You Need to Know About Grief Cycles

by | Aug 10, 2021 | Grief | 31 comments

I wish someone had warned me about grief. Maybe no one knew, or perhaps I wouldn’t have heard. In case you ever need to know, here are two words to remember after you’ve lost a loved one—“three months.”

The three-month anniversary of a loss feels like grief has started over. We buried my mother on Mother’s Day weekend weeks before my high school graduation. Three months later, grief blindsided me on my first weekend of college.

Years later, Daddy passed away in August. That Thanksgiving I found myself summoning all I had to hold it together. What was happening?

3-Month Grief Cycles

In a grief class by Norm Wright, I later learned grief cycles in three-month intervals during the first year after a loss. Those tidal waves of sorrow are normal, and their intensity usually passes after several days. I’ve seen the cycle play out many times in others’ lives as well my own.

Unexpected waves of grief surprised me like an unexpected ocean wave. Those who’ve spent time at the beach know the difference between the cold slap of a small wave, the fall from a medium wave, and the merciless dunking of a big surge that flips you and holds your head under the water while you pray your breath will last until it releases you. For me, grief’s three-month mark was like the last wave.

When this happens, the griever questions whether the grief will ever subside. Be assured, you haven’t digressed. This is the normal cycle of mourning.

Grief can look as different as the fingers that touch it. Whether the one suffering processes their grief through busyness or through quietness, grief is never a straight line. It dips and dives. It twists and turns. Even years later, an event such as a news event or a song playing in the grocery store can open an old wound.

If you or someone you know is grieving, grant grace. Don’t tell them or yourself to snap out of it. Share good memories and tears. Feel the anger, then let it go. Grief reminds us that we aren’t home yet.

If you or someone you know is #grieving, grant grace. Don’t tell them or yourself to snap out of it. #grief Share on X

One day Jesus will wipe away every tear.

Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4 NIV).

Give yourself grace to mourn. And don’t be dismayed when grief resurfaces.

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  1. Pam Ecrement

    You’re right about giving others AND yourself space to grieve and mourn. In 1995 my dad died in late March and exactly 3 months to the day, my mother died. We also became guardian to my mentally and emotionally handicapped younger brother and my world was totally upended. I didn’t really feel like I had a chance to grieve my dad and I was good at giving others space to grieve and now discovered I needed to give it to myself because most others did not.

    One book I found helpful was from a seminar on grief by Therese Rando and her book, How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies, gave me a lot of insight. It was not a spiritual book, but one of many now on my shelves about loss and grief of various types that we face over the course of our lifetimes.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Oh Pam, loss and life changing new responsibilities sometimes come together, but yours seems especially hard-hitting. Thank you for sharing this resource.

  2. Melissa Henderson

    Thank you for this message. Grief has no time limit. Even though my Daddy passed away in 1998 on Easter Sunday, and my Mama passed away in 2013 one week before her 92nd birthday, I continue to grieve. I miss them so much. I know they are with God and that gives me comfort. Tears come at unexpected times. I am thankful God holds me in His loving arms.

    • Debbie Wilson

      We can’t escape grief. If we pack our schedules in the hope of burying it, it comes out in our dreams at night. Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your experience. I know it will help someone.

  3. Penny Dollinger

    Thank you. This is exactly right. I lost my husband of 35 years in November 2020. Not Covid, he had several inherited health issues. I find myself asking “when will it end”? Mine isn’t exactly a 3 month cycle more like all the “firsts”. Nevertheless, God is faithful and He walks through it with me. Just like life there are good and bad days so I’m hanging on until the good outweighs the bad. Praise God for His infinite mercy.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Penny, anniversaries of last times we did some task or shared something together and first times without the person are certainly triggers. I’ve experienced some of those this week concerning a friend I lost to cancer.

  4. J.D. Wininger

    Thank you Ms. Debbie. Timely information ma’am. I can’t speak to a three-month cycle of grief as it’s a new concept to me. I can tell you from experience that the five stages of grief as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (DABDA) does a very good job of characterizing what we all go through. Further, I am certain that no one person can determine how long another will be in each of those stages. Some folks will grieve only a short time and others can never seem to get over the loss. What I do know is that “with God all things are possible” as He is the great Comforter for our lives. I’ll have to watch for that three-month anniversary of a recent loss and test Mr. Wright’s theory. As for giving grace to those who are grieving, I can only add an enthusiastic “Amen.” How they grieve and for how long is dependent upon the individual grieving and the impact of who/what was lost. God’s blessings for this timely and important message sweet friend. Much needed!

    • Debbie Wilson

      J.D., I know you are walking through grief now. God bless and comfort you. And yes, some losses stay with us throughout our lives.

      • J.D. Wininger

        Am blessed knowing that I’m walking this journey with wonderful godly friends like you alongside me. All y’all make the sojourn easier. Thank you Ms. Debbie.

        • Debbie Wilson

          Thank you, J.D.

  5. Jerralea Winn Miller

    “Grief reminds us that we aren’t home yet.” Amen! Sometimes the waiting to see my loved ones again feels unbearable.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes it does, Jerralea. God bless.

  6. LaDonne Lenzini

    I have so much stored up grief that I find myself having days that all I can do is cry. I’ve lost so many family members and friends over the years and I think that I pushed it all down inside because I felt that it was just too much and I would go over the edge if I let it all out. My parents and grandparents aunts and uncles all passed away in my younger years. I am the youngest out of 7 children and there are 2 of us left. I just lost 4 more very dear friends in the last year and my last sister a year and a half ago. It’s overwhelming sometimes.

    • Debbie Wilson

      LaDonne, I’m so sorry. I think it is healthy you are finally allowing your grief to spill out. My friend Rhonda Robinson has a book called FreeFall that you may find helpful.

  7. Mary Rooney Armand

    Thanks for this post on such a difficult but important topic. I am not currently grieving but have been through the cycle and understand the importance of grace and trusting God.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Mary, it is a painful topic, but one we probably will all experience if we live long enough. Thanks for reading.

  8. Ann J Musico

    So much truth here. I experienced it when my mother dies suddenly when I was 28 after just 3 weeks in the hospital and then when my dad suddenly died 5 years ago. I didn’t know about the 3 month cycles but this makes perfect sense. Thank you for sharing Debbie.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Ann, I experienced that and began to notice my clients did too. But other things can trigger those waves of grief too. I know unexpected deaths create their own fallout.

  9. Meade A DeKlotz

    At my age I am experiencing the loss or illness of many friends and family. Your comments are so helpful. As we age we expect health issues but no one mentioned dealing with the losses of friends , contemporaries. Thank you Debbie.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Meade, that is a very hard part of aging. I remember a neighbor in her nineties who told me everyone she’d known was gone. I was in my twenties at the time, but her experience really struck me. So good to hear from you.

  10. Barbara Latta

    I never heard of the grief cycles before but now all those emotions make sense. Knowing this helps process the grief better and helps with knowing what others are feeling. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Barbara, it really helped me understand what I’d experienced and to hopefully be sensitive to those in my life experiencing grief.

  11. Steffanie Russ

    Thank you for this post! Grief can be so tricky. I know it personally now having lost 4 family members including my mother and twenty-four year old son. I’ve learned a lot about grief and I’m sure I have more to learn – ever learning. We are nearing our four year mark of losing our son and the hurt is unimaginable. I’ve learned that the pain doesn’t get better, only different, but one day there will be no more tears or pain. Thanks for this reminder. No pain and tears in Heaven. Thankfully we don’t have hope in this life only. Bless you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Oh Steffanie, I am so very sorry for you loss. I think you are right. Some losses we carry with us the rest of our lives. May the God of all comfort be especially near to you.

  12. Joanne Viola

    “Give yourself grace to mourn. And don’t be dismayed when grief resurfaces.”
    May we remember we all are different and the cycles (or process) of grief also may be different. Oh, that our hearts would be compassionate and tender towards others.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Amen, Joanne. Bless you.

  13. Lisa Blair

    This is a great way to illustrate grief to others, Debbie, “Those who’ve spent time at the beach know the difference between the cold slap of a small wave, the fall from a medium wave, and the merciless dunking of a big surge that flips you and holds your head under the water while you pray your breath will last until it releases you.”

    • Debbie Wilson

      Thank you, Lisa.

  14. Barb Fox

    In just the last couple weeks I’ve talked to several people who have experienced a sudden and overwhelming surge of grief. It’s comforting to know this is normal and even though the grief will continue its dipping and diving, the intensity will not remain at these peak levels for long.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Barb, it can certainly feel like the process has started over. Thankfully, that intensity passes, and we can surface for air.

  15. Nancy E. Head

    I’m also at the age when I’ve begun to lose colleagues, and one friend is in decline. So sad to watch. Such reminders that we are not home yet. Good information here.

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