How long will I be grieving the death of my child? How long will my grief last? When will I feel better? Is there a time to grieve? Is it true that I need to ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’? What does ‘moving on’ look like?
How much time to grieve do I have?
I have been asked these and similar questions for years. Just last week, a member of the Grieving Parents Support Network asked:
“Hi. Do you know of any articles about ‘how long the grieving process is for losing a child’? I was told ‘fresh grief’ takes about 2 years and another said it takes 5 years. My adult daughter passed away 6.5 months ago.
When I post something about her on Facebook one was telling me I need to move on – that’s what my daughter would want me to do. Others haven’t been quite so blunt, but the message is still clear.
These comments hurt and make me angry. What shall I do? Ignore them or try to respond with a message about how hard it is to lose a child and that it takes a long time? I don’t know what to do.”
The question showed me a couple of things:
– There are still a lot of misconceptions about grief and grieving, both in the bereaved, as well as in the non-bereaved.
– Grief is hard and takes a long time. It’s hard work which has been compared with running a daily marathon. Long because that intensity feels long, no matter the time frame.
– Grieving the loss of a child is accompanied with secondary losses of friends and their understanding of our situation, of who we have become and what we are going through.
This was my answer to her:
Oh, dear Mother,
I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s death – what is her name?
6 1/2 months isn’t long ago… and, having said that, ANY time frame isn’t long enough to ‘get over’, ‘forget’ or ‘be done with it’.
The grief after the death of a child takes a parent as long as it takes them. There is no guideline.
Each and every relationship between parent and child is unique and so is the grief: a unique journey every individual has to travel – even if none of them chose this journey.
Those who haven’t experienced the death of their child haven’t travelled this road, the long and arduous child loss desert.
They cannot relate to the journey, neither the struggle it takes nor the length the road takes. If they haven’t walked through it, don’t expect their suggestions to make sense.
They only want you to be out of the desert, so their helpless attempts are pleading with you to come back from your trip… yet there sadly is not ‘back’, there is only forward.
How would you want to explain the desert to the one with no experience of sun, heat and sand? You can’t.
That’s where you will experience your relationships change (secondary losses) because some just won’t be able to support the you that is here now.
I personally believe that we can help people who are yet inexperienced in life after death by sharing our story, by being authentic about how it is – once you have the energy to do so.
Until then, let us do this. We are here to support and uplift you. We are your network of builders and supporters (you might like to join our peer support group: www.facebook.com/groups/mayweallheal).
The time it takes to grieve
Recently I had the honour to sit with Roland Kachler, a renowned grief expert in the German-speaking world who has brought forward a grief approach that differs from those preaching ‘letting go’.
He talked about how he found solace by developing an inner relationship with his son after he died at the age of sixteen.
In regard to time he had some significant things to add:
The first year
The first year is about surviving the shock. It’s surreal and the prevailing feeling is numbness. Moving towards the first anniversary of the death pain and grief increases. The first anniversary is like a gate into grieving.
The second year
The second year is an intense year of grieving as realisation sets in. As numbness fades, we become more and more aware of the reality of death.
The third until the fifth year
During the time between the third and the fifth year, we transform with and through the pain and grief. The bereaved lives in two worlds, the world of the inner relationship with the deceased as well as our daily life.
The seventh year
According to Kachler, especially with child loss the seventh year can become a significant milestone in the grieving process.
The time it takes to grieve significantly depends on:-
- The situation before the death
- how the person died
- what the relationship was like
Your time to grieve
In answer to the question ‘how long will my grief last’, we have to look at our own situation. Comparing our loss to any other loss does not help.
Your grief is as unique as your fingerprint.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Nathalie Himmelrich the author of a number of resource books for bereaved parents. As a relationship coach, grief recovery expert and bereaved mother herself she believes that relationships (intimate and to other support people) are the foundation for a healthy grieving experience. She is also the founder of the Grieving Parents Support (GPS) Network and the May We All Heal peer support group.