- Instead of “getting over” or “moving on” from grief, you should take the necessary time and care to process the loss that you have experienced.
- While grief does lessen in intensity with time, it never truly goes away… as you’ll never forget that person you lost and the impact they had on your life.
- Piggybacking off of that, there’s really no telling when the pain will subside—every person grieves differently and it’s impossible to say you’ll feel better in 5 weeks or 10 months. There’s just no way of knowing when.
- That being said, you can help yourself and the process along: the key is to feel all of those feelings, even the horribly difficult ones.
- No matter how long it takes, you will heal from this experience—these feelings will resolve and you’ll enjoy in life again.
I don’t want to reinforce the notion that we should be “getting over and moving on from grief.” As a therapist, I emphasize to clients that grief is something we process and integrate; that’s the end goal, not something we get rid of, move away from, avoid, or get over. So that’s what I say to clients who ask if it ever goes away. And as someone who also has experienced multiple personal losses in the last decade which I write about in Sweet Sorrow, in my view, grief never “goes away” completely. Our feelings of grief become less intense and our thoughts about grief usually change over time, but grief itself is still present.
We know we have healed from loss, though, when we integrate grief into our lives. I also tell clients that grief is more cyclical than linear. I use the example of the ocean. Grief, like the ocean waves, may come in at times and be very strong, often overwhelming, but then also like the waves, recede and lessen in strength. The experience of being on a grief journey is much like this—at certain times, especially with “triggers” like holidays or anniversaries of the loss, the waves of grief may feel almost insurmountable as feelings of despair deepen. Yet, as we process and heal our grief, on other days, it fades into the background, lessens in intensity, and becomes barely noticeable and our feelings of despair are overtaken by optimism and hope.
In terms of responding to a client who asks when they will feel better, I emphasize that healing from grief is an individual path. Everyone has their own way to grieve and their own timetable for healing from loss. I try to normalize the time process and explain that the length of time that everyone is in active grief mode depends greatly on the individual—and other factors such as the nature of the loss and the depth of the attachment to who or what we lost. Even things like our level of social support following loss, our age, gender, and cultural affiliations can impact the length of our grief journey.
It takes time to digest a loss—and we need to give our feelings of grief sufficient space to accommodate to what the loss means for us and our lives and for the lives of those around us. In U.S. western culture we tend to be grief avoidant and grief phobic. All this does is make the grief go underground in a suppressed state. Unfortunately, suppressed grief can resurface at a much later time with even more intense emotion if not processed in a timely fashion. I encourage clients to do whatever it takes to spend time processing their feelings of grief for as long as it takes in order to move forward and reclaim parts of their lives that were taken away with the loss. For example, it’s not uncommon for grief survivors to stop engaging in pleasurable, fun activities following a heartbreaking loss because of guilt, shame, or lack of energy. As they heal from grief, they will be able to find pleasure once again and to resolve feelings of guilt and shame and also have an energy rebound.
*Sherry Cormier is the author of Sweet Sorrow: A Psychologist’s Surprising Discoveries about Life After Loss. Cormier is also a psychologist and consultant who engages in public speaking, training, and grief mentoring.*