Almost every grief client I have known has asked this question. We both imagine and dread the endlessness of being in pain over our loss. Whether spoken aloud or not, everyone who grieves wonders: will I ever get over this loss?
The answer is both yes and no. We may miss someone we lost for a long time, especially if they were a big part of our everyday lives. But missing someone and being in pain because of their absence are not the same thing. Missing someone doesn’t have to be painful.
In part the extent of our sorrow depends on whom we lost. How significant was this person to us? Also was this person in our daily life? The condition of the person who died also affects how we grieve. If the deceased suffered for a long time before dying, we may release them more easily. Sudden and unexpected deaths can impact us more severely and take longer to accept. We may more easily come to terms with the death of one who was very ill, already very compromised, or very old.
Another key factor is how complete we felt we were with the deceased. Often what holds us back from recovering from loss is when we have regrets, resentments or other feelings we never expressed. This can slow down our recovery. But it is never too late to have an out-loud imaginary conversation for and with yourself where you express all that you withheld from the one who died.
I have often reassured clients that you need not grieve forever. By that I mean you don’t have to be immersed in the intensity of your sorrow for the rest of your life. We have to trust that with time our pain will lessen and evenÂtually subside. We may still miss a loved one long after they are gone. But in time missing is no longer painful. I believe we have a choice over how much and how long we suffer over losses. Instead of counting the number of days or weeks or months of our sorrow, notice instead the days when the sun peeks out of the clouds of our grief. Pay attention
to the times when you aren’t consumed with grief. Pat yourself on the back when you can step back into your ordinary life and socialize or work and enjoy some aspect of your life.
The amount of time we spend in pain is no gift to our dead. If you died would you want your loved ones to be immobilized with grief for months or years? Remember there is no right amount of time for grieving. Remember too that you do not honor your lost loved one with your sorrow but rather by living a good life in their honor.
- Judy Tatelbaum, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, public speaker, and author. October 2022 Edition of the Journeys Bereavement Newsletter