How long does it take to grieve the death of a loved one?

Mental Health

The process of grief is different for everyone taking place over weeks, months, and often years. This post provides science on grief as well as perspective on coping with the death of a loved one with the hope of normalizing a process that is both extremely personal and universally shared.

Grief is the process of coping with a loss – a process of finding or restoring reason and order to life. Grief can happen after a death and other losses, like losing a job, getting a new health diagnosis, or moving. Today, we refer specifically to grief after the death of a loved one. Grief is not all bad. Grief is not something to overcome. Grief is not a medical process. Grief does not always present as a visible emotion. Invisible grief is just as important and valid. Processing grief does not necessarily mean the quick return to old routines and consistent feelings of happiness. Feelings of relief and strength can coexist with anger, sadness, or remorse.

The death of a loved one triggers a stress response. Stress can present itself in many forms, some visible to others (like crying and acting out) and many invisible ways (like quiet reflection or avoidance of certain people, places, and things). The initial stress of the death is often accompanied by secondary stressors, including changes in finances, family roles, sense of purpose, and many other ripples resulting from the absence of one person. Grief can take place before, during, and after a death. It’s complicated, and each person has different coping strategies, life experiences, traditions, and responsibilities that play into how a death makes us feel and act.

The Dual Process Model provides a framework for understanding grief. Within this model, people move back and forth during everyday activities between feelings of loss and restoration, both avoiding and confronting stressors as energy allows. After a death, a person might encounter feelings of loss and restoration while avoiding some stressors and confronting others. For example, one might make a plan to donate a deceased person’s clothing (a restorative orientation confronting the loss) and avoid watching Jeopardy because it was a shared routine that now causes sadness (a loss orientation with avoidance). Later, the person meets up with a friend, subconsciously or consciously taking a break from the emotional roller coaster of grief. Over time, triggers and responses are likely to become more predictable, and less time is spent focused on loss or restoration. Visits to both orientations are likely and perfectly normal for days, weeks, months, and years.

Even though grief has no consistent timeline with a unique set of feelings and actions for everyone, we all experience it. Some days are harder than others with both expected and surprising stress triggers. Be kind to yourself and patient with those around you, always.

Those Nerdy Girls


The Dual Process Model research article by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut

The Dual Process Model in a picture from the 1999 Stroebe and Schut Article

The Dual Process Model in Simple Terms by Gabrielle Applebury

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