• 01/10/2024

How Long Does Grief Last? Finding Hope and Healing When Pain Persists

A woman with a sad expression sitting by a window.

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After suffering a significant loss, you might ask, “How long does grief last?” Unfortunately, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Loss is challenging and exhausting, whatever your experience is — and grief may not always result from losing someone you love. 

Hope can be difficult to come by when emotions are high. There is also not a one-size-fits-all approach to healing. Let’s explore how long grief lasts, the types of loss you might endure and ways to mend your broken heart.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Grieving is a highly personal experience for every person. Some people experience normal, acute grief for several months to a year. However, determining when someone’s grief becomes “complicated” is the question.

Complicated grief lasts longer than a year after loss and is usually met with intense, debilitating emotions. Many times, people experience complicated grief and major depression simultaneously.

About 7% to 10% of bereaved individuals develop prolonged grief, often requiring psychological interventions. Regardless of the type of grief you feel, the goal is always to adjust to life without whatever you’ve lost. 

The 5 Stages of Grief

Therapists often refer to the “grief loop” — a five-stage framework for coping with and healing from significant losses. The five stages are as follows:

  • Denial: When we enter survival mode after experiencing shocking loss — simply trying to get through the day
  • Anger: Necessary upset over the loss — possibly resentment, feelings of abandonment, betrayal or a loss of connection
  • Bargaining: Wanting to turn back the hands of time — to find cancer sooner or make amends with a spouse before they got into an accident
  • Depression: Feelings of emptiness and a deeper state of depression
  • Acceptance: Not exactly being OK with what happened, but realizing life after loss is a new and permanent reality

Some people move through the loop seamlessly, while others jump back and forth between stages before reaching acceptance. However, you must always go at a pace that feels right to you.

When Loss Knows No Bounds

Most people perceive grief as strictly a reaction to the death of a loved one. However, other types of losses can send your emotions spiraling, such as the following:

  • Loss of a job you love
  • Serious illness
  • End of a relationship or marriage — 29% grieve the end of a friendship
  • Infertility
  • Major surgery, such as hysterectomy or amputation
  • Financial loss
  • Pet loss
  • Loss of home or possessions
  • Sense of safety
  • Traumatic loss after a natural disaster, war or other tragedy

There are hundreds of unique losses you may face in your lifetime. It’s important to acknowledge them and the subsequent feelings for however long you feel you must.

7 Tips for Hope and Healing

Everyone’s healing journey is different, which is why there is no way to determine how long grief lasts. It might even feel impossible to pull yourself out of the grief loop — and that’s OK. Although you might do anything to erase the pain, taking it one step at a time is crucial. Here are seven tips for hope and healing during heartache.

1. Spend Time in Nature

According to one study, spending time in nature resulted in a 98% improvement in mental health outcomes. Increasing accessibility, movement and fresh air enhanced people’s sense of natural wonder. Even smelling flowers or listening to bees buzz can alter our grieving state.

Additionally, grief can make people feel a significant disconnect from the rest of the world. When you walk in nature, you are reminded you are still a part of the world.

2. Memorialize

Some people prefer not to have the constant reminder of their loss — others are afraid to lose their memories of a beloved person or situation. One way to keep the memory alive is to memorialize it.

Memorialization is different for everyone. A shadowbox frame with varying display options is an excellent way for pet parents to showcase a photo of their pet with their collar or leash. Likewise, engraved jewelry, holiday ornaments, mugs and other items are customizable for someone’s name. 

You might even write the initials of your unborn child on the bottom of baby shoes after a miscarriage. However, whatever you choose must not impede your progress in working through grief.

3. Journal

A trusty journal is often a best friend and outlet to share our most personal thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, writing down what is on our minds and hearts is a release.

Whatever you jot down in your journal is personal — it belongs strictly to you for your eyes only. Remember, your feelings are always justifiable, no matter where you believe you should be in your grief journey. 

One might think revisiting the loss keeps you locked within your pain. However, over time, you will find meaning in your hurt. Don’t think too hard as you write — just keep a steady flow of words and let yourself lose control.

4. Write a Letter

Likewise, letter writing may be another way to move through grief. Write a letter to someone you lost — tell them how much you miss them or whatever it is you never got the chance to say. You can even seal it in an envelope and tuck it away, leave it out or throw it away afterward.

Sometimes, it is best to write yourself a letter, too. It is often easy to forget how resilient we are when faced with dark and difficult times. In the letter to yourself, write about how proud you are of the way you move through your hurt and offer yourself gentle words of encouragement.

5. Plan Something Enjoyable

Vacationing is likely the last thing on your mind when you’re in the throes of grief. However, studies show a 71% higher risk of depression if you don’t travel once yearly.

Where is your “happy place” — somewhere that’s a source of healing? Maybe it is your favorite beach, or somewhere you used to go as a child. Plan a trip months in advance, allowing yourself extra time to feel your feelings and work through your grief loop.

Otherwise, you can always do a fun activity locally. Remember that not every moment of each day is filled with misery when grieving. There are always going to be glimmers of joy and hope sprinkled in.

6. Find Support

Not everyone likes speaking to a therapist, but grief counseling is highly beneficial after a loss. Therapists have years of training and expertise and can offer the right words and coping strategies to work through your pain.

There might also be bereavement group counseling or chats in your area to interact with others enduring loss. 

Therapy and support groups are not in the cards, there are numerous online groups and resources you can turn to for help.

7. Create

The opposite of death is life. Therefore, when you lose something or someone, creation is one of the best ways to heal. 

For many, the symbolization of “newness” is beneficial to restoring hope and peace. Maybe that means growing sunflowers or tulips yearly — watching them grow from seeds is a beautiful representation of living. 

Painting and sketching are other ways to see something transform from nothingness into a masterpiece.

Grief Will Last However Long It Needs To

You will have to cope with loss and grief in the best way for you. Always nurture and show yourself compassion during such a difficult time. Hope and healing is just on the other side.

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