How Long Is This Grieving Going to Last?

By Elizabeth Harper Neeld, Ph.D.

I don’t think you ever get over the loss in your heart. I think you have to acknowledge the fact that, when you love someone and that person is gone, you’re going to miss him or her. And that has nothing to do with your spiritual strength or trust or even with whether you’ve been true to your grieving. It’s a perfectly human thing to continue to miss [someone] who has died. When Christmastime comes, Christmas Eve, and there’s no Cliff who’s going to walk in the door with a big sack of presents and say, ”Hi, Mom!” I have a hard time.

But there’s no agonizing over Cliff now. There is peace and a quiet calmness. Dean and I are comfortable with the situation. If something beautiful happens or we’re somewhere Cliff would have been with us, we’ll say, “Hi, Cliff, wish you could see this…how’s it going, ol’ boy?” Something like that, but it’s not heavy.
(Excerpt from Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld)

We feel so bad when we are grieving that it is not a surprise when we wonder, “How long will I have this terrible pain? Will this suffering ever end?”

To talk about this, we need to think about two kinds of time.

There is chronos time.

This is the kind of time measured by a calendar. Chronos time is counted in days, weeks, months, years. Chronos time describes a continuum of past, present, and future. It is the kind of time measured by clocks. A simple way to talk about chronos is as physical time.

Then there is kairos time.

Kairos time refers to “the time within which personal life moves forward.” The movement we experience as a result of moments of awakening or realization measures Kairos time. Kairos time refers to a deepening process that results from our paying attention to the present moment, a process through which we are “drawn inside the movement of our own story.” Kairos is an ordered but unmeasured kind of time outside space-time.

We might be tempted to measure the time of our grieving in chronos time. “Oh, it’s been a year—four seasons have passed—I should be ok by now.” Someone may suggest, “Give yourself a few months. You’ll feel like yourself again.” But it is not useful to measure our grieving in chronos time. In fact, chronos time is helpful only in that it gives us a span within which to experience our own kairos time. To think that because a certain amount of time has passed we should be farther along in our grieving is to set up a false measure of how well we are going. The mere passing of days and weeks and months and years does not within itself bring integration of our loss.

What matters is kairos time. What insights have I had? What have I realized? What meaning am I making of this terrible loss? We each have our own “entelechy”—to use a term from anthropology—that means our own “immanent force controlling and directing development.”

The amount of calendar time it takes to reach integration in our grieving is determined by our own kairos time, through our own entelechy. That’s why is no right or wrong amount of time an individual should take to grieve.

All that being said, what else can we note about time and grieving?

From my own experience and from the research I’ve done for decades on the grieving process, I can say this: the amount of time each of us takes to reach integration of our loss is usually longer rather than shorter.

What do I mean by this?

That the amount of kairos time it takes each of us to reach a place where the loss is integrated into our lives but does not dominate our lives is longer than “the person on the street” might suggest. Many folks around us would like for the process to be shorter rather than longer because they are not comfortable with the whole experience of grieving. As a society, we have cultural practices that suggest grieving should be short. (Don’t, for instance, many government workers get three days off when they lose a family member?)

The good news is that healthy grieving does result, at the time right for each of us, in an experience of integration. We take stock and say: I am changed by our loss, and I have changed my live as a result of my loss. And we are not shriveled permanently like a dry stick because of our loss. We can feel alive again…probably wiser, maybe quieter, certainly full of gratitude and a desire to contribute from what we have been through.

And all in good time. All in good kairos time.

Related articles:

The Work of Grief

What 'Recovery' Will and Will Not Mean

• You Know You're Getting Better When...

The Art of Losing

Also by Elizabeth Harper Neeld:

What About All These Mysterious Things That Have Been Happening Since the Death?

How Can We Hope When There Is No Hope?

What About This Thing Called 'Acceptance'?

What Helps When We’re Experiencing the Unthinkable

Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld offers wisdom and practical insights born of personal experience to people rebuilding their lives after suffering grief and loss. As an internationally recognized and accomplished consultant, advisor, and author of more than twenty books - including Tough Transitions and Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World - she is committed to work that helps lift the human spirit.

Author's photo by Joey Bieber

Image: tangywolf/Flickr Creative Commons


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Comment by T.C. Goodwin on January 29, 2014 at 5:16pm
People grieve differently. No one is the same and it takes patience. What may help is focusing on positive things ( Philippians 4:8,9)
Comment by Julio Ximenes on December 7, 2012 at 12:40pm

I lost my Uncle 6/12/2012,He was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Comment by Christa McCartney on July 16, 2012 at 3:42am

My father committed suicide 2 years ago in May and last year in May my brother drowned in the sea on holiday in Turkey. Unbelievably the funerals took place on the same day a year apart. I've been managing alright mostly due to the exceptional support network I have in our local community but a few weeks ago my husband announced that he has been relocated to Switzerland, we are moving next week. Suddenly I find myself grieving all over again and I'm finding it impossible to pack and arrange anything. I feel very weak and often my leg muscles are trembling and don't seem to hold me up properly. We're going somewhere very beautiful, I will have time to rest when I'm there as I won't need to work for a while and it is a very great opportunity for my husband and children so really I have nothing to be upset about but I will really miss the love of my friends especially as it will take me a while to build new relationships as I don't speak French yet. I can't understand why I am being this useless!

Comment by Nancy Guss on May 28, 2012 at 7:26am

I lost my husband of 6 years on May 3, 2012.  He was diagnosed with liver cancer on March 12, 2012 and March 22 with stage IV pancreatic and biliary cancer.  He had 1 round of chemo but his body was fighting back and he was unable to tolerate any more.  The decision was made to go on in-home hospice April 6.  I am grateful that I had these 8 weeks to spend with him but it was heartbreaking to watch him deteriorate.   He was my best friend and I miss him so much.  I have no children and my family lives out of state but I do have a neighbor I can talk to.  The one thing that does make me happy is that the day before he died as I was going to take a shower he called me back as he wanted me to know how very much he loved me and he did not want to leave me but he knew he did not have long to live.  I told him I loved him very much and I did not want to lose him but I would be okay if he had to leave and he could go be with his parents and my parents and my brother and we would meet again one day.  I miss him very much and I don't know how to go on without him in my life.  We met through yahoo personals October 25, 2005 was our first date, I moved in Nov 5 and before Christmas of that year we were engaged and got married May 1, 2006 and we joined a ghost research group and spent our spare time doing investigations.  He never had an unkind word to say about anyone and if you were down or in a bad mood he sure could lift your spirits.  He was only 59 when he died.

Comment by Mark A. Mandel on December 23, 2011 at 12:17pm

Rene & I met on Sept. 22, 1968 and were married in 1972. In 2008 she had emergency surgery for undiagnosed colon cancer. I took care of her from then on, as she tried to live as much as she could: Dum vivimus, vivamus! : For as long as we're alive, let's really live!

Through this past year of 2011: metastasis, inoperable; chemo did her more harm than the tumor was; radiation ditto; slow kidney failure. Home from hospital to in-home hospice on Sept. 22; to inpatient hospice a couple of weeks later. I spent some hours with her there every day, though she was mostly unconscious.

Sat., Oct. 15, when I called to say I'd be coming in, the nurse advised me to be ready to spend the night. I packed up my air mattress and so on. While there, I leaned on the bed to be as close to her as possible, holding and stroking her.

Then she was in what I think is Cheyne-Stokes respiration, a deep inbreath quickly followed by an outbreath. I was counting those to time them per minute.

Then she was just taking short inbreaths, maybe every 3-5 seconds, with no audible outbreath.

I was leaning over her, counting those, when "From the bed came a labored breath that was not followed by another." (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Hallowed Hunt, Ch. 21.)

I put my hand to her nostrils, back-up to hopefully feel the breath stirring the fine hairs on the back of the hand.


I held her close a minute or two, then pushed the call button. The nurse confirmed. So the official time was about 4 minutes after the actual time.

One of the last things she said to me was, "I will always be with you." She is. I am still blessed.

But i am oh, so sad.

Comment by Jacqueline on April 15, 2011 at 12:58am
I lost my husband of 43 yrs. Nov. 3 2009 . Iam misareble. I am so unhappy,I hate hate hate being alone Iwill never get use tobeing alone.I have children and grandkids but they have no idea how horrible I feel. I don't know what to do with myself for the rest of my life.Unless you are going through this no one has any idea what it's like and nothing anyone can say will help (NOTHING )
Comment by Eva Ramirez on April 13, 2010 at 6:28pm
my world came crashing down on november 29, 2009 around 11pm I had just gone to bed and there was a knock at the door. I thought it was my son and daughter in law. I opened the door to see a sherrifs deputy his first question to me was how I knew Sylvia Pittman I exclaimed she was my daughter in law then he asked me about Gerald Jr. I knew then something was wrong however, I thought they were at the hospital my mind was racing I had to get dressed and go to the hospital there has been an accident. Then he informed there had been an accident and my family was killed. My 29yr old son, 27yr old daughter in law and my only grandchild 5yrs old. I collapsed in hysteria my family was gone. We were very close I had to call my mom, dad, ex husband and my other son have them all come over so they could all be told at the same time what had happened. I will never forget that night it will haunt me forever. My picture is of me with my two sons, daughter in law and grandson at easter. This easter was hard for me I did not have my little peepie (grandson) to color eggs with or help hunt for eggs. I did spend it with my aunt and her girls and their kids and grandkids. But I miss my family we were toghether everyday Now I have this big empty hole in my life that can never be filled. Sometimes I wish I were dead too just so I could be with them but I know I must go on. I do not know what God has planned for me but I know he has something big. He spared me when I broke my neck in 1992 much to my doctors amazement as my Dr. stated I should have been dead or paralyzed I was neither. Sometimes I think back and wonder why did he just not take me then and save me this pain I feel. Not a day goes by that I don't think of them. I am having trouble in accepting they are really gone in my mind they have just moved back to TN. Until some legal matter comes up then reality hits.
Comment by Carolyn Levin on March 25, 2010 at 7:27pm
I lost my husband May 18, 2009..I cry nearly everyday..I have seen a grief counselor one on one and have been reading books on grief and Loss..I am still searching for a grief group but as of yet have not found one..just the mention of my husbands name and going through the first year of special occasions without him is so painful..I set up a Memorial Website and Journal to invite friends and family to enter fond memories. we were married 48 years on March 17 my first year without him. He is so deeply missed by myself and family..I have been taking one day at a time
Comment by Georgia on December 6, 2009 at 1:04am
At a grief counseling class we were told that crying is a good thing because there was a study done on tears and it revealed that at each stage of grief we put out a different type of tear. They say, it is good to relieve yourself of these tears.
Comment by Steve Cain on June 26, 2009 at 7:58am
After we lost my Dad, my mom told me "You never get over it" and I realize how right she was. Both of my folks have been gone since the early 80's and this weekend I put to rest my beautiful wife of only 10 months (August 17, 2008). The fact that we worked in the same place, which is where we met, is going to be a mixed bag. I'll have support, but also those memories. I still cry at times when I think about my folks, I just don't know how I'm going to now have to handle thinking about 3 people, especially at big holidays and special days.
Comment by otilia perez on June 15, 2009 at 10:29am
my son has been gone for two years and four months and the pain is harder than it was before everyday it seems harder to bare. He was my only son and it feels as though my whole world crumbled down I feel nothing and at time I say to myself why? Why did this have to happen and I get no answers. I miss and love my son so much, I cry at night hoping that it will help ease the hurt but it doesn't. He was my only child and the day he passed I feel my life just stopped.
Comment by Annie Warnock on June 6, 2009 at 2:25pm
My husband of 28 years passed away unexpectedly from cancer september 2, 2008. Myself and the family feel the loss each day. Sometimes it seems so unbearable. We try to stay strong for each other. Our life is not the same and my I am anxious about my future without him.
Comment by Connie on May 29, 2009 at 2:33am
My mom has been gone for 22 years and dad has been gone for just about 10 years. I can tell you that the pain does start to fade away but doesn't ever completely go away. It does get easier. How? I don't know, it just does.
Comment by Dorothy on May 5, 2009 at 1:02pm
My sister passed away from Cancer on January 17,2007. I am still grieving and feeling the lost. Some days when I am feeling down and blue, I wish she was here. I wish I had the oppotunity to be more in her life and tell her and let her know just how much I love her. My life has changed and turned full circle with mix emotions since her passing. How long will my grief last>
Comment by Maria Morreale on August 3, 2008 at 9:38am
Hello Everyone, As far as "how long" does this last? I can only
speak for myself but in my heart of hearts, I really believe that
it depends a lot on what you had invested in that person; how close
you were, someone who say speaks by phone or in person to that
loved one every single day or visits with them every single night,
it will be very difficult to deal with the death of that person. I
believe that it truly depends on how much time you spent with that
person, places you visited, things you did together, etc. It has
been 16 very long years for me loosing my Dad and I don't believe
it will ever go away. Sure, the crying and fatigue lessens as times
goes by, for me that was my only comfort. Additionally, all of the
reminders all of the time,(i.e. Father's Day, Easter, Xmas,
Thanksgiving, etc); there is no escape. You have to keep busy and
go on with your life as hard as that is. Sadly enough, one would
think that a family would get closer with the loss; however many
people, family and friends start avoiding you and that hurts a lot.
However, it took me a long time to realize through my pain that
"people just don't know what to say or do". That is no excuse but
it is what it is. Thank you for letting me contribute my feelings.
God Bless!

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