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How Long Will It Last?


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How Long Will It Last?

by Richard L. Mabry, MD


My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? (Psalm 6:3, NLT)

“And they lived happily ever after.” As newlyweds we may realize, deep down, that those words signify an impossible dream, but we push reality aside until it’s forced on us. My “happily ever after” ended in 1999, when Cynthia, my wife of forty years, died of a brain hemorrhage.

The journaling that helped me through the dark days that followed formed the basis of my book, The Tender Scar: Life after the Death of a Spouse. In turn, that book led me out of my retirement from medicine, into a speaking and writing ministry in support of those who have suffered a similar loss. I’ve now conducted numerous grief seminars, and at each one the question most commonly asked (and most difficult to answer) is this: “How long will it last?” The questions that follow are all the same. “How long will I cry at the slightest provocation?” “How long before I no longer feel the oppressive guilt of being left behind?” “How long until I stop going over and over those terminal events, wondering if I did everything I could? How long?”

I had those same thoughts. The days and weeks after Cynthia died were marked by emotional volatility that I didn’t think possible. After all, men don’t cry – but I did, frequently, and often for no apparent reason. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to go out. I couldn’t concentrate sufficiently to read, or even follow the mindless shows that populated the TV schedule. And always before me was the question, How long will it last?

At first, I simply assumed that the grief would last for the rest of my life, and I did my best to tolerate it. Tolerate? No, at times I wallowed in it, embraced it, took the grief to my heart as my punishment for being left behind here – survivor guilt raised to the nth degree.

Then intellectual curiosity began to intrude. I searched to see what “experts” had said about how long grief lasts. The consensus seemed to be that it probably would take a year for it to subside. With typical male logic, I reasoned that if grieving generally took a year, perhaps by grieving more intensely I could get through it in less time. I pummeled myself with thoughts of my loss and refused offers of help and consolation – but the grief continued. Then I consulted more sources, and found some authorities saying that sometimes grief lasts for up to two years. How very discouraging!

I won’t detail my journey through grief, but will simply summarize by saying that slowly, painfully, the clouds began to lift. Trigger situations still brought tears, but they were less frequent and less pronounced. There continued to be times when I yearned for Cynthia’s companionship, for the good things we’d enjoyed together. But there were times when I could laugh and enjoy myself without feeling guilty about it. As time went on, I realized each morning what a gift had been presented me with the day that lay before me. I remained more tender, my emotions closer to the surface, but the result of that was primarily more empathy with those who mourn.

It’s been seven years since Cynthia’s death. There are still times when I miss her, but the freely flowing tears are a thing of the past. Am I done with my grief? No, the wound has healed over, but it truly has left a tender scar and I’ll never be exactly the same.

What advice can I give to those who cry out for help in getting through the grief that grips them? Don’t hold back your tears – shed them and don’t be ashamed. Don’t be afraid to ventilate to others: friends, your pastor, a grief support group. Don’t shy away from counseling and the use of antidepressants when they are suggested. Don’t be discouraged when your progress seems to be two steps forward, one step back; recovery always takes longer than you hope or expect. And don’t be ashamed when your anger at the loss spills over to God. He’ll be there, whether you turn to Him or not, and eventually you will once more find comfort in prayer and the Scriptures.

Does grief take a year, two years, a lifetime? The resolution of grief takes as long as it takes. So my answer to those of you who ask, “When will it end?” is this: Only God knows, but that’s okay, because God will get you through it.




Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again – my Savior and my God!

(Psalm 43:5, NLT)


[source: Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 4, Issue #4, April 2007, p. 27. Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska, 866-218-0101.]

About The Tender Scar: Life after the Death of a Spouse:
Written by a physician whose wife died in 1999, this book addresses the heart-wrenching pain of losing a spouse, guides the bereaved through the grief process and offers help on such practical topics as “playing the blame game,” finding a support group, tending the cemetery, “resigning your commissions” to protect and take care of a spouse even after death, “combating funeral flashbacks” and more. As the author of three best-selling medical textbooks and editor of five others, Dr. Mabry’s writing is refreshingly authentic, clear and direct. Working from his own journal entries, he shares the emotions and situations he has encountered and acknowledges his own mistakes as well as his hard-won victories. The book is suitable for those comfortable with a Christian / Baptist perspective, as it includes relevant and carefully selected Bible passages as well as the author’s own personal prayers of hope and healing. (Now a retired private practitioner and medical school professor, Dr. Mabry serves as a deacon at his home church and has taught several Bible courses and Sunday school classes over the years.) But as one reviewer observes, this author “speaks from the trench and not from the pulpit.”



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