long?
Because “too long” cannot be accurately defined, this is a tough question to answer. That said, as mentioned above, complicated grief is a thing. You can begin to feel stuck in patterns of symptoms like:
- Being unable to enjoy any of the activities that once excited you (including sex)
- Feeling empty and/or hopeless
- Angry outbursts
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling overwhelmed by everyday life
- Appetite changes
- Feeling traumatized
- Utilizing unhealthy, counterproductive coping mechanisms to get through the day
Another complication can be what is known as disenfranchised grief. You may lose a loved one under circumstances in which society doesn’t expect you to mourn. It could be, for example, someone who died by suicide, drug overdose, or in the transmission of a crime. Unintentionally, people in your life may impose shame or guilt upon you for feeling sincere and often debilitating grief.
Seeking Help Outside Your Social Circle
Because of unfortunate social expectations, getting the support you need from the people directly in your life may not always be possible. Therapy is an ideal option for exploring your emotions in a safe space. Your weekly sessions allow you to dig deep and understand what you’re feeling and need. I’d love to talk more with you about this soon.