How Long Does Grief Last?

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How long can grief last?

The medical perspective seems to point at grief lasting from a few months to a year.  Some define prolonged or excessive grief as over a year, sometimes two.  Though, if you search for anecdotal accounts, there are many that point out that grief doesn’t go away.  Or that it lingers far longer than they anticipated.  At times it’s referred to in a way that sounds like it’s some journey down a path in life.  Poetic lines are scratched onto images to romanticize the experience.  Perhaps the contrast is that there is a difference between the medical definition and the way that grief is defined by the person who is experiencing the loss.

For months, maybe longer, I was surprised that my husband wasn’t in the adjacent room.  I’d walk into the living room, expecting to see him sitting on the couch, maybe watching television.  But there was no husband waiting in the next room.  The television screen would be dark, no one sitting at the couch.  Instead, there would just be surprise and the realization, again, that I would never see him again. Is that grief?

I would never sit next to him again.  I would never hug him again.  I would never talk to him or listen to him laugh ever again.  The sting of those realizations was constant.  The deep pangs of loneliness slammed into me intermittently.  Is that grief?

The hurt, the pain, began to lessen, though.  Nightmares of the suicidal scene gave way to conversations with my husband.  At first he was angry, then sad, then just a friend that would speak to me.  Is that grief being processed?

Am I grieving still?

I think that impact of my husband’s suicide is still affecting me today.  My children, especially my oldest, is grieving deeply over his father.  In short, yes.  We miss him often, we speak of him often, and the impact that his suicide has on this family and our lives is one that has had far reaching consequences.

His loss is felt daily.  Every milestone with our children is a reminder that he isn’t here to see them.  His children still yearn for him.  His oldest struggles with all of this.  The suicide negatively impacts many aspects of our life.  But the pain isn’t as sharp.  And we can speak of him freely without crying.  There are many good memories that I relay to our boys.  Equally, there are days that we don’t speak of him, not because we forget but because life has continued.

Our new normal has started and continued.  Perhaps grief is short-term.  The loss and its effect, however, is forever.

Before and After

There’s a hard line in my life, a clear distinction between events.  There is before the suicide and there is after the suicide.  

Before, I was a sailor, same as my husband.  I was a military wife and a military member navigating through the hard parts of military life and marriage.  We had two little boys: one barely a toddler, the other a preschooler.

It was difficult and not without fights.  If I’m to be honest, there was even resentment towards the end.  I had reenlisted for a few extra years at the urging of my husband.  I found that I did not do well separated from my children.  He, on the other hand, found it to be a necessity, fearing my departure from the Navy to be our financial downfall.

Time apart, long hours, and fatigue made for many days and nights of fighting.

Still, there were many more days that were full of laughter, of dreams, of hopes, and happiness.  We bought a starter home and were excited about how we were transforming it to match our personalities.

I assume we were like most military marriages.  There’s a lot of conflict but also a lot of good.

After, I was a widow.  I was the person that found my husband’s body.  I found out what a single gunshot to the temple would do to a person.  I found out that when faced with this scene, there was more disbelief than action.

I crawled into the car and called out his name.  I shook his arm.  The scene didn’t register.  The blood didn’t make sense.  I called 9-1-1 and thought, I need an ambulance. And then I corrected my thinking.  Not an ambulance.  He was already dead.

I was suddenly a single mother.  I did leave the Navy with an honorable discharge to raise my children with some stability.  They are my biggest concern and there are so many issues that stem from that day, for me, for them.

In the beginning, I wanted to go back to the way it was.  I didn’t want to be a single mother.  I didn’t want to be a widow.  I didn’t want this life.  But, of course, that’s not the way life works.  There is no “back to normal.”  There is only a new normal, a new way of doing things.

Many people cut their lives into blocks this way when big events transpire.  For me, there is before the suicide and then there is after.  For me, there is the person I was before, and the person I am now.

It’s very difficult to create a new normal.  However, it’s possible.  It takes a lot of intent, grieving, and working through everything that has happened.  Healing does eventually start.