By Meredith San Diego

Trigger warning:Coping with the loss of a loved one can be a polarizing topic. This article is for those who understand what it is to wear the realities of grief daily. If you have never experienced the heartbreak that accompanies losing a loved one and how overwhelming (and disruptive) the process of grieving can be, then perhaps this article is not for you.

A class assignment or a PowerPoint presentation for a promotion, these are a couple of examples of things with deadlines. But when it comes to mourning a loved one, should a deadline also be applied?

Vulnerability remains a difficult feeling to outwardly display for the masses and most people are extremely uncomfortable with heavy displays of discerning emotions such as profound sadness or depression. And although empathy may be fleeting on a global scale, loss and trauma are an unbiased element of life, making the ability to cope one of its useful skill sets. 

Too often we hear stories of struggle from those coping with the loss of a loved one and how those in their immediate surroundings (let alone society as a whole) lather on inappropriate inquiries into the level of one’s sadness? You’re sad again/still? Have you done something to try and make yourself feel happy? Why don’t you put on something nice and join us at the bar later? 

Though these seemingly harmless inquiries undoubtedly stem from the best of intentions, the vacancy behind the words doesn’t always land well on the receiving side. When it’s all someone can do to keep their head above the proverbial waters of life, those “harmless” inquiries are more often than not translated as: isn’t there a deadline when it comes to mourning a loved one?

For those who’ve yet to experience loss of this magnitude, or find themselves the support system for someone managing grief, let’s break down a few fundamentals. 

Understanding The Stages Of Grief

There are five stages of the grieving process. And despite popular opinion, these stages do not necessarily occur in any specific order. I’d argue that a person can be feeling multiple stages at once, or vacillate between two, perhaps even skip over one entirely. There is no exact science to it. 

I was 34-years of age when my mother left this world. Not a child, by any means, but in no way prepared to be without her in what was shaping up to be the best decade of my adult life. Shortly before losing my mother, I had buried my grandmother and laid my four-legged son to rest after 18 years of companionship. All three of these deaths transpired within four short years of one another. Dumbfounded and shaken to my core, I found myself grieving, heavily. 

Consider that truth for a moment; the three spirits that were part of my daily existence were no longer there. It’s a lot to carry, let alone manage it congruently with someone else’s calendar of events. 

For those unfamiliar with the five stages of grief, they are:

  • Denial — the inability to grasp the reality of loss (suppressing emotions).
  • Anger — lashing out at others, consistent venting of displeasures. 
  • Bargaining — attempting to establish control through the negotiation of some kind.
  • Depression — complete lack of motivation, withdrawn from society.
  • Acceptance — coming to terms and finding a way to move forward.

Recognise each of these stages for what they are: mourning. Understand that this mourning will become a part of you, an invisible limb. It can sound like an impossible thing to manage, defeatist even, but it isn’t. It is completely possible. 

Mourning On A Timer

The ability to manage the swirl of emotions that accompany mourning is not impossible. Like everything else, it simply takes time and effort. And, of course, recognition. Society seems to harbour a belief that overcoming the severities of losing a loved one sets the stopwatch on what we’ll aptly call the “get-over-it” clock. This timer is coldly set to six months (a year max) on a general scale. 

Some of us will attempt this method of mourning. And it makes some sense; having an end date to work towards can offer structure when the universe seems lost. We watch the hands of time tick down these seconds, then minutes, then months all the while waiting to feel the boulder-sized rock roll off our chest or for the clouds to clear into a cobalt blue sky. Pick whichever analogy suits. 

But then that six month marker comes and goes. So does the deathiversary date. But with each new moon, the tide of emotions is still there. Now what? Now the reality of what it is to cope with the emotions becomes the priority. Now it’s evident that the only impossible thing about any of this is believing that there should be a deadline when it comes to mourning for a loved one.  

There Is No Deadline

Understanding the five stages of grief is only the beginning. Grief, after all, is a natural response to loss. Learning to cope with the loss and how best to navigate the heavy emotions of mourning will take time. The truth is, mourning is completely individual. A spouse burying the other after 40+ years of marriage. Euthanising a furry friend that has seen you through the roughest days. Discovering a childhood friend you haven’t spoken with in years met with an untimely ending. Each of these examples of loss may require different timeframes for healing as each relationship mentioned took time to come to love in the first place. 

Assuming there is a deadline when it comes to mourning for a loved one is like assuming that there’s a deadline on something like personal growth. Life is ever-changing, as are we as human beings. That is to say that there is no right or wrong whilst in the fray. There can be only patience. The patience of self and others. The same should be applied to the timeline of grief.