Julian Austin, Canadian country singer, released a song called Should Be Over You. He sings, How long does it take to mend a broken heart? After the heartache and tears, lonely and hurting, one night stands and drinking ain't working, and missing you has near killed me a time or two, then after that I should be over you."
Austin's explanation of how long it takes to get over a broken heart refers to a romantic love that ended, but his words could apply to hearts that break when someone we love dies, also.
Broken hearts are not like broken legs. If I fall down the steps and break my leg, it will hurt, but a doctor can prescribe medicine to take away the pain. The medical staff can set my leg so that the bones will grow back together. Within a few months, I should be able to run as well as I did before the fall. Our bodies have a wonderful way of healing themselves.
On the other hand, if we experience a broken heart, it's a whole different story! As Austin sings, drinkin' won't work, and there's no medicine that will take away the pain. And if there are doctors that can fix our broken hearts back, they must be hiding in Tazmania because I can't find them in south Georgia or on the World Wide Web.
In spite of the bleak picture, our hearts do have the capability of healing, in due time. They may never work as they did before the tragedy, but they should be able to attain a level of functioning that we can be comfortable with. The key words are in due time.
After Arlyn (my daughter) died, I searched for answers to the question: how long? I read grief books, and I quizzed people who claimed to know all the ins and outs of bereavement.
When I asked how long it would take for me to get over Arlyn's death, I received a variety of answers.
Some experts said two months is long enough for deep grief; others said six months. Some people said to allow one year for mourning. Still others said that there is no set time limit, that it varies from person to person.
In my research, I found that the way we grieve and the duration of our grief are as unique as our fingerprints. No two bereavement patterns match.
How long it takes to recover from a loss or death depends on the interaction of various factors. A few of them are:
* Who died?
* How did the person die?
* Is there a good long-term support system in place?
* What are the complicating life circumstances?
* What is the person's attitude?
Let's consider each of these issues.
How we survive, heal, and grow after a death are determined, in part, by our relationship with the person who left, and that person's age.
How long a person has lived seems to matter sometimes. If the person who died is an infant, a child, a teenager or a young adult, we may feel the loss harder than we would if the one who died has a wrinkled old body topped by a weathered face, wispy gray hair and tried eyes.
I am not sure why this is; perhaps some of you will offer your opinions. If someone who has lived for ninety years dies, why should we be less affected by it than we are by the death of a child who only lives nine years?
Next, our relationship with the person who died is also significant. The death of a son or daughter, is considered to be one of the most profound losses anyone ever experiences.
However, the death of our husbands, wives, lovers, brothers, sisters, parents, or close friends may break our hearts, too. The break may simply be at a different place.
Sometimes, people grieve for beloved pets as hard as they do for the humans in their lives. People also grieve for celebrities and for people they have never met, if they have somehow been touched by them.
How did the person die?
We respond to loss or death differently according to whether it happened suddenly or gradually, and whether it's a death caused by sickness or a violent one.
Some of us may have experienced the slow grief of long-term care for someone we love. We may have watched an aging parent or spouse die of cancer or Alzheimer's disease or AIDS, with the process taking months or years to complete.
By the time the end comes, our grief may already be so heavy that we almost feel relieved to be able to let it go, but then it may return with a different texture to it later on.
On the other hand, sudden deaths bring about strong, emotional responses. We don't anticipate vehicle accidents, house fire deaths, or people being killed by lightning.
We never expect anyone we care about to drown, to crash while skiing, or to have a fatal heart attack. An unexpected ending of a life can become a tidal wave pulling us under.
Sometimes, people die violently, either through homicide or suicide. Those affected by violent deaths may be so traumatized that their grief is controlled by anger, guilt, or rage for weeks, months and years.
Such intense feelings may prolong the painful grieving period, but that?s the only way they can survive. The tidal wave of a sudden death is even more terrifying to deal with when violence is involved.
Does the person have a long-term support system in place to help?
Connecting with supportive people until the grief process has run its course is crucial to healthy healing after a loss or death or other life crisis, for most of us. The supportive people may be friends, family members or professionals. They may also be people we meet on our journey who share our need to grieve.
Most people don't understand how we feel if they have not experienced the same loss or gone through similar circumstances. They may want to help, but they simply don't know how to do it, and sometimes, they put barriers in our way.
The result is that those of us who are in mourning may feel misunderstood, isolated and alone.
To compound things, if we feel pressured by others to suck-it-in and be strong, our need to grieve may be ignored, and that can make grief resolution even more difficult.
What are the complicating life circumstances?
Life circumstances can put impediments to a healthy, comfortable, peaceful way of life in our way. These situations, some of which we may not be able to prevent or control, can complicate our grief or prolong it. They can also delay our grief for months or even years.
Sometimes, we will have more than one complicating life circumstance. In these cases, giving ourselves permission to grieve, in spite of the problems in our lives, may be easier said than done.
Some of the complicating life circumstances are:
~ Our age and gender
~ Our job expectations
~ Money concerns
~ The quality of our personal relationships
~ Our health & the health of those around us
~ Any unresolved issues from our lives
The complicating factors of our lives may swell into huge thunderous waves pulling us under, and during a traumatic time in our life, we may forget how to swim.
All of these issues can stall the natural grieving process by virtue of the fact that we may have to focus all of our energy on them, neglecting our own emotional needs.
What's the person's attitude?
After the loss or death of a loved one, especially if it's someone who is an integral part of our existence, we may not be able to choose our attitude at first. Initially, it may take all of our energy just to survive, so our grief may control us.
Grief is sometimes accompanied by depression. Depression may deplete our energy or obliterate our will to live. Without energy or motivation, it's not easy to embrace grief as a separate entity.
Eventually, however, most of us will reach a point where we do have some control over our emotions and thoughts. Then, we have to decide whether we?re going to allow the tragedy to destroy us or lift us up.
There are other factors identified by experts as influencing how long healthy grieving lasts, but those I have listed encompass most things that matter. So now, what is the answer to the question: How long does it take to mend a broken heart? How long does the bereavement process last?
Unless someone discovers a magic formula to calculate the value of every factor that affects our lives, and to measure them all accurately, there is no way to determine the length of time anyone needs to mourn after a major loss.
Broken hearts and shattered souls are not controlled by a stopwatch. I say that we should be allowed to mourn as long as we need to. Period.
Quotes of the week -
I measure every grief I meet with narrow, probing eyes, I wonder if it weighs like mine, or has an easier size. Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)
I wish you peace.
Karyl Chastain Beal
Karyl Chastain Beal: Writer, Mother, Reluctant Traveler
Began this new journey after the suicide of her daughter, Arlyn, in 1996. Visit Arlyn's memorial to learn more, and also some of the websites that help educate.
MS in Education, CT (Certified Thanatologist), story in Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul and various other publications.
Arlyn's - http://virtual-memorials.com/servlet/ViewMemorials?memid=7461&pageno=1
Grieving Parents - http://www.grieving-parents.com
We Remember Them Memorial Website - http://www.we-remember-them.com