How Long Does Grief Last?

IMG_3335 (2)                                In memory of my daughter, Karin Faulkner, who died at age 35 on December 15, 2008

This is an altered version of an original post, “How Long Do We Grieve?” on Maria Shriver’s blog of Jan. 30, 2013 by Claire Bidwell Smith, the author of a memoir, The Rules of Inheritance. Claire, a grief therapist, lives in Los Angeles.  Direct quotes are in quotation marks.  The rest of the article is mine or a restating of what Claire wrote.

“The first year of grieving someone you love is like no other. There are whole swaths of denial, moments and days when it just doesn’t seem real. And then worse, it does start to feel real and then there are whole moments and days when the pain is almost unbearable.”

Among the most common questions asked in Claire’s therapy sessions are — “How long will I grieve? Does it ever end?”  She says her answer is always the same: “It’s different for everyone. But I can tell you that grief almost always lasts longer than the people around you expect it to.

Many seem to find it creepy or uncool to speak of the dead.  They are the ones who have the most difficult time recovering from a major loss.  When you speak of your pain, you heal more quickly.

“Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them that grief can last years. Others are relieved to hear this, because they already know it to be true.”

“I do believe that there can be an end to active grieving. I think there comes a time when the real, raw pain of grief ends.”  Moving on is a popular expression for going beyond grief to a new normal.  That phrase grates on me.  I do not want to “move on” leaving my loved one tossed along the road.  I want to carry my loved one forever and feel/remember the joy of their presence.  Carrying your loved one is not onerous, but calming.  It becomes a new way of living.

As you travel down the long road strewn with boulders, those rocks shrink over time until you are on a pebble path.  Eventually a time comes when life without your loved one is no longer a life-altering burden.

After Karin died, when someone generically asked me, “How are you?” my pat answer was simply, “OK.”  They weren’t really asking how my grief was progressing.  They were simply reiterating a colloquialism. For at least two years, maybe three, I could not bring myself to answer that common question with the expected “Fine.”  In fact, the first few times I said “fine,” I felt a little ashamed, wondering how Karin would feel about my response.  Would she feel I was shutting her out?

“After a while the sad memories of the end are replaced by better ones from the beginning.”  The sad memories remain, though they are buried under my 35 years of happy memories.  “Eventually enough time passes and it becomes easier to talk about them without crying.” Actually, right from seven years ago today, I loved talking about her — to anyone!  Seven years later, I speak of her every day.  She is always on my mind.  Not in a maudlin way, but like I am speaking of any of my living friends or relatives.

In my home, I am surrounded by her.  My office has at least eight photos of her within easy view.  Her artwork and other photos of her are on my living room, TV room, and bedroom walls.  I wear some pieces of her clothing and jewelry.  These means comfort by keeping her close.

You never lose your love for the deceased. “I think we always miss the people we lose, that we never stop wishing they were still here with us.”

I was born on the day my great grandmother was buried.  A few months later, we moved into her home with many of her furnishings.  My mother dearly loved her grandmother and told me many stories about her as well as dreams she had of her.  I find that I dream of my deceased loved ones also.

“We learn to live our lives without them, as impossible as that can often seem in the beginning… It’s just that we learn to live with their absence.”  I have attained that point in my grief walk.  When I speak of Karin, the person often expresses sorrow.  But I am not in need of sympathy!  I simply want to keep her memory alive by sharing.

One’s religious view of the after life and where we will be colors our perception of our loved one.  I have confidence Karin enjoys her deceased relatives and friends while worshiping our Lord.

Claire describes her grief experience in terms of weathering. “You can see… how we have given ourselves over to time because we have had to, because its the only thing that brings us both closer to and farther away from the people we love.”

We grieve until we don’t anymore, but we love forever.”  How do you keep the memory of your loved one alive?


About 9awalsh

A genealogist and writer who has uncovered legacy stories which must be told. I also write a blog, Deciphering Life, trying to figure out why life becomes so tangled --
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4 Responses to How Long Does Grief Last?

  1. Lynn Waller says:

    So well said, Nina. Much wisdom there.


  2. Victor says:

    I’d say you “hit the nail on the head” with your blog article.

    There’s a zen proverb: “Don’t show your poetry to someone who is not a poet” meaning that there’s no point in talking about how you really feel after a loved one has died with people who don’t understand grief. So, you were wise with the simple “fine”. – VMP


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