When Will I Get Better?

We like to fix things, including ourselves. If you’ve recently experienced a loss, you might be wonder when you’ll feel “normal” again.

There is a short and long answer to this question: Research does show that most people start to see ‘acute grief’ symptoms decrease around the six-month mark after their loved one’s death.

The long answer is that while the timeline can vary drastically from person to person, most people do in fact find that grief symptoms and overall life outlook improve over time. You will never feel quite like you did before your loved one’s death, however. So if that’s your benchmark for normal, you might never get there. And that’s okay.

Looking Back Two Decades Later

Steve Jobs once said, about his own career, that you can only connect the dots looking backward. That is often also true when recovering from the loss of a loved one.

Starting to feel better after a major loss is often a gradual process connected by inflection points or moments when you realized things are going better than you realized. Maybe you went to a wedding and didn’t cry; maybe you had a family gathering that felt happy for the first time since your loved one died. When you look back, years and decades later, you’ll often be able to see how little milestones led to a life that is happy and fulfilling again. But it’s close to impossible to see the path ahead, no matter where you are in your grief journey.

What Does it Mean to ‘Get Better?’

Grief often has concrete symptoms that are both physical and psychological and go far beyond ‘feeling sad.’ One of the most common symptoms of grief is confusion and trouble concentrating—but each person’s grief can manifest itself in unique ways. The experience of healing from these symptoms widely varies from person to person.

Recovering from the loss of a loved one isn’t something that follows a strict timeline. You won’t wake up on the 181st day after your loved one’s death and feel like a new person—or, more precisely, like the person you used to be. Most people actually find that they never get back to being exactly the same as they were before the loss—because they have changed so much, and the circumstances of their life have changed so much. But gradually things start to feel more ‘normal.’

You’ll start laughing again, and even making jokes yourself.

But you’ll never feel like your loved one’s death was ok. You’ll never entirely let go of feeling cheated if your loved one died young. You might look back to the person you were before your loved one died and think about how naive and happy you were.

After the death of a loved one you have to build a new normal. Losing a loved one will change you and it will change your life. Decades after the loss, you’ll have found a new normal and the loss will be a part of your story, a part of who you are. It will be better than the immediate aftermath of the death, but it won’t be the same as it was before. And that’s okay.