I’ve decided to do at least one more blog centered on life advice. This one on the cycle of grief isn’t easy to write and it’s tough to navigate. However, I consider it lucky that when I was much younger I had the privilege of attending a lecture in Seattle by psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross on death and dying. She wrote a book by the same name that’s one of few that honestly deals with the same subject. Maria Shriver has also written a good book about helping children deal with death. Today I want to talk about the importance of grieving, and the steps one takes to get through the process.
First, know it’s okay if grief for the loss of a loved one never goes away. But it does change and allows the person left behind to feel the full effect and to heal. Accept that friends and family may be uncomfortable with your grief. As the griever you’ll be busy going through a series of “firsts” without your loved one—birthdays, holidays, and other milestones to name a few. Others may not understand if you have a “down” day for seemingly no reason. But it has meaning to you.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined 5 stages of grief that not only come about due to death, but also other disruptions in life such as divorce, job loss, house fire, retirement, becoming an empty nester, a natural disaster, etc. Recently I read an article that talks about an extended grief cycle. Instead of 5 stages, some people go through more like seven stages. I’ll give a brief break-down of those steps.
- Shock stage: This is the initial paralysis at hearing the bad news. **not in the original 5**
- Denial and Isolation: At first it’s natural to want to avoid the truth. It’s a coping mechanism to help you survive the loss. This stage encompasses feeling overwhelmed, or numb. Often this is when friends and neighbors feel you are unwilling to talk about the loss, which adds to their not knowing how to help and therefore gives the impression they’re uncomfortable. This stage ultimately passes for everyone, because eventually stage you must face the inevitable.
- Anger: This emotion can be overt or covert. It is the result of bottled up emotions. It’s actually considered a “safe emotion” because it keeps the grieving person from being sad, feeling despair, fear or anxiety. While it’s likely a person feels guilt or shame about the anger, studies show it’s normal, so try to not judge yourself.
- Bargaining: Seeking in vain for a way out. After anger often comes a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability. This is often called, “the if-only stage”. If only we’d seen a doctor sooner. Or if we’d prayed more. Even---if I’d been a better person. Recognizing this stage helps a person turn negative thoughts into positive ones. It’s easy to get stuck in this phase, so it’s important to be active not passive. Start each day by affirming to smile at someone. Delve into things that in the past have made you happy.
- Depression: If you actively work on affirmations in the bargaining stage, it’s more likely that this stage will be milder. Expect to sometimes feel less energy. There are times you will opt out of usual activities. It’s also true that this stage can debilitate a person. Severe depression can come in feeling totally hopeless. In an inability to get out of bed, or eat and sleep. While being depresses is a recognized stage, if your sadness lingers significantly, do seek professional help. If you think you can’t go on, it’s time to have a frank discussion with your doctor. And he or she will hopefully set you on a path to the…
- Testing stage: This is where you seek realistic solutions. **also not in the original 5** This stage often doesn’t come easily. So much depends on how successfully you navigate the previous stages. It’s here a person can slip backwards. It’s common to think life has dealt you too many blows; that you’ll never be whole again. Sometimes it’s helpful to seek out a good grief support group. (Note here that I say a good group) Some grief counselors allow group members to cycle and recycle through the anger and bargaining stages which isn’t helpful to reach stage seven.
- Acceptance: The ability to see reality and finally find a way to move forward. This is where you face your loss and all of its implications. This doesn’t mean you no longer miss your loved one, miss being married, miss your old job, etc. It means you have accepted your life as it now is. Just know that going through some form of each previous stage is necessary to help you overcome the trauma of life’s loss.People who work in the field that deals with grief say that trying to avoid it altogether can have a negative effect on your health and ultimate happiness. Cultures that have wakes, and wailing, and singing out of the lost souls, are found to get through the grief process better than many who see it as a weakness to mourn.I really hope my blog doesn’t turn you off or ruin your Friday. I really think it’s an important life cycle that we should face and discuss.I recently read a book that is such a story of love and courage I want to recommend it. Partly a line from the book states it’s for our death-avoidant culture. I add, such an honest look at the philosophy of life by a gifted neurosurgeon, who is diagnosed with virulent lung cancer before he finishes residency. “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi is simply beautiful.