Often after the death of a loved one, the question is asked, how long will the pain last? How long can I expect to feel this way?
There is no one universal truth or answer.
One perspective given by Therese Rando, in The Treatment of Complicated Mourning (1993) is that acute grief will normally subside, but mourning may continue for years or even forever. Grief and mourning is a fluctuating process. Some evidence for this can be found in the upsurges of grief around anniversaries, holidays or significant events.
Grief reactions are common after life has had to resume. You are back at work and outside support is starting to be withdrawn. Then, you are hit by a birthday, a wedding anniversary, Christmas, or an event that you would have shared with the deceased. Besides the loss of the loved one you may also have a new loss in the event itself. You are now “confronted with the loss in striking and unexpected ways that poignantly bring home its full measure” (Rando, 1993, p.63). You may experience intense emotions, illness, sleeplessness, disturbing thoughts or a whole range of individual reactions.
It is important to understand the fluctuating nature of mourning, as unexpected grief reactions can be frightening , have you feeling like they are going mad, regressing or judging yourself for not coping as you would want or how others expect you should.
I have listed below some practical suggestions that may help you plan around anniversaries:
Awareness around anniversary dates means that you can pre-empt them and use them as another opportunity to be with your feelings and recognise the impact of the loss.
Find a way to give healthy expression to your feelings – drawing, journaling, a letter to your loved one or action oriented activities such as sport, running, and walking.
Recognising and being with the little losses can also help us be prepared for what works for us in the bigger losses (Neimeyer 2000, p.59).
Organise to do something enjoyable with friends or family. Start a ritual that is significant for you and that can be repeated each year on the anniversary. Plant a tree, make a donation, have a get together.
Create situations where you can talk about your loved one with a supportive others. Often friends decide not to bring them up because they think it will create more pain. Ask friends to be more open about discussing them. Reminisce.
Visit your loved ones grave with family members on the day.
Spend time making a photo collage or a memory book which can be shared and discussed with family and friends.
If your grief means that your ability to function is impaired significantly, then it may be time for specific help to be sought. Share your experience of grief with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work, make an appointment for grief counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Remuera, Auckland.
Neimeyer, R.A. (2000) Lessons of Loss, A Guide to Coping. Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, Australia.
Rando, T.A. (1993) Treatment of Complicated Mourning. Research Press, USA.