How Long Does It Take to Heal From Losing a Loved One?

Healing may depend on your unique personality and circumstances.
... Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images

There's generally no right or wrong way to mourn the loss of someone you love. Grieving is a unique process, and it can be little different from person to person. You might recover after a few months, or you may find that you're still struggling a year or more later. Your grieving pattern depends to some extent on your personality; if you're introverted, you make take a little longer. In any case, understanding the process can make it easier for you.

1 The Five Stages of Grief

Back in 1969, a psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages that people often go through when they're grieving the loss of a loved one. She then added a warning that your grief might not follow this textbook course. Not everyone experiences these stages in the same order, or even goes through all of them. If you do deal with them in the sequence explained by Kubler-Ross, you can expect to feel denial first, after which you will get mad. You might try to bargain with God or the fates next, such as by offering to quit smoking or donate to charity if the clock will rewind to a time when you still had your loved one. Next comes depression – that lethargic feeling of not wanting to do anything and thinking that nothing matters. Finally, you'll accept what happened and move on.

2 Physical Effects

While you're going through the stages of grief – all of them or just a few – you may experience some physical effects from your loss. Don't be surprised if your appetite becomes nonexistent, or if you can't sleep. Your usually sunny disposition might turn cranky, or you may have trouble focusing your thoughts. This is normal, so it shouldn't alarm you; however, if you find it particularly bothersome, you could talk to your physician.

3 The Effect of Time

Several schools of thought suggest that you'll be over the worst of your grief a year or so after your loss. Just as you might not experience all of Kubler-Ross' stages, however, it might take you more or less time than this. Don't feel that there's something wrong with you if you're still hurting after 18 months, and don't let friends or family members try to convince you that you're not correctly handling your loss. After a year or so, the intensity of your feelings might diminish, and you might be more able to focus your thoughts on moving ahead. This doesn't mean that certain occasions or events won't set you off or make you feel worse for a while. Your loved one's birthday or the anniversary of another special occasion may hit you hard, but you will probably bounce back after the event is over.

4 What You Can Do

Your sadness over your loss probably won't ever disappear entirely, but you'll eventually reach a point at which you're able to live with it, or at least put it into a compartment of your life so you feel better. Until you reach that point, don't feel that you're alone, or that no one could possibly understand what you're going through. Others who have suffered losses like yours will understand, and talking about it can be great therapy. If you have a close friend or family member you can confide in, that's great. If not, consider a support group. Grief counseling might also help you deal with things if you find you're still struggling after an extended period of time.

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.