How Long is Too Long to Grieve?

A year ago, my 96-year-old aunt “Chinkie” skipped the bonds of earth and entered her heavenly home. She was a huge part of my life and continues to occupy my mind almost daily. Cleaning out her home provided moments of quiet grief, but also periods of joy.

I thought I knew a lot about grief, but the last year taught me more about the process. Following are some thoughts:

Compound Grief

At times, grief is cumulative. You may think you’ve grieved a loss, but when another comes along, you find yourself grieving previous losses also. When my mother died, I found myself grieving the loss of my father, who died almost twenty years earlier. When my aunt died, I grieved my mother, their sister, and my grandparents. I did a lot of that grieving as I cleaned out my aunt’s house. Often, the emotional exhaustion was greater than physical fatigue.

Grief is Work

Sometimes we forget grief is taxing and fail to give ourselves the necessary rest. It’s okay to cut back on your commitments and allow yourself time to do the hard work of grief. Remember, grief can’t be ignored, and the memories associated with grief aren’t always pleasant. Any type of loss is emotional, so be kind to yourself as you do the work of grieving.

Grief is Unpredictable

After my father died, I waited a while to return to singing in the choir. I thought I had my emotions under control. I wanted my emotions to be under control because I’m a private griever. But the first Sunday I was back in the choir loft, the tears suddenly began to flow, and I was powerless to stop them.

Often, grief washes over us like an incoming tide, the kind of tide that knocks you down and pulls you under. It’s impossible to predict what precipitates waves of grief, and frequently, they come at inconvenient times and places. However, allowing grief, even when it feels inopportune and overwhelming, is part of the healing process.

Each Person Grieves Differently

It would be nice if grief fit neatly onto a calendar and we could mark off the days until we reach the end, but grief doesn’t function that way. Each person’s grief process is different. Avoid putting a time frame on grief, and don’t let others dictate the point at which you should be finished grieving. If you decide to put your grief in a box too soon, the lid will blow off at some point in the future, and you’ll have to deal with the fallout.

Downplay Guilt

Guilt sometimes rears its ugly head during the grief process, especially if a relationship was difficult. You may feel guilty for actions, reactions, words said, or words left unsaid. When a loved one is no longer present, it’s normal to experience some level of regret, but avoid allowing guilt to make itself at home in your heart and head. You can’t hit a replay button and experience a do-over, but you can document your feelings in writing and then release yourself from guilt by tearing up what you wrote and throwing it away.

Grief vs. Remembrance

Grieving and remembering are not the same. When you feel nostalgic for a time in your life, and the people associated with those memories, you are remembering, not grieving. Foster remembrance with pictures and possessions, but avoid creating a shrine that elongates grief indefinitely.

Is There a Too Long to Grieve?

Just as life seasons come and go, so grief follows a changing pattern. In nature, a seasonal change doesn’t always happen overnight. Temperatures fluctuate. You may think the season change is complete only to experience hot days in late fall or freezing temperatures in late spring. So it is with grief. Emotions fluctuate and grief re-presents itself.

If you reach a point when grief doesn’t diminish and you can’t find joy in anything, it’s time to seek help from a minister, doctor, counselor, or support group. There is no shame in asking for help.

To encourage progress, think about the good instead of ruminating on the difficult. When your mind heads down a depressing path, pray, asking God to change your focus to positive memories. Strive for forward motion, with the assurance that God is making the journey with you, your season of grief will end, and you will find a new normal.

“For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven: A time to cry, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 VOICE).


Candy Arrington is a writer, blogger, speaker, and freelance editor. She often writes on tough topics with a focus on moving through, and beyond, difficult life circumstances. Candy has written hundreds of articles, stories, and devotionals published by numerous outlets including:,,,,, Focus on the Family,,, and Writer’s Digest. Candy’s books include Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Well (Bold Vision Books), When Your Aging Parent Needs Care (Harvest House), and AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B&H Publishing Group).

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