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No Set Timeline for Grief

October 7, 2010

My new friend Diana Doyle, who writes so meaningfully at Sunshine in a Blue Cup, blogged not too long ago about the “appropriate” length of time for grieving the loss of a child. She had read another blog in which the writer said that “everyone” she interviewed agreed that it takes about five years to recover from a child’s death.

Diana, whose sweet Savannah was stolen six years ago by a degenerative disease, was, to say the least, taken aback by the blogger’s anecdotal statistic. She wrote:

I’m afraid I have to disagree. I thought to myself, “Well, I must be abnormal!”  In spite of time … my grief is still there, like an unwanted guest who arrives unannounced. …

There is no magical timer that ‘dings’ when a certain amount of days, or years, has passed to say when that overwhelming feeling of sadness goes away. That your child or a loved one isn’t here to share your life ever again.

I’m with Diana. I’ve never really understood the idea that grieving should “end.” Yes, the intensity changes over time, and acute grief is quite different from those pangs of loss and sadness that can wash over you at unexpected moments years later.

I do believe, however, that time is not the only thing that heals and that people can make choices to embrace life once again, while still acknowledging the loss and its impact. People like Diana — who writes often about the rich, full life she now enjoys, and all the more so for having experienced the deepest kind of pain — have done this beautifully and naturally, but some people need more guidance on the journey.

Everyone grieves the loss of a child differently — I saw that crystal clearly with my parents after my brother died — and timelines definitely can’t be dictated.

I would be concerned about anyone who remains in a deep, acute grief state for many years. In the grief coaching I do, my clients do deep work to help shift them out of that stuck place, to a place where they can enjoy their lives while still honoring the memory of the person they loved.

We are the sum of our experiences, and I believe that peace comes, at least partially, from the successful integration of those past experiences into our current beings.

. . . . . . . . . .

Coach’s Query

What have you done — or could you do — to embrace your life while still honoring grief?

  1. sandielzinga permalink

    It’s been 8 years since my husband died and I still have grief now and then. True, it’s not as bad, but I don’t think a person ever “gets over” the loss of a loved one; we just adjust.

    Sandi Elzinga
    GriefWalk:Hope Through The Dark Places

    • Michelle Buzgon permalink

      Thank you, Sandi, for stopping by this blog and sharing your experience. I’m sorry that you’ve had to adjust to the loss of your husband. If we allow it, there’s always space in our hearts for our loved ones.

  2. Sally Thierer permalink

    You never “recover” from a child’s death. The closest I analogy I can think of to use that might help others understand is losing a limb. It’s a traumatic and very painful shock to lose a vital part of yourself. You deny it, you are angry about it, you bargain with God to get it back. You are in severe pain initially and even after the surgical site heals you can feel intense pain, perhaps even years later. You have to find a whole new way of living without your limb. You wake up every single morning and once again need to face the day without your limb–the reality of this is a painful surprise every day for months. You have to essentially reinvent your life around this loss. Eventually you learn to cope without your limb. Perhaps you get a prosthetic limb and life can return to almost normal. You start going out and enjoying yourself, you return to work, to your obligations and hobbies, maybe even finding new ways to enjoy yourself, either out of necessity or out of the realization that life is short and precious. But you are never the exact same person you were before the amputation. And you will always miss that limb you have lost.

    • Michelle Buzgon permalink

      That’s a beautifully put analogy, Sally. In her piece, Diana also uses an amputation analogy, and your words explain and expand on that idea in a powerful way. Thank you so much for sharing in this space.

  3. emily young permalink

    your mother told my father about you blog. I didn’t realize u had one. I loved your last blog, I read it to my father as my mother is getting worse everyday. She can’t even express herself anymore, she just lies there. I knew it was going to come to this but it’s hard to watch. Thanks for the posts, they’re very inspirational. Emily

    • Michelle Buzgon permalink

      Thank you, Emily, for stopping by this site at such a difficult time in your life. I’ve been following your updates on your mom, and it’s clear what an amazing, supportive daughter you have been through the most painful of times. I’ve been thinking about you a lot, and it’s been nice to be back in contact with you after all these years. I have many good memories of you and your family, and I will keep you, your mom and your family in my heart.

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