There are so many variables that play a part in each griever’s movement through the full grieving process.
1) The griever’s personality and style of responding to unpleasant events. Individuals who pull back from making decisions on their own will find their mourning extended, fixated, arrested, or perhaps stopped altogether until they are willing to change their behavior. If an individual’s habit is to avoid painful situations and realizations, to draw back from working through difficult problems, then the length of the mourning will depend on how soon (and if) she or he becomes willing to change this habitual behavior and begin to engage in the grieving.
2) The degree to which the lost person was a part of or involved in what gave the grieving person’s life order, structure, and meaning. If the lost person was central to the organization of the grieving person’s life or to her or his sense of self, the mourning process is likely to take longer. This means that it is not possible to make blanket judgments about what one individual’s death will mean to another.
3) The nature of the loss. Sudden deaths or losses, the death of a child or a young person, violent or traumatic deaths, and suicides present special problems in grieving. Although knowing in advance does give individuals a chance to prepare, this advance preparation may not, in the long run, shorten the mourning period.
4) The kind of support given by family and friends. If those who are grieving feel loved, supported, and aided then the outcome of grief will reflect these favorable conditions. If, on the other hand, family and friends are uncomfortable with mourning, if they act as if the grieving person should already be finished mourning, or–heaven forbid, but it does occur–they actually encourage the grieving person to remain helpless and dependent, then the grieving time will be extended.
5) Past losses and the degree to which they have been mourned fully.
6) The amount of unacknowledged ambivalent feelings a person has toward the lost person. Perhaps there is unexpressed or unacknowledged resentment and anger. Perhaps there is guilt over disagreements and arguments that were never worked out. Perhaps there is relief that the person is gone, even while there is sorrow, and the grieving person does not forgive herself or himself for this seeming contradiction. Any or all of these feelings may trigger negative images of one’s own worthlessness, which must be worked through, thereby adding additional time and complication to the mourning.
7) The social, economic, and personal circumstances in which the individuals must do their grieving. People who have financial difficulties concurrent with the loss, who are emotionally upset about other issues, do not have good health from the beginning or become ill during the mourning process, or are constrained as a result of previous sex-role conditioning (e.g., men don’t cry; women are helpless in the face of making decisions) will find that these factors complicate their grieving.
Elizabeth Harper Neeld, PH.D./Seven Choices