How long does grief last? Exploring the grief timeline, how to cope, and more

Nothing prepares us for the loss of a loved one—whether from death, a divorce, or simply them moving to a new area. The grief that comes with loss is overwhelming. And it doesn’t usually go away quickly. 

Months, even years following, you might be asking, “How long does grief last? Will I ever get over this loss? When will I move on?” No one has all of the answers during a difficult time like this. But we’re here to answer some of the tough questions you might have—and hope our answers provide some comfort during difficult times.

Does Grief Ever Fully Go Away?

Like the question, “How long does grief last?”, it’s difficult to answer whether grief fully goes away. But for many people, yes, the grieving process does eventually fade with time as you accept the loss you’ve suffered and find ways to make your life feel whole again. Grief counseling can be especially helpful with this turbulent process.

This, again, is dependent upon many factors—even an individual’s view of the grief event. Some people believe that once you are out of an acute stage of grief or mourning that you are “not grieving,” while others view the grieving process as a lifelong companion that becomes more controllable as time passes. Still others may feel numb for some time.

Clinically, it is possible that someone can “fully recover” from a grief event and not experience any grief symptoms that would meet clinical criteria for an emotional disturbance. 

How Long Do People Grieve for?

For most, the grief process is at minimum 6 months after a death or significant loss. For others, grief can continue for years ahead. Grief is something that is dependent upon the specific event, the person, and the resources available to that person at the time of the loss.

What Is the Hardest Stage of Grief?

The hardest stage of grief is, again, dependent upon the person and the loss itself. Most would say that the acceptance stage of grief is the hardest to achieve, but the timeline isn’t linear. 

Many different methods list different numbers of stages. However, seven common stages of grief are:

  1. Shock and Denial: During this time, you may experience feelings of numbness or disbelief surrounding what happened. Examples of common emotions that occur during this stage can include sadness, confusion, and mourning.
  2. Pain and Guilt: You might feel remorse or guilt over things that you did or did not do for your loved one, considering things you said or feel you didn’t say enough for example. The loss of your loved one might feel unbearable, and life may feel scary during this time. Emotions that people commonly feel during this stage may include desperation, sadness, and guilt.
  3. Anger and Bargaining: This stage can involve an array of actions and emotions, including lashing out at loved ones, blaming others for what you’re feeling or what happened, or asking God or another higher power for relief from your painful feelings. You might feel especially angry or resentful during this time. 
  4. Depression: You may go through a time of loneliness, deep sadness, isolation, reflections, and processing of the loss during this stage. You might feel many intense emotions associated with depression, like sadness, emptiness, and heaviness. 
  5. The Upward Turn: During this time, people tend to feel more relaxed and calm, the depression and anger beginning to lift some. You might start to also feel an increase in motivation and energy. 
  6. Reconstruction and Working Through: During this stage, your mind will start truly healing. Life starts to feel less overwhelming and more manageable again, and you start to reconnect with loved ones. Your motivation and energy increase, and you may start to feel more encouraged about life ahead. 
  7. Acceptance and Hope: Finally, this stage involves beginning to accept reality and directing your thoughts toward hope and your future. Acceptance is a gradual process, and this phase won’t just appear all at once, but it’s all an important part of moving past grief and adjusting to a new version of life.

Acceptance is an ongoing process that does not have a definitive beginning or end. However, in order to reach acceptance of a situation, an individual must identify the loss, identify the challenges associated with that loss, and begin to understand and recognize the implications of that loss.

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How Long Does Traumatic Grief Last?

For a grief event to become traumatic, there usually is a sudden or unexpected loss that causes the grief event. Traumatic grief tends to be more complicated than other types of grief due to its unexpected nature and many variables associated with the loss that are uncontrollable. 

Traumatic grief often requires more processing and acceptance skills than grief that is not traumatic, which is clinically referred to as uncomplicated grief or bereavement. Traumatic grief processes usually tend to last a year or longer, however, it can be longer or shorter, depending upon a person’s resources, resilience, and access to professional help.

When Is Grief the Worst?

Again, the severity of the grieving process depends upon the person’s grief event, access to resources, and level of proximity to their loss. Often, traumatic grief events tend to correlate to higher severity of symptoms and longer duration of these symptoms than grief that is viewed as uncomplicated. 

Often, people experiencing traumatic grief experience sudden, unexpected loss and have been given little or no time to prepare for this loss. For others, being made aware of an impending grief event, such as a terminal illness diagnosis, can cause anticipatory grief processes that can complicate healing.

How to Start Moving Forward After Grief

You can implement a few strategies to cope with your loss and move forward from here:

  • Share your loss and pain with those close to you. Do you have a close friend or family member you feel comfortable opening up to? Talking about your loss and your feelings associated with it will help you address your feelings rather than avoid them.
  • Think about all that you still have; think about all of the good in your life. You are without a doubt in a terribly unfortunate and painful situation, but that doesn’t mean your whole life is bad. Try to remind yourself of all the good that remains and seek comfort in it.
  • Spend time doing some of your favorite things. It might be hard to return to some of your favorite activities at first, but it’s important you continue to spend your time doing what you love: whether that’s running, dancing, painting, knitting, reading, or simply chatting with your friends.
  • Consider meeting with a grief counselor. Grief counselors can help you process your loss and make peace with it so that you can eventually move forward with your life.

So to answer the question, “How long does grief last?”, it’s highly dependent on your reaction and choices after suffering a major loss.It’s important to follow a process that works best for you. You’ve been impacted in a way that will forever change you—but that’s not to say you’re forever changed in a negative way.

More than anything, you need time, healing, and help from a mental health professional to ensure that you are able to healthily process your loss.

Table of contents

Does Grief Ever Fully Go Away?

What Is the Hardest Stage of Grief?

How Long Does Traumatic Grief Last?

When Is Grief the Worst?

How to Start Moving Forward After Grief

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  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Medical reviewer
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Alexandra Cromer, LPC

Alexandra “Alex” Cromer is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who has 4 years of experience partnering with adults, families, adolescents, and couples seeking help with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma-related disorders.

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BC

Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Jason Crosby

Jason Crosby is a Senior Copywriter at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Milic, J., Muka, T., Ikram, M. A., Franco, O. H., & Tiemeier, H. (2019, December 29). Determinants and predictors of grief severity and persistence: The Rotterdam study. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5680907/

  • Rubin, S. S., Malkinson, R., & Witzum, E. (2020, September 15). Traumatic bereavements: Rebalancing the relationship to the deceased and the death story using the two-track model of bereavement. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.537596/full

  • Mughal, S., Azhar, Y., Mahon, M. M., & Siddiqui, W. J. (2022, May 22). Grief reaction – StatPearls – NCBI bookshelf. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507832/

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published December 29th, 2021

    Author: Taylor Bennett

  • Author: Jason Crosby

    Expert Author: Alexandra Cromer, LPC

    Reviewer: Kate Hanselman, PMHNP

    Changes: This article was re-written with help from a clinician working together with our editorial team. They helped provide new sections, including more accurate information regarding the stages of grief and the typical grief timeline. The article also now provides more clarity into how traumatic grief can extend the amount of time it takes to resolve grief symptoms. The article was then clinically reviewed, to further provide clarity and better context for readers looking to understand more about grief symptoms.

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