Grief affects the way we feel, and it disrupts the way we work and carry on with our lives. Every individual who experiences loss needs time to grieve and heal. Sometimes, even twelve months after the funeral service has passed, it may still feel as if everything just happened yesterday. Learning to live with the loss of a loved one can vary in time; each person feels differently depending on personal circumstances.
Below, we share the phases of grief, how long it usually lasts and what affects prolonged grief.
The Phases of Grief
It’s important to learn about these stages of grief:
- Denial or Shock: When you first receive news about a loss, it is not unusual to respond to the intense and sudden emotions by pretending the loss isn’t happening. Being in denial allows you more time to gradually process the news and acclimate to the intensity of the situation.
- Anger: As reality sinks in, the pain of the loss sets in. It may manifest in feelings of frustration and powerlessness. These emotions can, later on, turn into anger while masking itself in feelings like resentment or bitterness.
- Negotiating: During this phase, a grieving person dwells on what they could have done to avoid the loss. They often sink into several “If only…” and “What ifs…”, looking for ways to feel like they can regain control or affect the outcome of an event.
- Depression: As the reality of the loss and its effect sink in, grief can enter on a deeper level in response to a great loss. Some people may isolate themselves from others to fully cope with the loss. This stage may be overwhelming and difficult, navigating through the fog of intense sadness and hopelessness.
- Acceptance: It’s the final stage of grief where your emotions may begin to stabilise. You re-enter reality and have come to terms with this change in your life. It is a time of adjustment and readjustment – you grow and evolve into this new reality as you also accept that there may still be bad days in between the good days ahead.
Every grieving person goes through some or each of these phases, albeit in a unique way. These stages are also not linear, and some may not experience any of them. Regardless, these are the most commonly observed experiences by those who are grieving. As such, we can also begin to understand why families and grieving ones may have a difficult time trying to deal with their emotions while also having to plan the funeral arrangement.
The duration of grief
According to Yale researchers, it was found in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that the symptoms of grief peaked in six months on average and diminished during the year. It is normal for people to experience a few symptoms of grief for a year or two. Predicting when grief should end is hard to do so due to the differences in the circumstances of people’s lives.
People often expect to feel normal again after just a few weeks or months. Be patient with yourself. Grief may feel particularly difficult, you may eventually progress to a resolution of grief as acute grief symptoms improve. Grief typically ends when you have reached a place of inner peace and stability – find ways to live with the change and adapt to life without them. Your feelings may not have lessened, but it is a new way of living with the loss.
Factors that cause prolonged grief
Prolonged grieving can be considered dysfunctional if the symptoms persist and are severe enough to disrupt your return to usual function. Some factors that influence one’s grieving include:
- The relationship you had with the deceased
- Difficulty accepting the loss
- Existing stressors
- Mourning rituals, cultural beliefs
Prolonged grief can also disrupt your quality of life, relationships and affect your ability to keep up with work or school. If your grieving is not resolving, consider seeking professional help for additional support.