Friday, June 24, 2016

The Importance of Allowing Yourself to Grieve by Roz Denny Fox



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.

  1. Shock stage: This is the initial paralysis at hearing the bad news. **not in the original 5**
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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…
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

52 comments:

  1. Wise words, beautifully written, Roz.

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    1. Mostly what I've learned elsewhere, but thanks. Grieving is hard.

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  2. There are so many "should bes" in grief. It's important to know it's individual and everyone mourns differently. Thanks for this, Roz.

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    1. Liz, that's why I think we should express our grief more to our friends. It's not good to grieve alone.

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  3. Wow, this is FABULOUS advice -- sooner or later we're all going to need it.

    I read the other day that someone was feeling guilty about her grief because she felt like it meant she hadn't appreciated her husband enough while he was alive.

    Then a friend told her that grief showed she DID appreciate him, and to view it as gratitude for what God had given her during their marriage.

    Which made me feel a whole lot better about the idea of grieving -- seeing it as a sign of gratitude for something good seemed nicer. Although probably there's no way to predict any such feeling until it actually happens.

    Thanks, Roz!

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    1. Laurie, wonderful advice from that one friend to another. I know people often shy away from speaking to someone who has lost a loved one, about that person. But I believe it helps.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this, Roz. I was fortunate that in high school (a long time ago), they implemented a mandatory class on just this subject. This process has helped me numerous times and I'm glad it's helped you. Very important information. I hope you won't have to use it much in the near future. Hugs.

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    1. Anna, I agree with what Liz said below. It should be a class we all take at an early age given how many of us lose friends and/or family when we are not prepared.

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    2. Anna, That is a fabulous class! I wish more schools implemented life skills instead of spelling drills.

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  5. Roz, your blog is essential for all of us. What I found interesting was your comment about Americans being death avoidant. Sadly, this is remarkably true. We do everything we can to pretend that life will go on forever. That all disease can be cured. That all prayer works how we want it to work. I've read Elizabeth Kubler-Ross for decades and can't recommend her work enough. On my "to-be-read again" tallest pile are so many books on death and dying and the after-life. However, it is living THIS life that presents such challenge. Thank you again for this blog.

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    1. Catherine, I appreciate your note and like that you have such books on your reading list. Not many psychologists have dealt with the subject as succinctly and directly as Elizabeth.

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  6. Roz - you're like having a college professor among the Heartwarmers! What good information - I have a friend enduring the process and doing heroically, but this might help, too. Will invite her to the blog. You didn't bum our Friday, but enlightened it! Happy weekend, everyone.

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    1. Muriel, I'm glad you don't feel that I used our joint blog spot as a downer. I really feel these steps are important. Thanks for checking in. Good luck to your friend.

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  7. Roz, this is such a beautiful post and so timely too. Today marks the 19th anniversary of my mother's death at the young age of 49. So much of what you said is true. Especially how the griever goes through a whole series of firsts. Four years ago, son was in a serious car accident and one of his friends was killed. I witnessed his mother go through those stages. My heart still breaks for her as even now, 4 years later, she's still missing out on firsts. That kind of pain never really goes away, and I think that's okay. Like you said, it's reaching that last stage and learning to accept and cope.

    A friend of mine once told me that right after a love one's death you are surrounded by friends and family offering condolences, checking on you, supporting you. But after a short time, they go on with their lives and don't realize that yours will never be the same. The hardest parts often come after 6 months have passed. People forget that your pain is still fresh because of those new firsts and don't understand why you're not just moving on.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post and what great advice. I'll have to check out Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's book.

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    1. LeAnne, I'm so sorry to know you lost your mother while so young yourself. And I can't think of much worse than losing a child. I do believe the steps are the same, but that some phases take longer. And because our holidays are such important, and generally fun family events, the hole a loss leaves is stark and emotional. Thanks for your insight.

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    2. Wow, LeAnne, so sorry to hear you lost your mom so young. And I so know what you mean about after those first weeks. I try to make a point of writing notes all through that first year and especially around important dates that mark those firsts. It is so important. And death is something everyone feels uncomfortable talking about which is why that happens. Thanks for sharing

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  8. Dear, wonderful Roz: You are, of course right on. PJ and I were active leaders in The Compassionate Friends - for parents who have experienced the death of a child or sibling - for seventeen years. We learned that well-meaning friends couldn't help with sentences that started with "At least..." or "You should..." What did help were sentences that started with "I'm sorry..." and "Let's go out for coffee..."
    Love,
    Sam

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  9. Sam, I know what you went through, and the Compassionate Friends are so helpful to people in need of support. You and PJ do good work.

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  10. Hi Roz, What a great post and a subject we need to address more in our culture. Death is something everyone feels uncomfortable talking about and that makes it tough on the person grieving. Sometimes they just need to talk it out.

    Thanks for sharing this. I know what you mean about losing a lot of family and friends lately. I guess we are getting to that age. yikes.

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    1. Sandra, I avoid saying I'm getting to that age--but it's true. Only now we see friends losing friends way too young. Sadness.

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  11. Grieving IS hard, no way around it. I remember looking down at the floor in our laundry room and the linoleum basically became my mother, and I ended up howling into the washer. And the first time I went grocery shopping without her nearly did me in. Took me a long time to be able to shop for food without falling apart... The little things.

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    1. Victoria, so true. And those little things crop up at unforeseen times, too. Thanks for stopping by.

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  12. Roz, this is such an important topic and thank you for your courage to share it. My mother died 30 years ago this year, 9 days before I graduated from the Naval Academy and 12 days before my wedding. We didn't cancel the wedding because it would have gone against everything my mother stood for. Those initial months after her death were so dark, so overwhelming. And I was trying to start a new marriage and Naval career, too. After much therapy work (professionally and with my friends) I've learned that grief indeed, never ends. It gets less "sharp," but I still have moments when I come upon pools of anguish that I didn't cry out yet. It's okay. My love and joy at thoughts of my mom far outweigh my grief at this point. Yet it's still a process, a journey. And then there's grief for our old selves, former ways of life, long-held beliefs proved false. Grief, to me, is the cycle of life. Once I open my heart to acceptance, for whatever I'm struggling with, there's room again for joy and serenity.

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    1. Geri, your response to my post has added so much depth to the subject. What a heart-wrenching time for you to lose your mother. While time dulls the pain, and good memories help, you're so right that grief never fully goes away.

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  13. Thanks, Roz. It's so easy to feel alone when you're grieving, but it is something we all share. *hugs*

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    1. Thanks Vicky--for the note and the hug. Really, sometimes that is the best response.

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  14. Roz,

    Thank you for this. You're right, we grieve so many different things in life. It's important to know that we are allowed to have down moments and that these moments can actually help us be healthier - as long as we don't get stuck in them. So so true...

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    1. Tara, I couldn't agree more. It's okay to have grief crop up momentarily at those memorable times in life, but it's not good to remain stuck in the tragic part. Thanks for stopping by.

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  15. My husband died 3 years ago. After 18 months, I thought I was doing very well. Then, June 18th would have been our 50th anniversary. I fell apart. I yelled at people, wept, slept, and ate. Grief doesn't' go away. It hits you when least expected and most expected. But it diminishes greatly over time until memories are lovely and the end is a vague memory.

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    1. Jane, it's been since 2010 for me, but I was with my daughter over dad's day this year, and for grand-twins h.s. graduation. Both were weepy, remembering times for us at how much Denny would have loved to be with us. And I think maybe he was. Keep on keeping on, and thanks for dropping by.

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  16. What beautiful words. After my husband died almost 20 years ago, I remember thinking that if I could just make it past the 1 year mark, everything would go back to normal, or at least change. Well, the first year came and nothing changed. That's when I learned that everyone grieves at a different pace.

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    1. Patricia, it's hard to learn these lessons during the days, months and years of loss. I don't think we're meant to have those loving thoughts and feelings fully go away. The hope is they will lessen over time. Tell me they do.

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    2. They do get better. It really is true that time heals. For some it takes longer than others, though. And at times, the grief can be as fresh as the day it started, but that doesn't last as long either.

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  17. Roz,
    Thank you so much for this post! The timing couldn't be better for me. This week has brought the incredible news that my prim and proper biological mother, (who died when I was a teenager,) had a secret baby 2 1/2 years before me that she gave up for adoption. Not a soul knew, not her siblings, her parents or even her best friend.
    I feel as if I've been dropped into the middle of a Harlequin novel.
    My older sister and I have connected just this week!
    The curiosity I was feeling has passed into several of these stages of grief. I know I'm grieving about the loss of the relationship growing up, not knowing her for all these years, and the sadness and guilt that she missed out on our wonderful Grandpa and other wonderful family experiences. I feel fortunate in that I was able to talk to her about it and she was having some of the same feelings.
    I'm right in the middle of the whirl wind right now and I'm going to use your list above as a guide to what to expect next, so we can get through and get on with building a solid relationship.

    Thank you!!!

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    1. Shannon, I am blown away by your news. I've had friends who knew they were adopted, who took a long time to do a search. But I've never known anyone on the other side of the equation. Knowing you, I don't have any doubt but that you will make her welcome and that this will enrich both your lives. Keep in touch.

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  18. Roz, I'm glad you mentioned that people can grieve over more than the death of a loved one. I'm not sure people understood how I felt when, after years of struggling, my son was diagnosed with a mental illness. As his mother, I went through a period that felt very much like the stages of grief.

    By the way, he's so much better now and enjoying a quality of life I had only hoped he have :)

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    1. Cathy, thanks for underscoring that grief can come over us for many reasons. I'm so happy that things are better for your son. We may hold in more things if it's a bad experience affecting our children.

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  19. Roz, you are a dear for choosing this topic. Expressing grief openly and talking about death, dead ones, memories of those who are gone so ordinary in Spain is one thing I miss about life there.

    One does feel joy again but not easily if obligated to repress these stages. Maybe stages of grief could be a high school lesson in health class?

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    1. I think you are so right. I wish all schools could have a class like Anna J mentioned she was able to attend growing up. It's like we all are aware there's a circle of life, but do our best to suppress the truth when it happens to a friend or loved one.

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  20. Great blog, Roz. We don't do a very good job of grieving loss in this country. Getting the info out there is always a good thing!

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  21. Vicki, very true. You and I have discussed it before, and both agree we like the celebrations of life that help family and friends get past the initial impact of a funeral.

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  22. Thanks for this great post, Roz. My family has experienced a number of blows this year, including death and illness, and your words help. It never occurred to me that the diagnosis of an illness in a young child would cause all of the adults in his life to go through the grieving process. We're working our way through, but are a long way from acceptance.

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  23. Patti, I am glad you took something from this blog as I know you've had a lot on your plate this year.

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  24. Roz, What a hard, but important topic. We lost my mother-in-law and grandmother both in the same year. It was a hard one. Grieving is part of the process...it helps to have people to lean on.

    Holly

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    1. Holly, truer words were never spoken. I don't know how people without other people get through life's many ups and downs.

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  25. Roz-
    Wonderful Post.As you know I lost my mother over 40 years ago. I was 17. I held everything in because I thought I had to for my dad and brothers.I woke up ten years later thinking I was having a heart attack. After a few years of therapy I learned it was ok to grieve. Over the years I have learned that
    it never really leaves but you are better able to deal with it with passage of time.

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    1. Elaine, you have summed it up so nicely. And what you've said here really shows that bottling up grief can have lasting effects. Thanks for adding to this life lesson.

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  26. Roz, thank you for this post and for recommending a couple books on the subject. I am one of those Americans who struggle with the circle of life. I've had a rough three years with the suicide of my brother-in-law, the sudden death of my dad, then my grandmother, and just last month my 22-year old cousin. It feels like I've been living constantly in one of these stages or another. (Maybe even more than one at a time?) Losing someone to suicide is especially difficult - that "bargaining" phase crops up over and over again. I'm not sure it will ever completely pass. Thank you!

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  27. Carol, I am so sorry that you've had this terrible time of loss in your life. Death that strikes at any time in a person's life is hard for the ones left behind. More-so when it tragically makes little sense. And we struggle to understand it all. I wish you the best in getting through a most difficult time. And it surely will be a one-day-at-a-time process.

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  28. Thank you for this info, Roz. I am going through this but my mother is very much alive. She has dementia so I call this a long mourning period. She is here in body but we mourn for the person she was.

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  29. Thank you for this info, Roz. I am going through this but my mother is very much alive. She has dementia so I call this a long mourning period. She is here in body but we mourn for the person she was.

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