What You Need to Know about Grief Cycles

by Debbie Wilson

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?

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 that 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.

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.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Drawing from her walk with Christ, and years as a Christian counselor, coach, and Bible teacher, Debbie W. Wilson helps women give themselves a break so they can enjoy fruitful and grace-filled lives. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. Her latest book, Little Faith, Big God, was released in February 2020.

Little Faith, Big God: Grace to Grow When Your Faith Feels Small by [Wilson, Debbie]

Debbie and her husband Larry founded and run Lighthouse Ministries, a nonprofit counseling, coaching, and Bible study ministry. She is an AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) certified speaking and writing coach. Debbie enjoys a good mystery, dark chocolate, and the antics of her two standard poodles. Refresh your faith with free resources at debbieWwilson.com.

Join the conversation: Have you ever been overwhelmed by grief?


6 thoughts on “What You Need to Know about Grief Cycles

  1. Yes, I have been overwhelmed by grief. There is no time limit on grief. I’m writing an article about my daddy, who passed away in 1998. As I typed the words yesterday, my grief came back and the tears flowed. I miss daddy very much. I miss my mama very much, too. Thank you for reminding us that Jesus will wipe away every tear.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melissa, it is amazing how those emotions can surface and sometimes when we least expect it. Blessings to you! I know your article will bless many.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Debbie. Many people think that once you go through the stages of grief you have somehow complete the grief process. Not so! You explained things so well. I am sorry for your losses at such a young age.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Crystal. I know many people are grieving over various losses now. We need to be tender with each other.


  3. Thank you for sharing, Debbie. This is so important. First of all, what a joy to hear you mention Norm Wright who has made a huge impact on my life and ministry over the years. I praise God for him. Secondly, you are so right about grief coming in unexpected waves. I remember years ago when my husband was diagnosed with melanoma and a friend of ours had died of melanoma only a year before. One day I was in a gift store shopping and out of the blue, I began crying almost uncontrollably. I wasn’t even thinking of Larry or the danger he faced. But it was there submerged and I never knew when it would surface like the sudden appearance of a whale. And it felt that big. Thankfully, the Lord spared his life and he’s never had melanoma again. So thank you for sharing. Let us never think grieving is sinful.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathy, thank you for sharing your experience. And praise God for sparing your husband! I had two good friends die a year apart. Today was the service for one of them. I felt grief for both of them. I know they are happy, but we still miss them.


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