The Myth of the Grief Timeline

How long does it take to fall in love?

How many seconds pass before a parent loves their newborn child?

How many arguments and rivalries can the bonds of siblinghood withstand?

How many heart-to-hearts and late-night phone calls before you know a friend is true?

These are silly questions, aren’t they? They’re like riddles with no answer. There’s no scale to measure love or to quantify the bonds of friendship and family.

It reminds me of one of my favorite lullabies, appropriately titled ‘The Riddle’. It’s a really simple song that my mother used to sing when I was young. It goes…

I gave my love a cherry that had no stone.
I gave my love a chicken that had no bone.
I told my love a story that had no end
I gave my love a baby, with no cryin’.

How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
Whoever heard a story that never ends?
How can there be a baby with no cryin’?

Well a cherry when it’s bloomin’, it has no stone.
A chicken when it’s pippen’, it has no bone.
And the story of ‘I love you’ will never end.
A baby when it’s sleeping, there’s no cryin’.

“The story of I love you will never end”; what a beautiful lyric.  What a true lyric.

Love, connection and caring, these are things that live on; they don’t just end….you know it…I know it…it’s common sense. So why then do we often hear this questions like these?

“How long does grief last? When will it end? When will I be over it?”

If grief is the result of losing someone we love and care for, then there’s no logic that can be applied or formula that can be used in determining how long it will last.  If you don’t believe me, just give it a try.

X = how many years you knew the person

Y= all the ways you loved, needed, relied upon and adored them

5 = stages of grief according to Kubler-Ross

4 = number of grief tasks according to Worden

6 = number of grief processes beginning with the letter ‘R’ according to Rando

8 = number of grief Horcruxes that must be overcome according to our Harry Potter Grief Model

Hang on let me put this all in my calculator….stand by…still computing…okay so according to my calculations it will take approximately 13,824,000 days to get over grief. That’s about 37,873 years. Here’s the good news, if Litsa and I live until 80 then we’ll be here for you for the next 48 of those years give or take. Yikes, that’s not very long. Let’s move on.

The idea of a grief timeline is somewhat of a misnomer. Anyone familiar with grief understands that associated feelings, setbacks, breakthroughs, roadblocks, triggers, and resolutions can occur at unexpected, unpredictable and inexplicable times and durations.

Grief is not a race with a start and finish line, it’s a labyrinth of twists and turns and dead ends. Grief is like trying to swim past the break in the ocean – you wade in but every once in a while a wave comes up and knocks you back a few feet. You’re still deeper than when you started, but not as deep as you were before the wave hit.

Grief cannot be mapped on a timeline, although typically its intensity should be negatively correlated with time. This means the more time that passes, the less extreme and agonizing grief feelings should be. There will still be bad days, but overall it’s average intensity will diminish. It looks a little something like this…

photo-4.jpg

So feelings of grief will diminish, but not disappear. Grief is infinitas which means ‘being without finish’. Grief doesn’t end, but with time it should look different; hopefully more peaceful, connected, and positive.

Here are a few small indicators you might be making progress in your grief. I find it important to note, you can take steps forward, yet still grieve your loved one. Just because you return to work, date, or decide to have a child does not mean you won’t continue to grieve the person you lost. The capacity you have to be happy, enjoy life, and love others exists in addition to the love you feel for your deceased loved ones. Because love…love is infinitas.

  • You start to feel just a little more ‘normal’
  • You have more good days than bad
  • You experience an increase in energy and motivation
  • You remember memories fondly as opposed to experiencing them as grief triggers
  • You can constructively think about the loss of your loved one and the impact it’s had on your life
  • Your sleep patterns return to normal
  • You experience feelings of optimism about the future
  • Improvement in performance at work
  • You’re able to focus on personal health and wellbeing
  • You feel ready to date again, have more children, and/or make new friends.
  • Your relationships feel more functional and healthy
  • You feel as though you are ‘rejoining the human race’
  • You feel ready to get out of the house
  • You experience an increase in desire for emotional and physical intimacy

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April 20, 2018

15 responses on "The Myth of the Grief Timeline"

  1. I was wondering why no one mentioned the shortness of breath and chest tightness I feel. My throat schedule. I feel closed in and I have to have the window on and the fan blowing on me. All I want is to know this grief will end. I hate reading that it won’t. As I walked my dog today ( feeling quite week and teary) I realized only one person had ever told me about it and it was my father whose death I am mourning. He told me the story if coming home after ww2 to the room he shared with his brother who was Killed and how for months he couldn’t breath when he went outside. That was a confort he offered me as he lived to be 96 and had a model Life. I am so sad which he would have hated. I fear my ability to do this the many ( likely) times I will face it in the future.

  2. There is no closure for me. I lost my 23 year old son to cancer 9 years ago and I liken it to being stuck in a prison for the rest of your life. You never get away from it and it is always there. I have much better days than I did for the first 4 years after it happened, but the pain, the heartache that my son is gone will never go away. I can accept his passing, but I can’t accept the fact that I have not seen him for 9 years An oxymoron I suppose. I have to learn to live with it, not “get over it” but I don’t know if I ever will or can.

  3. My love for my wife will never end. So why should my grief? It’s part of life and loving……My grief will end on the day I die.

  4. My 28 year old son died ever toxic mixture of over the counter and alcoholic drinks. He had been in a lot of pain in his neck and not been able to sleep so he was taking different things trying to get to sleep. That was two years and 9 months ago. I’ve laughed, I have loved, I have a new grandson named after him. I sang, I can dance, but this week and no Rhyme or Reason for me to have particularly tough time with grief right now I want my baby back. My younger son is all that’s left and I shouldn’t be such a burden to him but I cannot help it. And I know I’m not going to be in this world very much longer probably not as long as I could have been if Mike still lived, but the desire to go on I think is important in life and I do believe you can die of a broken heart or die of grief. And that is the way I will go. And not soon enough. I have visions of him lying in his bed trying to get some help. I have visions of the seizures he had. He was right through the wall from me why couldn’t I hear him struggle to breathe? And why did I wait so long to check on him? Maybe I would have caught him in time to save his life if I hadn’t waited so long but boy if you would wake him up it would be like waking up an Angry Bear. So this article came at a good time for me because I am proof you can take two steps forward and five steps backwards. And I think I’m going to be doing that grief dance the rest of my life.

  5. I am bipolar with chronic depression. Myalso bipolar sister who is 11 months older than me and my rock in life, killed herself 3 weeks ago. we lost our mom at 29 to drunk drivers and my dad dying of cancer. She was the only person that knew our grief in the world and wewere bonded by it. We talked on facetime every day for up to 5 hours a day. I’m am absolutely paralyzed by my sadness, , lonliness, fear, pain. She was gonna be moving down to VA where I live this month. I have colon cancer n she was gonna be my caretaker. So I cancelled my colon cancer surgery so it ends my life and my pain. I see no future without her. The week prior my 14 year old pug passed away, the week before that my cat was found dead in my neighbors yard and the month before that my 2nd 14 year old pug passed. I have lost all my love sources. It terrifies me because being bipolar that puts you in a deep dark place of fear. My house is no longer my home. It’s lifeless. I have no support team cuz I have just one friend and her life is really busy. It seems that Noone case what I’m going through. I don’t think my grief of my sister will ever end because we had so many plans for future with her living by me for the first time since we were adults. I’m 56 she was 57. I cry and scream all day long everyday. I’m stuck in he’ll and the flames keep burning down the ladder I need to climb out of this horror I’m in. I can’t eat, sleep and my days are long n lonely. I cannot see a light anywhere in sight. I want her back so I can fix the problems she had so she didn’t kill herself. I don’t know why. We discussed everything. Whenever I was feeling suicidal she would lecture me on it and how wrong that would be. So how come she was allowed to? If I would have known she was thinking that way I would have moved heaven n earth to make things better for her. I’m just sad and lost and feel like it will be that way forever. I too want to kill myself too, but I’m afraid. Noone knows my pain and lonliness now. And that just sucks. I hate how hard life is for me.

  6. my Lydia 23 took her life on January 20 2016. I found her. I will grieve forever and will not be out of this unbearable pain until the day I die

  7. I appreciate your post on grieving, I have many things in life that I grieve for, and feel loss for, from early childhood to more recent times. I also have bipolar disorder and emotions are at the forefront of my existence. Nothing can replace the loss we experience, though as you said, in time it become less intense. Unfortunately my mental condition tends to get in the way of acceptance of loss, and not just loss of loved ones, but loss of pets, and my way in life. I enjoyed reading your tips, and I am learning through counselling, tides come in and tides go out, just like emotions.

  8. In Chinese medicine, the heart is considered the mind. This article is so true about the progress or procession of moving through the grief process and always having a piece of that person with you for YOUR lifetime. It’s not the procession of moving through the grief process that’s the problem. It’s the getting stuck and not moving forward. In Chinese acupuncture they even have several specific protocols for people that become stuck as if the person died yesterday when it’s been 20 years or more.
    My spiritual belief system is that we are here for three distinct purposes that we can take with us into the next life: our association with others, what we have learned while we were here, and our emotional growth. If in fact these are the purpose of life then it reflects that we would grieve our association with others, human or otherwise. But it’s OUR journey to grow emotionally through this separation. Sure they still exist even though they are not physically with us. I believe they are with us energetically. I believe that is part of why we have chakras and acupuncture points and channels and auras – so we can communicate with our higher power and those that have passed that are now energy beings.

    In my journey, after a year of grieving like they died yesterday, I finally had to face the realization that this was no longer healthy grieving. I painfully took all the photos down and placed them out of sight so I did not have a constant reminder that kept my heart (mind) bloody and unhealed. This very ceremony was profoundly difficult and incredibly liberating. After two years of changing the false belief systems in my head to more positive and hopeful thought patterns, such as I have my association with them energetically and they quide and protect me and they want me to advance emotionally in this world, to find a good balance of love and happiness without them physically in this world with me – I now have their photos, just one or two photos, enough to bring me a pang of bittersweet joy when I see them on display. It’s a journey and I really don’t want to have to learn this lesson yet again so I’m hoping I can be productive in growing emotionally through this so I don’t have to do it again and so I don’t become stuck. That’s my journey and I’m sticking to it!

  9. If it’s “without finish,” why are they always using that word ‘Closure’ especially with people who lost their loved ones to homicide?
    I secretly can’t stand the word and I didn’t feel anything even remotely like whatever closure is until they found AND dispatched Osama bin Laden, one of the “people” responsible for planning the operation that killed one of my loved ones along with thousands of other families’ loved ones.
    I didn’t believe bin Laden’s continued existence was going to help the world. In fact they found evidence in his hide-out of him planning another situation like September 11. He wanted to do another one on the tenth “anniversary.”
    They published that fact in the news but since they only did it once, compared to the repeated times they talked of other things, most people don’t even remember it. But I was relieved to hear he couldn’t harm anyone else instead of being sorry that a so-called “fellow human being” had died. Some people mentioned it. I couldn’t feel for him when I made the effort to do so. I didn’t feel happy he was dead, just relieved and I never felt like celebrating it bc I don’t believe in doing that with ANY death, not even ones that happen by execution.
    People told me I should’ve been over it 2 years later – when I could barely feel any emotions in relation to what had happened. Then when I got mostly through the part of losing my daughter’s dad, by finding another relationship, I wonder all the time if I’m being callous because I found another person I’m interested in. So even when you do feel like you’re moving forward you wonder if it’s even right to do it.

    • Wondered if you were better off as a Murrah Building bombing victim’s loved one for Bill Clinton at least made OUTRAGED VOWS to the effect that JUSTICE WILL BE CERTAIN, SWIFT AND SEVERE in that case.

  10. Thank you for the info. It has been 2 1/2 months since my husband died and I am in the middle of your list of things. I feel like I am making progress. I feel guilty “moving on” though. It feels wrong. I went through a similar thing 27 years ago when my son died. I did not have the support that I have now. I am thankful for your website. It is helping me put things in perspective. Like you said, there are good days and then there are bad days. And then there are the days when that wave hits. I know I need to take care of myself but I feel so guilty doing things that make me happy or doing things that he didn’t want me/allow me to do that I really want to do. (I resented him for that). I am struggling with “living again” part.

  11. This beautiful post came at just the right time for me, thank you for your warm, comforting, empathetic words, it’s four months today that my lovely Mum so suddenly left us….the jumble of emotions all you mentions, the set backs, the waves that have pushed me down and over you I’ve so so been there, but also seeing little glimmers of joy and feeling more me too, grief’s a bumpy journey, reading this makes me realise I’m doing ok. Thank you What’s Your Grief, so nice to know you’re there xx

  12. Thanks for bringing back the memory Eleanor. I vividly remember the song growing up.

  13. I grew up with that song and never really paid attention to the lyrics. Beautiful, beautiful!
    I am getting better after what seems an eternity of the deepest sorrow I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. It’s reassuring to know that whatever you’re feeling, it’s right for you. I was very confused, for about 4 months, about this grief and grieving. My brain was befuddled. Thankfully time does help and the awful memories are slowly being replaced by many fond and fun memories. Whew! Grieving is exhausting!

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