Originally posted on Monday, July 18, 2011, 1:45:00 PM
The short, over-simplified answer: 3 years.
The honest, complicated answer: forever.
Here’s the truth, as I’ve experienced it.
Grieving is incredibly painful. There are all sorts of advice columns aimed at teaching people how to deal with that loss, anger, and sorrow. Some of them are helpful; some of them are overly prescriptive; some of them are actually harmful. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you should feel a certain way, react in a certain way, or feel better by a certain time. No matter how well intended, some advice will just not work for you. That’s okay. But this is key: 3 years is not a guarantee. It is an average. It is a number to set in your mind’s eye as something to look forward to – the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
3 years might sound like a lot, especially if your loved one has recently died. All I know to tell you is that yes, it is a lot. And no, it is not impossible. You get through those 3 years in any way you can: wallowing when you need to wallow, denying when you need to deny, remembering when you need to remember, and celebrating when you need to feel joy. There is no shame in any of this. There is no right answer. Simply do what you must. I give you permission to grieve, heal, and survive in whatever way feels right for you.
So how can grief last 3 years and forever? The easiest way I know to explain this is that “active” grieving lasts about 3 years. That feeling like you’re seeing the world through a shattered lens, or that you aren’t really absorbing any of the things that happen to you – the deepest part of depression and the most tearful nights all come and go for about 3 years.
So after the 3rd anniversary of your loved one’s death, do you magically feel better? Yes and no.
Yes: A good friend told me the 3-year thing, and I admit that about a week after that day passed I did feel indescribably better. Lighter, cleaner, almost tearfully relieved and joyous. Some of that might have been the power of suggestion, but I don’t see any problem with that. If you’re reading this post, you might experience that same phenomenon. And if you ask me, that’s a good thing. I welcomed it with open arms. 3 years is a long time to be sad.
No: Here’s a harder truth to hear. Grief never goes away. I truly believe that when someone very close to you dies (as in one of your “special” people), you never get over that. When a little chunk of our heart is hollowed out, it doesn’t fill back in. We simply learn to live around it. This sounds rather melancholy and morbid, but it’s not. It doesn’t mean we will never be happy again; it means that we will always carry a place that misses that person. Living with grief is our way of remembering – of honoring that person. It’s not something to dread. It’s something to embrace.
So how do you live with that subtle, post-3-year grief for a lifetime? Obviously, I haven’t lived a lifetime yet. But I can feel the stillness in my heart where my father used to be. It’s a soft, strangely peaceful place, and I’ve learned that the best way to live with it is to acknowledge it. Don’t hide it or ignore it or obsess over it. Just let it be.
Just let yourself, your grief, and your healing be what they are.
If you are in that first, overwhelming wave of grief, please don’t give up. I know it seems unbearable – and maybe it is – but you will learn to adjust. You will make it to year 3.
There is hope. You will feel better. Hang in there.Share this: