How long does it take to heal the pain and sadness of grief? Most of us have experienced the heartbreak that comes from losing someone we cherish. You have probably heard, as I have, that it takes at least a year to overcome the grief associated with the death of a loved one, or that we will grieve the loss of an intimate relationship for as many months or years as we were in it. But what does the research say? How long does grief last? Psychologists who study this subject will tell you that there are enormous individual differences when it comes to grief. Some people resolve grief relatively fast, and others experience it for years. The rule of thumb is that "time heals all wounds." But why is that? What happens over time that causes this healing to occur? We know there is a natural healing system in our bodies that responds to physical injury or illness. But is there a mental healing system, as well? If so, how does it work?
Here is a take on grief that you have probably never heard before: It only takes a moment to overcome grief. When I've interviewed people about their past experiences of grief, most of them can pinpoint the day and even the time when something shifted in them and they found resolution of their feelings. For many of these individuals, the moment of healing took months or years to arrive. Why is that? Perhaps there was an element of forgetting that needed to happen. The intensity of the initial feelings may have had to fade enough to allow room for a different perspective to develop, including fresh insights and a deeper understanding of what had happened.
Ultimately, the key element in healing grief is surrender, which means letting go of attachment. Grief stems from attachment because it's hard to let go of someone we love and cherish. Perhaps we expect more, saying to ourselves: This relationship ended too soon. This person died much too young. I wasn't ready to lose this person yet. I feel that I deserved more time with them. I am entitled to more than I got.
Healing our grief involves making an enormous leap that comes when we focus not on our expectations of something we didn't get but rather on our gratitude for what we had and continue to have. In a flash, we come to the realization that we were fortunate and blessed to have had the experiences we did, to have had the honor of this person's acquaintance, to have basked in the warmth of their love, and to have shared so much with them. We can let go of the feeling that there were missed opportunities or important things that remained unsaid if we accept that what we had was enough and that it was perfect just as it was.
For some, this shift takes months or years to arrive. But that time frame is not set in stone. If we can love wholeheartedly without attachment or expectations, then we can experience healing from grief in a single instant. It is truly possible. I have witnessed it and experienced it firsthand.
What about you? How have you dealt with grief in your own life? Can you recall a specific moment when your feelings of loss just dissipated or resolved themselves?