Media & Press Archive
The stages of grieving
This article gives some background information on the five stages of grief. These are denial and numbness, anger, bargaining, misery and finally acceptance or adjustment. They are designed to give an insight into the grieving process but it should be remembered that this is not a simple progression. Some prefer to see these stages more of an upward spiral during which you can experience all of these stages at varying degrees. The key message to learn regarding the grieving process is that grief has the power to heal and that if healing does not take place, it is most likely because he or she did not allow him or herself to grieve.
The main points for this article are primarily taken from the book “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler which is recommended reading for anyone with an interest in understanding and coping with bereavement.
As far as we know, we are the only species aware of the inevitability of our own death. Knowing that we and all our loved ones will die someday creates anxiety. Anticipating a loss is an important part of experiencing that loss. For those who will survive the loss of a loved one, it is the beginning of the grieving process but it will not necessarily make the grieving process after the death easier or shorter.
This first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss. Denial, numbness and shock help us cope and to make survival possible by helping us pace our feelings of grief. It is a protection mechanism. It’s the same mechanism that your brain would employ were you suddenly to have a limb torn off. If we were to admit to or feel all the emotions of loss at once it would be too overwhelming. Then, as you start to accept the reality of the loss you begin the healing process itself and the denial begins to fade and all the feelings you were denying start to be expressed.
Anger is a necessary stage of the grieving and healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, however endless it may seem. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.
Anger has no limits and if we ask people to work through their anger too fast it will only lead to alienation. Unfortunately our society fears anger when it is really an expression of your pain. You must allow yourself to be angry even if you need to find a place alone to scream and let it out. Some people write down their feelings and type, type and type again as they put down all that has happened until one day, they realise they don’t need to type any more.
“Anyone can become angry, that is easy. But be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy” Aristotle.
The following extract from the book “Dear Charlie, Letters to a Lost Daughter” shows an example of this stage of grieving:
“We know why we must go on, it’s what you would have wanted. So many people tell us that. Normally I just smile and nod my head but the other day I could not contain my anger and I told a lady, “I”ll tell you what Charlie would want, she would want to be here, that’s what she would want. To have her whole life ahead of her just like your daughter.” The woman was shocked and backed away from me. I felt and still feel guilty. I know the woman meant well but sometimes it’s very hard.”
This is where you become lost in a maze of “if only”, “could i”, “what if” thoughts where you just want life returned to what it was with our loved one back. There is usually a large association of guilt, normally entirely misplaced. As we move through the bargaining process, the mind alters past events whilst exploring these “what if”, “could i” and “if only” statements. Sadly, the mind eventually will return to the same conclusion that the reality is that our loved one has gone and can and will not come back.
“I am tormented by memories, tormented by your absence, tormented by helplessness and guilt. I promised that I would never say “what if” or “if only” but the mind and the body do not always respond to reason. If only I had spent more time teaching you about the dangers of crossing the road and, by extension, railway crossings. If only I had forced you to come to work with me or taken the time off so that I could have driven you to Cambridge instead. None of this will bring you back and yet I still find myself searching for ways to change the past.”
This stage of depression and misery will feel as though it will never end. We may withdraw from life, feel intense prolonged sadness and even consider whether it’s worth going on at all.
This is not sickness or mentall illness, it is your body’s natural and correct response to the great loss that you have suffered. It is also nature’s way of shutting down the nervous system so that we can start to adapt to something we feel we can handle. It is a necessary step along the path of healing. It may be helpful to see it as a visitor, perhaps an unwelcome one, but one who is visiting regardless. Then allow your sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and it will leave as soon as it has served its purpose. It may return from time to time, but this is how grief works. As difficult as it is to endure, depression clears the decks and makes us rebuild from the ground up by taking us to a deeper place in our soul than that we would normally explore.
This does not mean that you decide that everything is all right and is why some people prefer to use the term adjustment. You may start to feel that it is not yet time for us to die but it is time for us to heal. You may start to accept that you must try to live in a world where your loved one is missing.
Don’t expect to wake up one morning with a beaming smile on your face and a spring in your step. The past has been forever changed, you may have to reorganise roles, you start the process of reintegration and you learn to live with the loved one you lost.
Little by little, we withdraw our energy from the loss and begin to invest it in life. We put the loss into perspective, learning how to remember our loved ones and commemorate the loss.
Shared Grieving can be an important way of helping communicate and understand your own grief. As well as providing another outlet to “tell your tale”, by listening to many other individual stories and feelings not only can you gain perspective but also you can lose some of the isolation that is a normal part of the grieving process. There is an online community at MuchLoved which may be of help to you in expressing and sharing your grief with others.
“I cannot choose my memories. They come tumbling, unbidden, out of nowhere” Reg Thompson.
Your loss and the grief that accompanies it are very personal, different from anyone else’s. Your loss stands alone in its meaning to you, in its pain, and your grieving must also reflect your personal needs. Comparisons never apply.
If you feel some relief after a long drawn-out death this is not a disloyalty but rather a sign of deep love. You know that your loss will be easier for you to bear than the suffering was for your loved one.
You must also do your best to make peace with as many of the regrets as poossible. After a long illness, the truth is that in most cases, doing things differently may have changed the process but would not have prevented the death. Forgive yourself. If you could have made better choices, you would have.
Know the importance of taking the pain inside and releasing it outside. Unexpressed tears do not go away, they are an outward expression of inner pain. In a grief group there is a rule that everyone has to grab their own tissues. This avoids sending the message “hurry up and stop crying” you may get if someone else grabs the tissues and passes them over.
Hauntings can be disturbing, emotional but also helpful. Whatever your vision may be, find a way to get it out. Try to externalize it by talking or writing.
It is also crucial to tell your story. As time passes you may find others grow weary of hearing it when you are not tired of telling it, but telling the story is part of the healing process and you must get it out. Imagine you are the detective, searching out things to help you understand what has happened. In telling the story you open up your confusion and your inner mind. You are trying to figure things out – there has to be a missing piece or you the storyteller would also get bored.
Feeling isolated after a loss is normal and can be an important tool for grieving. Being alone can feel safer than being vulnerable with people who may not understand. It is an important stop on the path of grief but usually should only be a step along the way and in time you will find a bridge back to the outside world.
The Gift of Grief
Grief is the natural emotional response to the pain of a loss and it is a journey to healing. When we do not work through our grief, we lose an opportunity to heal our soul and heart.
Those who grieve well, live well. It is one of life’s passages we all experience and the reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one, you will learn to live with it. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.
Making use of MuchLoved
MuchLoved was set up in order to help with the grief of bereavement and the background to the organisation was based on the grief experienced following the unexpected death of the brother of one of the founders. To find out more about MuchLoved or to contact us please use the links or visit the MuchLoved home page at www.muchloved.com.