with Dr. Jason Troyer

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Should Grief Get Better Each Day?


A common assumption about grief is that you should feel a little better every day. This is sort of an extension of the cliché that “Time heals all wounds.” But more specifically, when we talk about the course of grief, we’re talking about the ups and downs and what that pattern might look like. So is it true that you should feel a little better every day?

Well… Not really, but kinda sorta. As with many other grief experiences, there are a wide variety of responses and courses of grief. And before we jump into several different patterns of the course of grief, we have to briefly discuss grief bursts. A grief burst is an intense grief reaction after you had been feeling better. An example of a grief burst is hearing a song that reminds you of your loved one and then experiencing a surge of grief. That surge or burst may last for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. Grief bursts may be connected to a specific day – like your loved one’s birthday or other special days, but even more commonly they are sparked by a random, unexpected event – like a song, or seeing someone who looks like them, or driving past a place that triggers a memory.

How does this affect your course of grief? Well, grief bursts will make your course of grief more erratic – much more like a roller coaster than a gradual change.  

So lets look at some possible patterns that your course of grief may take. One common pattern is that your grief peaks about 4-6 months after the death of your loved one and then tends to get better slowly. The explanation for this pattern is that right after your loss you receive the greatest amount of support and you’re also busy with the immediate changes such as legal and financial matters and maybe even taking care of others. About 4-6 months later your support system has gone back to their own lives and you no longer have the distraction of some of the practical matters – in essence, you finally have time to really feel your loss. For some people, this pattern is actually extended throughout the entire first year, and they find that their second year is tougher than the first.

Other people follow a general pattern of feeling better week by week, but remember that grief bursts will often make your day-to-day reality feel less smooth than this might seem at first glance.

A less common pattern is when your grief continues to intensify or it never seems to lessen. In these situations, you may benefit from some professional assistance. And there may be extenuating circumstances that will affect the course of your grief. For example, if your loved one’s death is caught up in a court case of some kind, then your grief will be affected by the timing of court dates and other factors.

There are many different courses of grief – and of course it would be helpful to know exactly what to expect, but unfortunately the most honest answer is that no one can predict the course of your grief. But I hope it helps to know that it is normal if your grief isn’t always getting less painful each day. A related topic is “How Long will My grief last?” so be sure to check out my other video that discusses that topic. As well as a different video that goes into more detail on Grief Bursts.

Jason TroyerComment