Grief – There isn’t any one of us in this lifetime who will escape it. For some it seems to come and dissipate quickly. For others it lasts for years. For some it is a phantom. For others it is life’s greatest burden.
Children may grieve at the separation of their parents, a spouse may lament the demise of his/her companion or someone might grieve on the ending of a relationship. Grief comes in a myriad of forms and impacts our lives in the most profound of ways.
Grief is never linear. It doesn't pursue any specified timelines. You may cry, become furious, pull back, or feel empty. None of these things are unusual or wrong. Everyone grieves in their own way, yet there are a few shared characteristics among people and knowing what they are may be helpful.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, in her seminal book, defined 5 stages of grief:
She wrote an entire book on these five. But most people won’t read the book, so we’ve tried here to summarize them for the ‘common man.’ Please note that, although there are five, they may or may not be experienced in any particular order. Each person is unique. Nevertheless, all five seem to be necessary steps in working through the grief in one’s life.
Denial: When the news comes down that a loved one (or you, yourself) have a terminal illness or some other crisis in life, the first thing that typically happens is that we deny it. We tell ourselves that it isn’t true or doesn’t exist or ‘can’t be.’ We are people who like to be in control. When crisis strikes, we are clearly NOT in control so, as a defense mechanism, we refuse to accept the fact. This kind of reaction is normal. Our emotions are stunned. We can’t ‘wrap our minds’ around what is happening. Our minds tell us that, if we can shut out the words we are shutting out the reality. Denial is important. It gives us a brief time to become desensitized to the pain of reality. In this stage, rather than getting overpowered with despondency, people simply deny the truth, don't acknowledge it, and don’t allow its full impact to hit them all at once. It’s part of the mind’s natural defense mechanism. When this state of denial begins to fade, the healing begins.
As the denial phase winds down, reality and its pain reappear. Our emotions then start to express our anger at the situation – or toward doctors or care givers or anyone else who may (or may not) be responsible – even God. SOMEONE must be held accountable! If the crisis is the death of a loved one, the anger might even be aimed at the deceased. Objectively, we realize the individual isn't to resonsible. But we may resent the person for causing us torment or for leaving us. It’s frustrating. We want/need to blame someone but there is no one to blame. It's important and natural to feel the indignation - it will, eventually, disperse. It isn't beneficial to stifle your feelings – it is a totally human reaction – and maybe even an essential one. We may feel betrayed or abandoned while facing grief, but we should take this anger as the strength to face the reality. Anger in this kind of situation is a natural step toward healing. It is the thing that may connect us back to the real world and connect us to our social circle once more.
Bargaining is a negotiation that is made in return for some improvement in oiur lives. Bargaining involves something known as Hope. It is hope that allows us to go on in the midst of grief. We bargain with God or the powers that be so that we can gain hope again. We can sometimes make outrageous offers to change our lives in order to return to ‘the way things were.’ We feel powerless and the bargaining is our ‘chip’ to play to regain a place of control in our lives. In this stage we begin to ask the "What If" questions, like “What if we had a second opinion from another specialist or doctor? Maybe death would have never happened.”
Most of us relate depression with grief – as it is a contemporary feeling. It is important to realize that this depressive phase is not everlasting, and but not an indication of psychological maladjustment. Depression after crisis or loss will end. Depression following a misfortune usually seems dream like in qaulity; like a state of something to wake up from. Losing your friend or a family member is such a distressing thing. Depression is an expected and relevant response. In spite of the fact, that this is an exceptionally normal stage of loss, managing depression after the passing of a friend or family member can be very profound. Talking it out with a counselor or friend is often a good idea. Depression lessens when we get our feelings out in the open.
When we have come to the phase of accepting the reality of our loss, that doesn’t mean that we will never feel sorrow or grief or loss or anger or depression again. It means that now we have acknowledged what has happened and we know it now part of our new reality. When we begin to accept what is, we start to live once more. It all takes time. Give each phase time… time may or may not heal all wounds, but time softens them such that we can endure and live our lives.
The best approach to understand despair and grief is to understand that everyone doesn’t experience things the same while confronting loss. Sadness is a very personal thing, and you may feel something different each time you face loss. It is different with each person and often within each person. It may take a few months or even a year or so. If you find yourself hung up in one of the stages, do seek professional help in overcoming. Often this is the only way, but almost always a helpful way.
There is no disgrace in sorrow or grieving, even for an extended period of time. Just rememberthe five stages of grief, and consider how your loss relates to the whole process. It will help reaffirm the idea that feeling sad and alone is normal. Peace WILL come to your life again.
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