Dedicated to Understanding Grief

Howard Lunche, MSW, LCSW

GRIEF - Timing & Circumstances

The timing and circumstances of a death are potent determinants of our distinct grief response. With respect to timing, we must do away with stereotypes that ignore and dismiss the individual nature of loss and grief. Instead, it is important for the understanding and healthy progression of our grief to ask, how do I feel and what is it like for me that the death occurred when it did? Consider this with respect to the immediate circumstances of your life and the life of the deceased, and in the context of your lives in general. The particular timing may accentuate grief, or it may provide some relief and solace. 


Timing with respect to other life events, changes, health, stability, and your personal readiness to cope with serious loss will affect your grief response. The period of life during which the loss occurs; childhood, adolescence, parenting, old age, or other, may be an important aspect of timing. There may be a great sense of loss for what never came to pass. You may find yourself with a new or different set of responsibilities. Even your ability to attend to your grief, (for example you are pregnant or a new parent), may be impacted by the timing of the death.


The status of your relationship with the deceased at the time of death can have strong influence on your grief. Being satisfied with, or at least accepting of, the current state of the relationship as opposed to being angry, disappointed, bitter, confused, estranged, or having other unresolved issues between the two of you are greatly different.


How someone dies and the many circumstances associated with the death shape the grief response. A death after prolonged illness is different from a sudden, health related death, as are these from accidents, suicides, homicides, catastrophes, and war.  Your particular involvement with the dying process and death make a difference. Being an active provider of care and support during the dying process, surviving the accident in which others died, and being the one to discover the deceased after a suicide all have different influences upon the grief to follow. Witnessing a death, whether peaceful or tragic, anticipated or not, will have its influence. Being the primary witness of someone’s dying can have a particularly painful impact.


The specific circumstances of a death will leave you with specific mental images and memories, the specific thoughts and feelings that go with these images and memories, and the task of finding peace with them or regulating them. It is important to consider whether the timing and circumstances of the death seem fitting given the inevitability of death, or are they such that there is particular hardship, disruption, or trauma associated with them.


Each death and situation is different. The timing and circumstances of a death will uniquely impact each survivor’s life depending on how they are experienced by, and apply to, the individual. Though death and grief are universal, individual timing and circumstances apply for each and every death. Individualized mourning fosters a healthy outcome of the grief.

Read more about Grief on the following pages.

Grief | Starting Points | The Universal Response | The Pain | Paradox | The Personal Side | Personal & Relationship | Timing & Circumstances | Culture & Religion | More Reading