How long does grief last, after a death? This is a bit of a how long is a piece of string question. People grieve differently; there’s no answer that would be true for everyone. And there’s no right or wrong way to feel after losing someone close to you.

This might not be reassuring. Grief is painful, and it can be overwhelming. It’s natural to wonder whether there is an end to it, a time when you will start to feel better.

We can’t tell you exactly — but there’s a lot we can tell you about how others have found the grieving process. Here are the questions we come across the most.

 

Does grief ever go away?

Yes and no. You are grieving because you have a bond with the person who has died. It may well be that you’ll never stop missing them. But that doesn’t always mean that you’ll always feel terrible. Or that you’ll never be happy again.

Over time, grief tends to soften. The initial shock and pain becomes something more manageable. Eventually, you’ll find that you’ll spend less and less time hurting, and more and more time feeling okay.

 

So, how long does grief last after a bereavement?

I should be over this by now. 

My friends say I should move on, but I can’t.

I feel guilty that I don’t feel sad anymore.

When can I start my life again?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: grief hits us all differently. You might want to know how long grief can last because you want the pain to pass. You may be worried that it has passed too quickly — what does that say about you?

But here’s what you need to remember: there’s no rules on the length of time you should grieve. Grief is natural and frankly, uncontrollable. You will feel what you feel. However…

Studies have shown that for most people, the worst symptoms of grief — depression, sleeplessness, loss of appetite — peak at six months. As the first year continues, you may find these feelings ebb. But it’s normal to still feel some grief years after a death, especially on special occasions.

These aren’t hard and fast rules. Grieving for longer, or less time, isn’t necessarily unhealthy. How long you grieve will depend on who you have lost, how they died, and a whole range of factors beyond your control.

So, it’s important to give yourself the time you need to recover — as much time as you need. And it’s worth remembering that you deserve to be happy again, too, in your own time. Be kind to yourself.

 

It’s been ages, and I still feel like I’ll never be happy again…

If you do feel that grief is taking over your life, or you’re really worried about how long you’ve been grieving, speak to someone. Your GP will be able to offer you support, as can bereavement charities like Cruse Bereavement Care.

Grief that becomes unhealthy is sometimes called ‘complicated grief’. You can find out more about it here.

 

How does grief change over time?

In the early days after a loss, it’s normal to feel shocked, and a bit numb. This can be useful – there is a lot to be done and much to organise. But once the funeral is over and other admin tasks fall away, your feelings can surface.

After the shock has worn off, the most common symptom of grief is a deep sadness or depression. But it’s not uncommon to find yourself cycling through a variety of emotions. Anger, guilt, denial, shock, fear of being without them — these are all normal.

Physically speaking, you may experience odd sleeping patterns (sleeping too much, or too little), loss of appetite and a ‘foggy’ feeling that makes it difficult to think.

People often compare grief to a series of waves. You may be coping well, and then find yourself suddenly overcome. Then the feeling ebbs away again. In the weeks immediately after a death, you may experience these waves every few moments. But as the year goes on, they usually become fewer and further apart.

Eventually, you will feel okay most of the time — but there will likely still be ‘triggers’ that set you off, like birthdays, anniversaries, or certain activities you used to do together. These may also get easier with time.

For more information on the grieving process over time, try our guide to the five stages of grief.

 

My friends say I should be getting over it by now — should I?

What do you do when friends say things like, Gary wouldn’t want you to be unhappy or Don’t you think it’s time you moved on? Six months or a year down the line, are they right to suggest that you’re grieving too long?

No. But they probably mean well. They might think that saying it frees you from guilt about feeling better. Or perhaps they are just uncomfortable, because it’s hard to see a friend in pain and not be able to help them.

This may be easier said than done, but: try not to put to put pressure on yourself to feel the way other people think you should be feeling. There is no special timeline for grief. It’s normal to feel deeply for the person you’ve lost for years. Do things like clearing out their clothes in your own time.

 

I want to talk about my loss, but no one else seems to want to

Sometimes, people are scared to talk to bereaved friends because they don’t want to hurt them. They might be worried about saying the wrong thing. But you should be allowed to express yourself. It’s an important way to work through difficult feelings.

If a friend seems uncomfortable talking to you about your grief, it may help to explain to them that you would find it comforting, or cathartic. Remind them that even if you do cry, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

This might not work, however. Sometimes, people find it hard to talk because they’re grieving themselves. Everyone deals with these things differently.

But if one friend or relative rebuffs your attempt to talk, don’t lose heart. Perhaps find someone else, or even a bereavement counsellor to talk to. You don’t have to hide your feelings.

 

I am not sure I have the right to grieve so much…

What if you didn’t know the person who died that well? Or you had a bad relationship with them? You can’t help who and how you grieve. But in these cases, it can be hard for you (and sometimes, others as well) to understand why your grief has been so strong or why it’s lasting so long.

You might think you don’t deserve to grieve. That others have a greater claim, or that your bad relationship means that you shouldn’t. This isn’t true, but it can make it harder to talk to the people around you about how you feel. They might not even know you are grieving — meaning you have less support.

In cases like this, it can help to talk to someone who isn’t closely connected to the problem. Bereavement counselling and support groups (online or in ‘real life’) are both good options.

 

How long does grief last after the death of a parent / spouse / sibling?

It’s true that being very close to someone who has died can affect how long the grieving process is likely to be. They will leave a larger hole in your life, and it’s harder to escape reminders of your loss. As well as their company, you’ll be missing the support they offered you, too.

But closeness is not the only thing that affects how long grief lasts after a death. Other factors include:

  • If someone dies suddenly, leaving things unsaid
  • The way they die — was it unexpected or violent?
  • Having a difficult relationship with them (had you argued?)
  • Losing more than one person in a short space of time
  • Being present when they die, or not being present and feeling guilty
  • Not having enough information about how someone has died
  • Being unable to mourn properly — such as when a body is not available for the funeral
  • Unhealthy coping tactics, like drinking too much
  • Losing a child — The Lullaby Trust supports bereaved parents through this unique kind of loss

If you are struggling after someone has died, don’t be afraid to ask for help. As well as friends, family and neighbours, you can talk to your GP about bereavement support in your area. Charity-wise, Cruse Bereavement Care offer a helpline and real-life support groups across the UK.

For more advice on bereavement and the grieving process, try our guide to coping with grief.

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