Timetables and Expectations

While grief is a common feeling that almost all human beings experience at some point in their lives, it can manifest itself in very different ways from person to person. This section of our website provides information that will hopefully help you understand the nature of grief and help you deal with it in your life.

Photo of a rose.

Timetables For Grief

One of the most frequently asked questions is, "How long will these feelings last?" The following guidelines are general descriptions and may vary widely from one individual to another.

Month One

In the first month, grieving persons may be so busy with funeral arrangements, visitors, paperwork, and other immediate tasks that they have little time to begin the grieving process. They may also be numb and feel that the loss is unreal. This shock can last beyond the first month if the death was sudden, violent, or particularly untimely.

Month Three

The three month point is a particularly challenging time for many grieving persons. Visitors have gone home, cards and calls have pretty much stopped coming in, and most of the numbness has worn off. Well meaning family and friends who do not understand the grief process may pressure the grieving person to get back to normal. The grieving person is just beginning the very painful task of understanding what this loss really means.

Months Four Through Twelve

The grieving person continues to work through the many tasks of learning to live with the loss. There begin to be more good days than bad days. Difficult periods will crop up sometimes with no obvious trigger, even late in the last half of the first year. It is important that the grieving person understands that these difficult periods are normal, rather than a set back or a sign of lack of progress.

Significant Anniversaries

During the first year, personal and public holidays present additional challenges. Birthdays (of the deceased and other family members), wedding anniversaries, and family and school reunions can be difficult periods. Medical anniversaries, such as the day of the diagnosis, the day someone was hospitalized or came home from the hospital can also bring up memories. The grieving person may not be consciously keeping track of these dates, but is still affected by them.

Appropriate Expectations

Here are some expectations related to grief that are appropriate for you to have:

  • Your grief will take longer than most people think.
  • Your grief will take more energy than you would have ever imagined.
  • Your grief will involve many changes and will be continually developing.
  • Your grief will show itself in all spheres of your life - psychological, social, and physical.
  • Your grief will depend upon how you perceive the loss.
  • You will grieve for many things, both symbolic and tangible, not just the death alone.
  • You will grieve for what you have lost already and for what you have lost for the future.
  • Your grief will entail mourning not only for the actual person you lost, but also for all of the hopes, dreams, and unfulfilled expectations you held for and with that person, and for the needs that will go unmet because of the death.
  • Your grief will involve a wide variety of feelings and reactions, not solely those that are generally thought of as grief, such as depression and sadness.
  • The loss will resurrect old issues, feelings, and unresolved conflicts from the past.
  • You will have some identity confusion as a result of this major loss and the fact that you are experiencing reactions that may be quite different.
  • You may have a combination of anger and depression, or other feelings, such as irritability, frustration, annoyance, or intolerance.
  • You will feel some anger and guilt, or at least some manifestation of these emotions.
  • You may have a lack of self-concern.
  • You may experience grief spasms, acute upsurges of grief that occur suddenly with no warning.
  • You will have trouble thinking (memory, organization and intellectual processing) and making decisions.
  • You may feel like you are going crazy.
  • You may be obsessed with the death and preoccupied with the deceased.
  • You may begin a search for meaning and may question your religion and/or philosophy of life.
  • You may find yourself acting socially in ways that are different from before.
  • You may find yourself having a number of physical reactions.
  • You may find that there are certain dates, events, and stimuli that bring upsurges in grief.
  • Society will have unrealistic expectations about your mourning and may respond inappropriately to you.
  • Certain experiences later in life may resurrect intense grief for you temporarily.

Rando, Therese A., Ph.D. GRIEVING: How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies. Lexington Books: Lexington, MA. 1988

If only someone whom I respected had sat me down after Martin died and said, "Now, Lynn, bereavement is a wound. It's like being very, very badly hurt...you will grieve and that is painful. Your grief will have many stages, but all of them will be healing. Little by little, you will be whole again. You will be a stronger person. Just as a broken bone knits and becomes stronger than before, so will you."

"Lynn" (Widow)