Grief & Bereavement Issues

Understanding When Grief is Complete

Kathryn Patricelli, MA, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

It can be difficult for someone who is grieving to know when grieving will be completed. Grief can be an extended process. It has no set timeframe for finishing. Though the passage of time provides little clue as to whether or when grieving will be done, there are several signs that indicate when people are starting to complete the process.

During the deepest stages of grief, people may feel that there is nothing to live for and that all of life is negative. Grieving people also often feel tremendous loyalty for their lost relationship and resist anything that they perceive will take them away from honoring that lost relationship. They are likely to feel very sad and lost. They are likely to be psychologically oriented towards honoring events that occurred in the past rather than events that are presently occurring, or which they might look forward to under other circumstances in the future. Important signs that grief is winding down therefore include the slow return of the ability to feel pleasure and joy again, the return of a present or future-facing orientation (e.g., looking forward to things in the future again), and the return of desire for reaching out to others and re-engaging in life.

The transition from a sad focus on the past to a re-engaged hopeful focus on the present and future does not happen all at once. Rather, it occurs in bits and pieces in a back and forth manner. Grieving people may start to feel guilty when they realize that they are not wanting to remain grieving. They may see their recovery from grief as an abandonment of their past relationship and resist this perceived abandonment. Of course, it is not disloyal or dishonorable to a lost relationship for grieving people to find new ways to feel happy again – but it can feel that way. In time the guilt feelings tend to subside too as life continues.

A final sign that grief is ending occurs when grieving people are able to think about their lost person, place or thing more as a happy past memory and less as a painful present absence. They may still feel pain at the loss, but it is not as acute as it once was.

 




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