Photo credit | Henri Pham
By Caroline Loo
How long will it take?
I am often asked this question by mourners who have recently experienced a significant loss – people who have never navigated grief before and for whom this process is confusing and worrying.
Generally, in life, there are guidelines about aspects that we manage daily. We work specific hours and know when and where to go for this and that. We know our housework schedule and manage this within our weekly days. We balance social activities with time on our own and know where to go if something breaks down to get it fixed.
The problem with understanding grief is that there is no recipe, magic pill or guide book. This leaves us feeling very out of our depth and worried that there is something wrong with us. The erratic nature of the waves of grief can paralyse us and limit our ability to manage usual tasks. We struggle to process and live as we used to.
Another complication is that the template we have for how life usually plays out can’t be lifted and placed into our grief situation, as it just won’t work. How we manage our grief has to be specific to us and the depth of the loss of the relationship. We will feel more grief if we had a close and deep relationship with the person who has died. Because of this, we will take longer to process the loss and learn how to live without the person. We will take longer to rebuild our life and adapt. We will take longer to understand the fullness of the loss and for our head and hearts to line up with deep realisation. Even if you are a faithful follower of Christ and pray and trust our Lord, we can’t hurry this process.
The way the person has died also affects how hard it is for us to process their death. If the death was sudden and unexpected, our time frame may be longer and more complicated. Our minds become numb with shock initially and go into survival mode. It is normal to feel numb or in disbelief for many weeks after a sudden death. The trauma associated with this impacts on us and needs to be worked through also.
So I guess the answer to the question is that there is no one concrete answer. So much depends on the way a person dies, the relationship you had with the person and how close you were to them. The support you have as a mourner and the other stresses of life also all impact on how we work through our grief. But if we trust our God, we can be assured that we will be able to move forward as we embrace the depth of our loss.
Time itself won’t heal you, but working through your grief and embracing the sadness of the death will help you to adapt. Trust God to guide you and ask for His strength to face each day and honour your loved one with true mourning as King David did when his son died. Love and grief are intertwined and woven together.