How Long Does Grief Last?

While each of us experiences grief in our own individual way, the five stages of grief can be helpful—particularly for those in bereavement after the death of a loved one.

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May 21, 2022 UPDATED
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Grief—particularly bereavement following the death of a loved one—is a profound, earth–shattering experience. 

While each of us has our own individual grieving and mourning process, there are some general guidelines and grief stages that may be helpful to be aware of when dealing with grief, especially for those in a time of bereavement. 

Writer Jamie Anderson described grief as “love with no place to go.”

In this article, we’ll share information on how long grief lasts, and the five stages of grief, as well as resources to help support you, including free grief support groups and how to find a therapist or grief counselor nearby who accepts your insurance.

What’s the difference between grief and loss?

While grief and loss are related—they’re different things. 

Loss is the actual event, and this event is often the passing of a loved one, as it is in the situation of bereavement. 

By the way, the meaning of bereavement, is the condition of being deprived of a relative, friend, or loved one—including a beloved pet—as a result of their death.

Grief follows loss. It’s the emotional experience of processing the loss. 

Employers often offer a certain amount of paid time off from work for “bereavement leave,” following the death of a family member. 

In addition to bereavement, loss can also be caused by other events, such as the end of a job or relationship.

These types of endings and losses—including layoffs and divorces—can also provoke feelings of grieving and mourning.

The meaning of bereavement, is the condition of being deprived of a relative, friend, or loved one—including a beloved pet—as a result of their death.

Grief follows loss. It’s the emotional experience of processing the loss. 

According to therapist and minister Edie Weinstein-Moser, MSW, grief is the reaction to the loss which can be expected. 

Mourning—another related word—is the outward external expression of your feelings of grief, such as wearing black clothing.

Moser explains that mourning expressions of grief may look like inability to sleep and eat, persistent crying, and inability to conduct daily activities.

She says the grieving process may also show up as a feeling of hopelessness. 

Grief can show up in many different ways, but it’s essential to keep in mind that it will eventually pass.

“The person may isolate and persistently not want to be in the company of others, Moser says. “One thing to keep in mind is that, although grief may look like depression, it can't be medicated away—it needs to be felt at the pace of the person in the midst of it.” 

Grief can show up in many different ways, however it’s essential to keep in mind that it will eventually pass.

We’ll discuss resources and support options to help support you in coping with grief more below.

How long does it take to stop grieving?

In a 2014 article on her blog about the death of her dog Max, writer Jamie Anderson described grief as “love with no place to go.”

The grief we feel after losing a beloved human or animal is emotionally excruciating. 

She describes bereavement well.

The grief we feel after losing a beloved human or animal is emotionally excruciating. 

When we lose someone, it can feel like the world as we knew it before they died no longer exists. 

In some ways—that’s true—things will never feel exactly the same way they did before the passing of a loved one, just as they might not feel the same after any major life event.  

When we lose someone, it can feel like the world as we knew it before they died no longer exists. 

However difficult it may be to consider, eventually you can and will find a new state of normal. 

While we will always miss those we’ve lost, we don’t actively grieve forever.  

A “new normal” will vary from person to person, but it might look like being able to go back to work or school, or being able to talk about your loved one without crying, or going back to hobbies you enjoy.

It’s important not to rush the grief process, which is deeply personal and has no set timeline, according to Moser.

However difficult it may be to consider, eventually you can and will find a new state of normal. 

How long you feel like you are grieving might depend on your own temperament and your relationship to the person who has passed. 

“There is no statute of limitations on grief after a loss,” Moser says. “For some people, the pain of the passing of a loved one can be described as acute and sudden. For others, it might feel like a chronic and dull ache that lingers long after the death itself.” 

Whatever your personal timeline of grief is, you can take comfort in knowing that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. 

time with friends

What are the 5 stages of grief?

You may have heard of the five stages of grief, a concept first popularized by Swiss-American psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, over fifty years ago to explain the grieving process. 

While we will always miss those we’ve lost, we don’t actively grieve forever. 

The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. 

Some academics have criticized the five stages of grief as being outdated and unsupported by research. That said, the grief stages can be a helpful framework to better understand the grieving process. 

  1. Denial- The denial stage of grief happens when loss first occurs—when shock leaves us numb and we cope by denying the experience.

  2. Anger- This is the second stage, when we feel frustration or even rage that we’ve lost someone we love–and life won’t be the same.

  3. Bargaining- The bargaining stage involves trying to “make deals” with ourselves or a higher power, even if they might seem illogical: “If I devote the rest of my life to helping others, my wife will come back,” or “If I had been a better person, he wouldn’t have died”. 

  4. Depression- The depression stage of deep, acute sadness sets in once we realize that the person we have lost is truly out of our lives. Concerned you may be depressed? Take this brief online depression assessment to get an idea about whether you may want to check in with a doctor, psychiatrist or licensed therapist who specializes in depression and grief for help and support.

  5. Acceptance- Finally, the last stage of grief is the acceptance stage, when we are able to move forward from the loss and function in our lives again. 

It’s important to realize that the stages of grief are only a guideline, and you may not experience them in this order, or even at all. 

Your grief process is individually yours. 

It’s possible you may cycle through multiple stages in a single time period, or even in one day. Sometimes people even move backwards after experiencing a specific stage as well.

5 stages

What’s prolonged grief disorder? 

While it’s normal to experience intense emotions after losing someone, if you’re still struggling to function months or even years after a loss, you may be experiencing prolonged grief disorder (PGD). 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA's) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), prolonged grief disorder involves “clinically significant” longing for a deceased person and “preoccupation with thoughts and memories of the deceased person.”  

In adults, prolonged grief disorder is diagnosed when they are still exhibiting these symptoms of preoccupation with the deceased loved one a year after the death has passed. 

In children, prolonged grief disorder is diagnosed when they still exhibit these symptoms of longing and preoccupation with the deceased loved one six months after a loss. 

A 2016 analysis of data from the Yale Bereavement Study found that prolonged grief disorder (PGD) and persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD) are pretty much the same based on the DSM-5 definition of their symptoms.

prolonged grief

If I may have prolonged grief disorder, what should I do?

If you’re concerned you may be suffering from prolonged grief disorder, you should reach out and speak with your primary care doctor, a psychiatrist, and/or a therapist who specializes in grief.

Resources and grief support groups nearby and online

Grief counseling and therapy, grief support groups, and talking with friends and family can all help you on your healing journey. 

First, make sure to reach out and connect with your close friends and family members, and let them know how you’re feeling about the loss. 

In-person and online support groups are an excellent option available for anyone grieving someone they’ve lost. 

Next, consider attending a support group to meet others who have recently lost someone close to them. Many grief support groups are free. 

In-person and online support groups are an excellent option available for anyone grieving someone they’ve lost. 

After losing her husband Dave Goldberg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg created Option B, which has a free community sharing content on grief, as well as a free private Facebook support group , which anyone can join to connect with others who are bereaved and grieving in order to share stories and support each other.

Moser specifically recommends Gilda’s Club, for those whose lives have been impacted by cancer, and Compassionate Friends, a support group for those who have lost children. 

friends

How to find a grief counselor or therapist to help 

You can also seek therapy or grief counseling to help you cope after a loss. 

Many therapists and counselors specialize in helping clients with grief.

Therapy can help you work through your emotions with a trained mental health professional so that you feel better equipped to process the feelings and move through the stages of grief in your own time. 

You can check with your insurance company’s website or ask your primary care doctor for in-network therapist recommendations. 

On the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice you can browse hundreds of grief counselors and therapists. Many offer online booking and free consultations to help you determine if they’re the right fit for your needs.

Will my insurance cover therapy for me after losing someone? 

How to afford therapy is likely on your mind.

After the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), everyone with coverage through a U.S. health insurance exchange marketplace plan now has access to mental health benefits. 

Additionally, per the ACA, all U.S. employer-sponsored healthcare plans must include mental health benefits for all companies with 50 or more employees.

That said, there can be some loopholes, as some companies can still choose not to cover mental health as part of their specific insurance package. 

To find out if your health insurance plan provides mental health coverage, check your “description of plan benefits” brochure or the insurance website.

Finally, many U.S. health insurance plans—including Medicare and Medicaid—cover therapy, specifically for grief. 

For example, according to a 2020 article in Medical News Today, both original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans cover mental health services, including grief counseling. 

Typically, grief counseling is an outpatient service, and Medicare Part B contributes toward the cost. 

Additionally, if your loved one received hospice care and you’re both on Medicare, you are eligible for grief counseling (individual therapy or support group). 

Tips for using insurance to pay for therapy and grief counseling

For those with health insurance, here are some helpful steps to see a therapist or grief counselor using your insurance:

  • Aim to find a therapist who is in your health insurance provider’s network. This will help save money. You can use the Monarch Directory to browse licensed counselors and therapists who specialize in grief and view on their individual profiles whether they accept your health insurance. You can also use Monarch to view therapists who accept your health insurance provider. If your grief counselor doesn’t accept your insurance, you will usually pay out of pocket up-front for the therapist’s full rate. Your insurance also, typically, won’t cover as much of your cost for out-of-network providers. It’s also possible your insurer won’t pay for out-of-network healthcare at all. Check your “description of plan benefits” brochure or the insurance website to make sure you have all the details.

  • Ask your therapist or counselor for a superbill. You can request a superbill—similar to an invoice— from your mental health provider. Superbills often cover multiple dates of service and apply toward your deductible. You can submit your superbill to your insurance company for reimbursement, if that’s an option for your plan.

  • Use your flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings program (HSA). For those who have access to an FSA or HSA, any out-of-pocket mental health expenses, including therapy and grief counseling, are eligible for reimbursement. More details on using FSAs and HSAs are found in this article on how to afford paying for therapy and counseling.

Find therapists and grief counselors who accept your insurance

The Monarch Directory makes it easy for you to browse hundreds of licensed counselors and therapists who specialize in grief and view on their individual profiles whether they accept your health insurance. 

You can also choose to browse therapists by your insurance provider.

Whether or not you have health insurance—if you want to see a therapist and have concerns about cost—there are also free, low-cost, and affordable therapy options, including some of the free grief support groups mentioned earlier in this article. 

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The most important thing to remember about grieving is that there is no wrong way to do it. 

Your emotions are valid, even if they are different than you expect.  

Let yourself exist without judgment. 

Moser’s best advice for the grieving? Let yourself exist without judgment. 

“Just BE—take one breath at a time,” she says. “Allow for a full range of emotions and ways of being. Sadness, anger, appreciation, stillness, silence, numbness, laughter, tears and, as odd as it sounds—elation and euphoria.” 

Concerned you might be depressed?

Take our  online depression assessment  to determine whether you may be experiencing the symptoms of depression.

If you are feeling depressed, we recommend you reach out speak with someone—a trusted family member, friend, doctor, or therapist—about how you're feeling. Here are counselors who specialize in helping clients with depression you may wish to contact for a phone consultation or appointment.


Need to find a therapist near you? Check out the Monarch Directory by SimplePractice to find licensed mental health therapists with availability and online booking.


Article originally published May 13, 2022. Updated May 21, 2022.

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