What are the five stages of grief?
Presented in the book by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, this list of the five stages of grief has long been accepted as the basis for most grief recovery groups. Some break it into seven stages.
It has been found, however, that some may feel frustration when they see their own grief not proceeding in that exact order. Or seeing it move back and forth. Both are quite normal. Everyone is unique in acceptance and recovery.
These stages of grief that she identified actually were first published with the intent to assist a patient deal with approaching death. The utilization of these stages in grief recovery became popular as a method of choice when grief recovery groups were surfacing.
The trend of compartmentalizing grief is attractive; however, grief is messy and difficult to contain in neatly named categories
What are the best ways to deal with grief?
The stages can be used as tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. They are not intended as measured steps on some linear timeline in grief. Each person faces grief individually and follows no exact pattern. Helping them face the pain and move forward is the role of the counselor.
Grieve early and grieve hard, we are told. In the first few days of a major loss in the death of a spouse or other close member of family, the shock and denial push us through. Then reality hits us. “Stuffing it’ and refusing to deal with the emotional loss for a lengthy time is not healthy. Accepting the loss, experiencing the pain, and dealing with the memories will aid in recovery.
In my personal search for a word of hope for something with which the pain could be more quickly assuaged, I began to read stacks of books on grief, especially those written by a widow. I felt that if she had lived long enough to write a book, she may have found a quick solution to my pain.
The only author, who I thought seemed to feel his loss in as profound a manner as I, was Sheldon Vanauken in his book, A Severe Mercy dealing with his wife’s death. “How could any one person leave such a void in the entire galaxy?”
How do you find closure after losing a loved one?
I agree that there is no moment of closure in grieving – do we really want to close and be done with the life of one we love? Perhaps it is more therapeutic and enlightening to strive for an acceptance of what was, a thankfulness for the love of that person, and the wonderful gift of memory for a lifetime. When we are no longer completely controlled by the grief of loss, we are ready to move on to the fullness of life that God has promised us – different but promising. Not willing to forget, but rather to be thankful for the blessing we had of loving and having been loved by the person with whom we shared our life.
Where is God in my loss?
Because both my husband and I are believers and had placed our faith in Jesus Christ, there was no question but that he was with the Lord and that I would again see him when I enter heaven.
Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’John 11:25,26
This fact gave me the great consolation and hope that we have in Christ – stronger and more certain than ever before. But I was young, and the burden of grief was still suffocating at times. A personal faith in God is the ultimate healing factor, because it focuses on eternal peace and heavenly joy. In his graciousness, God led me out of the fog.
The work of grief recovery
One of the books I was given to read made a grief comparison to that of having a thorn pierce one’s leg and break off. No matter how you may treat it and it may even heal on the surface, without addressing it and removing it, eventually it will become inflamed and become a very serious problem It does not stay buried in the muscle. Early treatment, early facing reality – promotes a smoother, faster, and more productive healing. Much like grief.
Bring out the albums, the memory books, talk about the departed, tell funny stories, tell how frustrating he was at time, cry out your need and your pain. Healing begins. Wholeness is possible. Joy returns. A new purpose is found. Relationships may be altered or restored. Eventually, new relationships are built. Life continues.
In another book by Kubler Ross, “On Death and Dying”, she makes this very insightful observation regarding the human spirit of the survivor dealing with grief:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out from the depths. ‘Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.
Everyone grieves differently
Grief is as individual as is the person grieving. It may be comforting to hear how others have faced their loss and made progress. Finding assurance that what you are experiencing is in the range of considered normality is reassuring.
But the journey is very personal. No two people heal in the same manner. The makeup of the person, the circumstances revolving around the death, i.e. cause, age, etc. will be factors in recovery. Much depends on one’s past experience in dealing with major losses, the support system available and the faith history of those involved.
Being able to verbalize the feelings, guided by a wise counselor, and being assured that your grief, though peculiar to only you, is still not unusual and progress is being made.
Everything we are familiar with changes when a major loss occurs. Our present, our future, our relationships, our family role context, and our extended family connectivity experience upheaval. Each individual must sort through it all and find stability in the new paradigm.
Denial may appear in the days of early grief. Denial helps us to pace the acceptance of reality. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle and later releasing it in increments. Everything we are familiar with changes. Of course, we are bewildered and even numb. The outcome of much work leads one to accept the loss, see a future, and begin working toward fashioning a new way of life that honors the deceased as well as the living.
Grief recovery was the most fatiguing stage of my life. So much to contend with, so many decisions, such a heavy load of grief, aloneness, and loneliness, and did I mention decisions?
There are the expectations of well-meaning family and friends. There are the finances that seem such a nuisance but require utmost care. There are still just the normal demands of life even as your soul cries out, “Don’t you know that (name) died?”
“When faced with a loss, you are forced to make a choice between two alternatives. You could wallow in despair over what you have lost, wishing what has changed had never changed. Or you could engage with grief, which allows you to adapt and keep moving forward.” Worden
How do you accept the reality of death?
Some denial can serve a purpose in that it allows you to slowly absorb the total meaning of the loss. However, wallowing in denial is the antithesis of acceptance. You must confront your own denial and accept that the loss has occurred. Painful, but cathartic.
Loss will not disappear through denial. Acceptance is a hated word at that time, but it is the first step toward acknowledgement and the beginning of moving forward.
As one embraces the pain, begins to take steps and then purposeful strides to returning to a meaningful lifestyle with purpose and clarity, the feeling of life and clarity begins to return. We honor the departed by climbing back to a meaningful life.
In my own situation, two thoughts surrounded my grieving spirit: 1) God had left me for a purpose and 2) my husband would have been very disappointed to know I chose to sit in a corner, paralyzed by grief, missing out on all the blessings and opportunities that were mine to claim.
Working through the Anguish of Grief
In any great loss, there is an abundance of emotion in all forms. These are the emotions that must be clearly confronted before healing can begin.
You may experience anger as never before. It may be against the driver who caused the death, the doctor who you think made a mistake, or even thinking God made a mistake.
It is not unusual in one’s despair to search for someone to blame. Or, in sudden death, to even think we need to roll back time and redo that day in another way – and even wonder if that is possible.
Blaming oneself is very common. “I should have known, I should have done, I wasn’t there, I’m responsible” – when all of these are so foreign to the truth that others cannot understand where you are coming from.
Fleshing out these feelings may require professional help. Confiding in a trusted friend allows us to verbalize these feelings of anguish, identify their source and confront them. Again, cleaning the wound so healing can commence is essential.
Understand that grieving is a process and you are not abnormal. Accept the fact and believe this has really happened. Be willing to experience the pain and work to adjusting to a new norm in the new environment where the person no longer resides. Slowly begin to reinvest in the actuality of your new world.
Weep, journal if you are so inclined, weep some more, write down your feelings (hide the notebook under your mattress between entries, if you are not ready to share) and weep some more. It is a process and you are making progress. Life goes on and you must move onward.
The sooner and more intense you grieve, the sooner you heal. Stages are not neat and orderly. What you feel is personal, unique to you and owned by you
Consider joining a grief recovery group after a few weeks. Just sharing with other strugglers and observing others making strides forward is encouraging and helpful.
Remember the promise of God:
In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.John 16:33