“How long until you feel better?”

My sister asked me to get an answer to this question from my therapist. This was 2 months after Jackson’s death. She wanted to prepare herself for what to expect. She also wanted to know when it was time to become concerned about me should I not be making the anticipated progress.

The therapist’s answer was long and twisty but basically, we could look forward to me feeling consistently better around the 1 year point, give or take a few months. This answer seems to be a common rule of thumb based on … absolute nonsense.

At the 1 year point, there’s still TREMENDOUS pain, turmoil, crying, anguish and ALL the things that go along with deep grief.

You may be thinking, “Why don’t people understand this?”

Primarily because grief isn’t something you learn about until it’s happening to you. The world at large (and even many counselors) is vastly uneducated. Grievers figure out pretty quickly people don’t understand the depth and duration of their pain. They learn to hide their feelings and go through this most difficult life journey alone.

It’s hard not to wonder once again, “But why?”

Well it starts with the long-time theory that grief has 5 stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance). And presumably, after you’ve gone through the stages, you will have healed, accepted your loss, and moved on with your life.

The 5 Stages of Grief are based on the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. In 1969 she studied patients facing terminal illness and the feelings they had surrounding their illness. Kubler-Ross then identified these “stages” for the terminally ill. So that’s problem number one. These stages were never intended to describe the stages of grief. These stages describe the different feelings and stages a terminally ill person goes through before dying.

Unfortunately, the 5 stages idea stuck around and has been misapplied to grief ever since.

The thing I hate most about the 5 Stages is the implication that there is an end … that when you’ve reached the “final” stage of acceptance, you are done with your grief. You have “moved on.” You no longer feel bad or sad over the loss of your loved one. (This is one reason I created my own model of grief. But we’ll get to that later.)

The false belief that there is an end to grief gives non-grievers unrealistic expectations of how people in grief “should” behave. And this creates pressure on grievers to accept their loss and “get over it.” Grievers faced with an overwhelming majority of people who can’t fathom their continued pain… they’re left to manage on their own.

Maybe this describes you - feeling lost, stuck, alone, still sad but feeling like you shouldn’t be because no one understands?⁣

If so, first let me say, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not crazy. You’re not grieving wrong or for too long. Secondly, you may want to take hold of this idea: You can move forward after loss without moving on.

You may be thinking, “Are you sure Jennifer? I just don’t see how that could be true.”

Yes, I’m sure. I’m 20 years into my grief journey and I know I’m never going to “get over it”… and this is exactly as it should be. I still cry when I hear the song “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Just a few months ago I cried my eyes out watching the scene in Top Gun when the medics force Maverick to let go of Goose’s dead body. Why couldn’t they let Maverick hold onto him a little longer?

My tears and feelings of sadness are not a sign of unhealthy ongoing attachment or mental illness or Prolonged Grief Disorder. They are normal expressions of the love I feel and will always feel for my son.

{Click here to read an excellent article rebutting the recent announcement of the American Psychiatric Association of a new disorder-Prolonged Grief Disorder.}

I’m not in denial nor am I depressed. I’ve “accepted” that Jackson is gone. I’m living a happy and meaningful and fulfilling life.

But I’m never going to wake up one day and think, “You know what, I’m totally fine that Jackson isn’t here and I don’t even miss him anymore.”

Love never ends. It would seem pretty obvious then that grief never really ends either.

Something I learned in my training as a Grief Specialist is that you can let go of the pain without letting go of your loved one.

So when it comes to the concept of “moving on” … I prefer to think of it as moving forward … and taking my son with me.

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