A friend once made the observation that she likened the process of grieving to a sound wave. The initial sound observed on an oscilloscope would be intense the waves would be frequent and close together. If you imagine that intense wave over time you will notice that the waves slowly diminish in intensity and frequency slowly levels and spreads out so that eventually the wave flattens with occasional slight blips.

Grief cannot be measured on an oscilloscope. In my friend’s model she imagined a very intense period after an initial shock. The feelings and behaviors have an intensity that is nearly immobilizing and overwhelming. They are so frequent that they occupy nearly all of our awake time and even interfere with our sleep. The initial wave crowds out interests and abilities to fully attend to normal routines. As they diminish and spread out  old activities return, a routine begins as we reenter our altered lives.

But grief is not so neat as an uninterrupted sound wave. Grief does not occur in a vacuum.  Our relationship to the deceased, the type of death, the length of the period of dying and our own history of loss and trauma all affect how grief will affect us. Grief occurs among the obligations and needs of  life.  Each of us has our own realities. Some have children who need to be cared for, others have jobs, bills, health issues. The differences are as varied as the individuals experiencing grief.  We think all is well then we experience a reminder of our loved one or face an event that our loved one would have shared with us. As these realities interject themselves our grief is disturbed, re-triggered or even wrestled with to keep it from overwhelming us.

The struggle for the grieving is a struggle to re-balance life while working through intense emotions. The emotions cannot be ignored but neither can the obligations of health, childcare, or employment.

The sound wave model allows for reminders of our lost loved one and some tears or sadness after years of loss. The low intensity of the wave over a long time permits us to have a pang of grief and to also move on in a way that we could not in the initial intense and overwhelming period.

After a period of shock or numbness  one can expect several weeks or months of intense grief. Some writers have identified at least six weeks and up to six months of very intense emotion. The remainder of the first year continues with hopefully lessening intensity as we encounter first holidays and birthdays without the deceased. Many people experience grief at a moderate level well into the second year after a death. Perhaps it is related to continuing to adjust to life and compensating for the loss by finding ways to make up for what the deceased was able to do for us.

Grief clearly takes time as we adjust to our loss.  We should not rush the bereaved but can expect  lessening of intensity and frequency of pain over a lengthy period.

6/12/2014 06:24:16 am

I have been widowed a long time. 23 years. I am still amazed that I have waves of emotions still after all this time. Recently I feel this deep sense of loss that my husband's soul or spirit has moved on. I guess I knew the time would come but it has re-opened my grieving. I am handling it, but it truly is a powerful feeling. By the way, it's all good and I have accepted it. I wish him well.


Leave a Reply.

    Join our mailing list

    * indicates required


    As part of my doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, when information on grief, bereavement, death and dying was scarce, some colleagues and I began group work with the bereaved. Out of that work grew interviews with widowers, training with funeral workers, clergy, social workers, hospice and medical personnel. 

    View my profile on LinkedIn


    August 2013
    July 2013
    June 2013


    Get Help
    Helping Your Grieving Friend
    Personal History


    August 2013
    July 2013
    June 2013

    Copyright 2013, Dr. Donald Steele, Ph.D.
    NOTICE: All content within this blog is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. The author is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this site. The author is not liable for the contents of any external internet sites listed. Always consult your own GP if you're in any way concerned about your health.