Navingating Grief Through Time

Grief in Time

Counting Days, Weeks, Months and Years of Grief

Time is one of the most difficult concepts of sorting through “what’s normal?” in grief. Words like “move on,” “get over it,” and “it’s been long enough now,” often come as unwanted advice related to the speaker’s sense of grief in time. For the bereaved, time is marked by the calendar – seasons, last year, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and special events. Grief swells not only during milestone dates for the loved one, but also with the passage of dates for the closest people in his or her life, such as your own birthday. No wonder that the pain of grief doesn’t seem to end in the years following a significant loss. There are always new dated reminders through time. Each one is counted: the first, the second, and on and on.

BC and AD

If you are a parent, you may be familiar with the reference phrase BC, “Before Child.” The change and transition into parenting is marked by the day you bring home your new life. What you could do as an adult couple in terms of freedom to move at will is suddenly gone. When life gets hectic or overwhelmed by parenting activities, or spontaneity is overruled by responsibility, then “Before Child” is the reference. You’ve had to adjust your mind to consider the needs of a dependent being. The recognition of that change and the secret code among the parents who know is “BC” – how you could behave before child: there was a time when life was different… Often noted in lightheartedness, nevertheless, BC is recognition of a major change in the lives of the entire family.

The same may hold true for you in your loss with the phrase AD “After Death.” You mark time based on “since my loved one died.” Now instead of the welcomed or chosen change this one is thrust upon you. As time marches forward the marker is After Death. Time is about what is missing, who can’t enjoy, he or she would have liked… Often this too is a secret code among those who know deep loss. But rather than in a lighthearted fashion, loss is heavyhearted. The impact of this change and the subsequent transition is just as huge and life-changing as a birth. But in American society, generally speaking, there is little patience for death. There is little patience to speak of it, to mourn for long periods or to recognize the major change a death creates for those left behind.

With birth comes a child, tangible proof to tell us change continues. In death there is emptiness, a void. Death is “out of sight, out of mind” to the outside world. Yet, for the bereaved, reminders are all around.

So how long do you grieve?

Time is in the eye of the beholder. There is active grief – from moment of loss to public mourning to a place of deep, personal adaptation – and there is life long grief, that is, loss – the continued gratitude or acknowledgement for having known your loved one and the fleeting bittersweet memories of wishing he or she was here. How long you might experience active grief is related to the many factors of your individual relationship, circumstances, and chosen path to “do something” about grief, whether on your own or in support programs. Your time on grief might also have to do with your own personal makeup and philosophy as well, including earliest memories of death. The time of active grief does differ for everyone, even people who grieve the same loss. This point alone can be the friction among family members about the way one grieves.

The societal gold standard that grief lasts one year is based on the calendar and traditions: walking the path through each and every first since. A year marks four full seasons of personal space to feel and live the transition for what was, to what is. Religious or family ceremonies often recognize the one year passage. Yet, widows and widowers often discover an unexpected “second year is tougher” reality. Child loss can leave an open wound for many years. There are studies and anecdotes to support that rather than a year, the bereaved themselves report two to five years as a more reality-based adjustment time period. Even so, many people note resiliency in the face of loss in the six months to the year marker. Complicated or prolonged grief over long periods, including severe depression, is diagnosed for less than 20% of people (on the high end), with 10-15 % more likely. Grief spills out as a complexity of accumulated past and present emotions. How do these varied responses help you view your sense of what’s normal?

That leaves a wide range of “normal” time of grief, that is, how long you respond to your loss.

Not everyone needs nor wants help during the time of  active grief. However, short term or long term community and/or private support is often a great relief as it underscores just how normal your grief and feelings of loss might be, months and even years later. Trying to assign a time period to grief and loss only adds one more “should” to your list of getting “over it.” The real questions are: are you coping better over time (in spite of the pain and sorrow)?  Are you finding outlets so your grief is dynamic, rather than static? Are you noticing increasing moments of happiness (or is it all grief, all the time?)? Are you healthy or is your body taking on the grief unknowingly? On the roller coaster of loss and time, the majority of people experience lessening of the pain and associations of loss across the timeline. If your level or sorrow and pain or ability to function does not change or actually increases since the death of  your loved one, seeking out the support of a professional grief coach or therapist can provide you an objective viewpoint.

You might be surprised to know that there are many people who worry about if they are getting over the loss too fast as those who think they might be taking too long (or someone else tells them they are taking too long.) Here is where you can check in with yourself. What do you think? Do you want to be in a different place in life since your loss? Are you actually avoiding any feelings instead of grieving?  Your instinct about whether you have grieved “long enough” or still have “more grieving to do” is usually right on. First, just listen. Listen deeply. How much time it takes to adapt to this major change in your life is subjective. After all, you are the expert on your grief.

What’s your story? Are you taking long enough time to grieve, or are you in in  a hurry? What expectations do you or others around you offer about how much time grief, mourning and loss lasts?  If you were (are) a caregiver before the loss, has the time of illness affected your sense of how long you’ve grieved?



August 14, 2012


Tomorrow marks six months since Dave died February 15. Stop. Pause.

It is… Stop. Pause. Breathe.

The last couple of weeks have been very thoughtful on death. My most recent post was actually written a couple weeks before that, in July. I was sidetracked and just didn’t post until August.
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Thursday March 22, 2012

I have only a few minutes to write. There is so much to do in the next few days.

The Memorial and Celebration of Life for Dave will be on Sunday.

The closer we come to Sunday the more I miss him. Some is the preparations, but mostly because when I am stressed he would be my anchor. Ironic isn’t it? He’s not here when I need him most, because he is not here.
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Random Acts of Thought

Thursday February 2, 2012

It’s already 9:30 am. It feels like most of the morning has passed. I spend more time waking Dave, getting his pills, Ensure, tidying up than needed in past months… our new routine. I find myself in more of a decision mode, “do this” or “that” rather than “do you want?” Like taking over the divvying out of pills, it perhaps is better for us both to have a leader. I guess that’d be me! Dave is apparently in agreement to hand over the reins.
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This Caregiver’s Game

Saturday January 28, 2012

There’s a children’s game I used to play called Mancala. The long wooden board had six scooped-out cups on each player’s side and larger “home” pits on each end. It is based on a primitive game, variations played throughout the ages by children everywhere, in which the players fill and count their beans, stones or seeds into each cup. In the beginning you have one bean in the first cup, two in the second cup and so forth.  This simple game prepares you to think ahead (where will my last bean land?) and strategize (what can I place beans in the opponent’s way to mess up their count) and learn to count, add and subtract.

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Change is in the Air

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We started a private Facebook page for the extended family to stay in touch and for me to post some updates about Dave’s health. It’s nice because most of us use Facebook including the grandchildren. We don’t even have to be “friends” to send messages this way!

It’s a funny place to share at times. But here I can provide one message so everyone accesses the same message. Responds are also shared equally. Social media has changed the way people communicate.
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Snippets of Life

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I have just a few minutes this morning before I get on a scheduled business call; a few minutes to dump into perspective all sorts of moments from the last couple of weeks.

Dave is changing. Until I could admit that the many little snippets of information coming to me equals change, I have just been gathering data bits for my brain file. There is nothing remarkable about his vital signs, or most recent nurse’s visit. Yet, there is a change.
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Is It Time to Grieve Yet?

Monday, November 14, 2011

We, individuals, really do process death differently. That goes for impending death, too.

Last Friday when Leah was over, she mentioned having a “family meeting.” That is, all the six kids would be gathering on Sunday (yesterday) to talk about taking care of Dave. It was a bit of a shocker – well, more perplexing to me – and as Dave noted, he would have thought this type of meeting would happen when he was half-comatose.
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