Setbacks in Grief

The longevity of grief can be incredibly frustrating. After a certain period of time, usually about a year or so, other people expect you to be moving on (the errors of which we wrote an entire article about), but internally making returns to intense feelings of grief when you thought you were feeling fine can leave you weary and wondering when it’s going to stop.

This is a small reminder to be gentle with yourself and to recall the dual process model of coping with bereavement, because the hard truth is, it’ll get better but it’s not going to stop. Grief isn’t particularly linear, it isn’t like a board game where you start here and move forward space by space until you reach a specific endpoint and stop.

Stroebe and Schut model of grief diagramGrief is fluid and some days, even very early on in our loss, we can have days where we are really present in daily tasks, feel great, are very productive, and are not thinking about our loss. These are the times that you’re “restoration-oriented,” you’re restoring a sense of normalcy.

When you have days or moments of sadness, longing, regret, guilt, or any of the intense thoughts and feelings associated with grief, that is when you’re “loss-oriented.” It is perfectly natural to bounce back and forth between these two orientations for years after your loss.

Generally, over time, the swings between orientations become less intense. The feeling of loss isn’t quite as acute and the sense of normalcy that you’ve been working to restore actually does begin to feel like “normal.” You almost get comfortable. Then you get a whammo of grief–really intense and hard to shake.

persistent griefThis doesn’t negate any progress you feel you’ve made. This isn’t even a setback. You can’t have a setback if you’re not actually pursuing a goal, which with grief, you’re not. (Remember, there’s no specific endgame for grief.) An intense bout of grief, even long after the loss, is just a feeling you had on a given day, at a given time. That’s all. The feeling is real and it matters, but that one feeling doesn’t define you. (Unless you let it.)

We’ve said this so many times because it is absolutely true, and we’ll say it again for the seats in the back; as long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, you can’t do grief wrong. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re if you’re experiencing strong feelings of grief long after someone has passed away. That feeling is a small part of what will be a lifelong and ever-changing relationship between you and this person you loved.


Thanks for visiting Grief Compass. We’re sorry you have to be here, but are glad we’ve found each other.

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