How long does mourning last?

Originally Published: December 11, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: May 24, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I'm sorta new at this, but I'll give it a shot anyway. My dad died of a massive heart attack just over a year ago. I went through a pretty rough mourning period, but it didn't seem to last very long. My mom is still very much in mourning to this day. I guess my question is: How can you tell if you've mourned enough? And how can you tell if you're avoiding it?

They say the worst is over when the pain stops and the good memories start. But how do I know I didn't just skip to the good memories?

— Distressed Lion

Dear Distressed Lion,

Condolences to you and your mother. It sounds like you are both dealing with some hefty emotions, and since there is no formula for grief and mourning, you are likely dealing with them somewhat differently. Each person does it at her/his own pace. There is no designated 'healthy' period of mourning with a defined start, or an abrupt end. There are different stages of grief and everyone moves through them differently. Good memories and sad moments will be with you throughout your life as you think of your dad. Sometimes, the anniversary of your dad's death, birthdays, holidays, a favorite song or food, and/or someone's smell will be reminders of your loss. And, at other times, these events will evoke warm, loving, tender, and even joyous feelings.

Obviously, your mourning is different from your mother's — your relationship with your dad was different, and you're a different person from your mother. Your mom lost her partner, and her entire daily life may have changed. 

After a year, however, it may be your mother who needs some help with her mourning, not you. Perhaps, the two of you could read some books about grief and loss — for you, it's to see how well you've coped to better understand your mother; and, for your mother, it's to help her move on with her life — a challenging step. Lynn Caine's book Being a Widow is a good read, as is Harold S. Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Maybe your mother has a close friend you could talk with. Or a clergy person could visit her, assess where she is, and make a recommendation for her to see a grief counselor or participate in a loss group. Sometimes, these are even available at a neighborhood YM/YWCA. If you are a student at Columbia, you could meet with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or Mental Health Services (CUMC) to discuss your feelings, as well as ways to help your mother.

Your grief and ability to move on are evidence of your strength. Hopefully, your mother will get strength from you as well.

Best through your healing and mourning,

Alice

February 26, 2014

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I recently just lost my father and many people have suggested talking to a counselor. I have not tried that yet but I am having a very hard time trying to fix everything on my own. Everything that...
I recently just lost my father and many people have suggested talking to a counselor. I have not tried that yet but I am having a very hard time trying to fix everything on my own. Everything that you are feeling is normal and it's just going to take time and acceptance. Look to God for your answers and trust in him.

March 16, 2009

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To the reader:

I'm in exactly the same position you are: My father died recently and I'm fine. Sometimes it depends on how your loved one's health was before their death. My father had been...

To the reader:

I'm in exactly the same position you are: My father died recently and I'm fine. Sometimes it depends on how your loved one's health was before their death. My father had been slipping away from us for a couple of years, and more rapidly in the last year. So it was something of a relief when he passed away. His pain and suffering were over and we were out of limbo.

Parents usually do their best to raise their children to stand on their own. So that when our parents are no longer around physically, we still have all the wisdom they gave us (hey, even bad advice is still advice), and the ability to carry on with our lives. For myself, I can't feel badly about being able to come to work like normal — that's how my father raised me. His strength is my strength. Sitting at home, either incapacitated by grief, or waiting for grief to hit, doesn’t serve any purpose. My dad would not have been impressed if I had done that.

So don’t feel badly about not feeling as bad as you think you should, or as bad as you think people expect you to. There are as many ways to grieve mourn and pay respects as there are people in the world.

August 1, 2003

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Dear Alice, My father died a few months ago and my main obstacle is accessing my feelings of grief and letting them out. It is too easy for me to get over it and move on without feeling everything I...
Dear Alice, My father died a few months ago and my main obstacle is accessing my feelings of grief and letting them out. It is too easy for me to get over it and move on without feeling everything I need to feel. I wish I had experienced a time when it was hard to deal with. My ability to deal clouds my ability to feel, which in turn sabotages my ability to live fully. Too many people have admired my strength instead of encouraging me to be vulnerable and feel my sadness.