Throughout our lives we’ll all face grief in some form – whether it’s the death of a partner, parent or child; the end of a relationship or even another life-changing move, a move that leaves you with a huge sense of loss. Although the situations behind this can be quite different, our emotional responses can be very similar and understanding these can be instrumental in dealing with the process.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross , a psychologist specialising in bereavement drew up the 5 Stages of Grief model, which psychologists believe is a universal response to mourning. It’s believed we experience each of these steps in the grieving process, although not necessarily in the same order or over the same time scale. If we’re really unlucky we can experience some of the stages twice or over a prolonged period – BUT it’s important to realise that, no matter how dark it may seem, these are all steps forward in the process. There is a light at the end, unfortunately at the outset the glow is overshadowed by sadness.
What is Grief?
Grief is entirely natural. The deep feeling of suffering you experience when you lose someone or something. The more significant the loss, the more intense the pain – bereavement is usually the most intense type of grief but grief can be caused by a number of factors:
- The death of a loved one
- Separation and end of a relationship
- Loss of a job or retirement
- Serious illness
- Selling the family home
- Loss of financial stability
- Loss of a friendship
So what are the stages?
Sometimes the reality of the situation is so hard to face, we try and shut this out. “It can’t have happened, it’s not true!”
Realisation and pain slowly takes over and the doubt is replaced with outrage –“How can this have happened? It’s not fair! How can they have died/ left?”
This stage isn’t rational, but a way of deflecting the intense emotion we’re experiencing. The anger may be directed at others or ourselves, even the dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.
The ‘If Only’ stage….”I’d do anything to stop this”. Anyone facing the end of a relationship can probably recognise this, the panic, the hope that if they change then the other party will stay. You may find yourself trying anything to wind things back to how they were. Unfortunately bargaining rarely provides a suitable resolution
When anger subsides, this is when depression is often sharpening its claws. The realisation that you can‘t change the situation often leads to a deep void and feeling of pointlessness. Life becomes meaningless, you may find yourself spending a lot of time crying, disconnected from everything going on around you. While everything seems black, the feelings of deep sadness, fear, regret and uncertainty are perfectly normal and actually mark the transition to acceptance of the situation.
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognising that this new reality is the permanent reality. This doesn’t mean the pain of loss is any less, but rather you’re now feeling strong enough to manage this, and calmer about the future.
This stage can feel uncomfortable for a while, particularly when you’ve been bereaved and moving on and starting to live life again can feel like you’re betraying your lost loved one.
Everyone Grieves Differently
Although the stages above are universal, there is no timescale to grief and how you travel this journey depends on a number of factors. It can safely be said however that it takes time. Grief can’t be forced or hurried and won’t conform to any set timetable. It’s important to be patient with yourself and see every day as a step closer.
Don’t seek to numb the pain with alcohol or drugs as although this may numb your emotions for a while, it only serves to lengthen the process. Antidepressants can help in some cases, and professional help should be sought if you’re feeling unable to perform your daily activities, or feel your depression is becoming deeply ingrained.