The following column is excerpted from Sara Engram's book, "Mortal Matters: When a Loved One Dies."
In the midst of grief, the sorrow seems endless. Yet, in time, the degree and emphasis of grief should ease, and life becomes less colored by loss.
But how will you know when grief is healed? Is there such a thing as a "favorable" end to grief, a recovery or completion of the bereavement process? If so, how will you recognize it when it happens?
Studies of grief show that a healthy mourning process does bring you to a recovery, a point where you find that you have regained lost functions or attitudes. You are able to take an interest in your current life and you are more hopeful about things in general. You also find that you can actually enjoy yourself or take pleasure in your activities again, even though you still may have periods of sadness.
Especially in cases where you have lost a spouse, you may discover that you can adapt to new roles, successfully taking on responsibilities that were unfamiliar before. You also begin to accept yourself as a single person, rather than as part of a couple.
Many people find that bereavement brings a chance for personal growth or a chance to try new and different things.
These can all be signs that you are recovering from your loss. That's not necessarily the same as "returning to normal," since the death of a significant person can change the shape of your life. What was "normal" for you before has changed.
The key to all this is time -- and grieving time varies for each person. It's misleading and unfair to put a time limit on grief, your own or someone else's.
Yet somehow our culture seems to have decided that the process of mourning a death should be completed in a year. Often, grieving people find that their friends' sympathy runs short even before a year is up.
I once heard about a woman grieving the death of her husband of 30 years who was told six months after his death that she was simply having a "pity party" if she couldn't "get over" her intense grief in that length of time.
Studies show, however, that grief frequently lasts longer than one year, and that while it may be less intense for many people, nTC they should not necessarily expect a full "recovery" within a year. Some people even say that the second year is harder in some ways, especially if the months immediately after the death have been filled with time-absorbing tasks such as settling the estate.
It is a misunderstanding of how human emotions work -- and a dangerous disservice to grieving people -- to put a time limit on grief. It's hard enough to come to grips with death. The last thing bereaved people need is to be told how they should feel and when.
Recovery from grief will come -- but don't try to rush it.
Some people find it helpful to make a list of priorities, ranging from simple but important things like getting dressed or buying groceries to larger matters like making sense of your financial situation. Don't worry about non-essential items.
Things that don't make the list you can worry about later. For instance, if you have children, it's essential that you pay attention to their grief, but dealing with the feelings of other family members or friends is less urgent.
Send your comments and questions about death and dying to Sara Engram, Mortal Matters, The Evening Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278.