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If grief were an ordinary road trip, the GPS on your phone would show how long the journey would take. Your phone would list the best routes and calculate the years, months, and days until you’ve completed the journey. Along the way, you’d even get alerts about the challenges ahead.
Of course, grief doesn’t work this way, and for good reason: Every journey through grief is unique. Grief can’t be charted on a map because nobody knows the path you’ll take. Your path has never been taken before.
Even so, you don’t have to travel unprepared. Learning how grief works can help you plot your own course. And help is available along the way if you need it.
While articles like the one you’re reading offer general guidance, a mental health care provider can offer guidance that’s customized to your life and experiences.
How long does grief last?
When you’re in grief, friends, family members, and co-workers might say things like, “You’ll feel a lot better in six months.” They may also say things like, “Why don’t you join a book club? That helped me get through my grief.”
Try these types of suggestions if you want to but know that another person’s grief journey isn’t a roadmap for your journey. We’re all different, so we all grieve differently. We all need different maps.
That said, we can gain some insight by learning about typical grieving processes. In general, the typical process looks something like this:
At the beginning of the grief journey
It’s normal to feel numb, shocked, and even physically sick when you learn about the death of a loved one or when you learn about another life-changing loss. It’s normal to go through a period of denial and disbelief. It’s normal to feel angry.
During this time allow yourself to feel the way you feel. There’s nothing to fix. Accept help from friends and family. Get through the day.
As the weeks turn into months
As time passes, most people regain the ability to navigate daily life, but it’s still normal to feel a whirlwind of emotions as you start to relearn how to live without the person or thing you’ve lost.
It may take a year or longer to assess your loss — to experience a full cycle of birthdays and holidays that are filled with grief and deep sadness, to get a full sense of how much has been lost.
During this time, it’s normal to have good days and bad days. You may feel like you’re doing OK one day only to feel like the pain is brand new the next day.
As the months turn into years
After a full year, your symptoms of grief — the anger, depression, anxiety, and loneliness — may feel more manageable. But that doesn’t mean you’ve finished grieving. It just means you’ve learned what triggers your emotions and how to better manage them.
You’ll still have ups and downs. But over time, your sad days may start to feel like a pleasant reminder of the person you lost, a reminder of your old life while you embrace your new life.
Is it normal to grieve after three years?
Grief changes us, so in a sense, the process never ends. However, it’s not normal for grief, after three years, to be as intense as it was during the first few months of a loss.
Intense grief for this long could mean you have complicated grief and need some help on your journey to healing. Fortunately, professional mental health care is available to provide this kind of help.
In Greensboro and High Point, Mental Health Associates of the Triad can help people as they deal with all types of grief and loss. A therapist can help you see your experiences from a different perspective. A therapist can also help you develop better skills for navigating the grieving process.
If you live somewhere else, ask your primary care physician to recommend a good mental health care outpatient clinic — or look for an online therapist who’s qualified in grief counseling. And, if for some reason, you feel like you might commit suicide or hurt someone else, please call 988 immediately.
What are the Three C’s of Grief?
Have you heard of the three C’s of Grief? For some people, this concept offers helpful parameters — a way to set boundaries during a confusing time. The three C’s are:
- Choosing: You may be in grief, and you may be confused, but you get to choose what’s best for you. It’s good to ask for help understanding your choices, but you still get to make your own decisions.
- Connecting: During grief you may feel like withdrawing into yourself, staying home as much as possible, and avoiding interactions with others. This is normal. But connecting with others, in some way, can also help you heal. The key is to connect at a time and place that works for you.
- Communicating: To choose and connect in a way that works for you, you’ll need to communicate clearly with others, especially friends and family who are trying to help.
You don’t have to know where you are in the grieving process to practice the three C’s. The three C’s are designed to help you be honest with yourself and with others about your unique needs.
Friends and family who want to support you will understand that you need to make your own choices about when to connect with others.
Which stage of grief is the hardest?
Grief is too complex for labels like “hardest” and “easiest.” For most people, grief is most intense in the earliest days and weeks. The fading of the shock and numbness may seem like a sign that grief is easing. But each stage in the grieving process brings its own challenges.
For example, some people feel guilty because they’re coping with a loss better than they expected. These feelings, too, are part of the normal grieving process.
Any stage of grief can become overwhelming, even if it’s been years since you experienced a loss.
How can I get help navigating grief?
There’s no reliable map to grief so you’ll need to draw your own map. Mental health care providers like the staff at Mental Health Associates of the Triad can help you chart your course.
Counselors will listen to your experiences and then help you discover the next step in your journey.
Grief is so hard because the person, the pet, the purpose, the dream, the job — whatever you lost — was so special. If you need help healing and rebuilding a new life after a significant loss, we’d love to hear from you.
Reviewed by Karen Rudd, LMFT, LCAS