Following a death or loss, you may feel empty and numb, as if you are in shock. You may notice physical changes such as trembling, nausea, trouble breathing, muscle weakness, dry mouth, or trouble sleeping and eating.

Feelings of deep sadness and sorrow are common in grief. These and other feelings and thoughts are common. Often, people find themselves engaging in behaviors that are different or unusual, or thinking in ways that are unfamiliar and disturbing. Finding their beliefs challenged in grief, many people experience a kind of “spiritual crisis” following loss.

You may become angry – at a situation, a particular person, or just angry in general. Guilt is a common response which may be easier to accept and overcome by looking at the experience in terms of “regret.”  When we think ”I regret I was not in the room when he died” or “I regret I was not able to speak more openly about dying” it is less critical than “I feel guilty about my behavior.”

People in grief may have strange or disturbing dreams, be absent-minded, withdraw socially, or lack the desire to participate in activities that used to be enjoyable. While these feelings and behaviors are normal during grief, they will pass.

In general, grief makes room for a lot of thoughts, behaviors, feelings and beliefs that might be considered abnormal or unusual at other times. Following significant loss, however, most of these components of grief are, in fact, quite normal.

How Long Does Grief Last?

Grief lasts as long as it lasts. Although this statement may not seem helpful to you, it is true. It is different for each person. It is important to realize that, while grief and its intensity will subside, most find that it is replaced with a “sweet sadness” that comes at times of remembrance. This is simply the acknowledgement that significant loss has occurred. That the loss, and the person who is gone, matters and affects our lives.

There are many factors that affect how long a person grieves, including age, maturity, personality, physical and mental health, coping style, culture, spiritual and religious background, family background, other stressors and life experiences. The time spent grieving may also depend on how prepared a person was before the loss was experienced.

How Will I Know When I’m Done Grieving?

After a significant loss, you may be consumed and overwhelmed by the grief reactions you are experiencing. In time, as the reality of the loss sinks in, and all the changes as a result of the loss have been experienced, you will learn to adjust to living with your loss. Eventually, even after significant loss, you will realize you are grieving less as you discover renewed energy in living. You will become less consumed by the impact of the loss and begin to draw comfort rather than pain from the memories. In a sense, you are never “finished grieving.” With a significant loss, there will always be moments when you will remember the loss, and perhaps you will experience some of the feelings of grief, as in the times of “sweet sadness” mentioned above. Fortunately, the time period between these surges will lengthen considerably as you learn how to cope with your loss.