Stages of Grief
The stages of grief are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life. Some have young children still to bring up and some are older left with an empty house. Some are financially secure and others are struggling with the loss of income. The lucky ones have the support of family and friends, while others are on their own.
Emotionally everyone handles it differently and yet there is a common bond shared.
They do not necessarily occur in order and we often move back and forth between stages in our own grief journey. They were first proposed by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.”
It’s helpful to look at them as guides in the grieving process — it helps you understand and put into context where you are in your own journey.
1. Denial and Isolation
The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to being overwhelmed. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain, the funeral and the first few months on our own.
As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at our 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 can cause us even more emotional pain.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor to give you extra time or to explain just once more the details of your loved one’s illness. Arrange a special appointment or ask that he telephone you at the end of his day. Ask for clear answers to your questions regarding medical diagnosis and treatment. Understand the options available to you. Take your time.
The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control–
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner…
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them…
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction of sadness and regret. We worry about the costs and burial. We worry about just about everything. The second type of depression is more private. It is our quiet preparation to bid our loved one farewell. This is where we really need the support of friends and family.
Reaching this stage of mourning is not necessarily a mark of bravery. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression. Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. Their behavior implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited.
The following Tips and Advice come from the “The Sisterhood of Widows”
Coping with loss is a deeply personal experience that you have to go through. Nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. Accept the love and support others give you as they help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you.
- Think and talk positivity about yourself. Without a strong self-image, it’s hard to move forward. You need to focus on creating a healthy self-image of a person who can handle the loss and yet still let the world see the loving, caring, wonderful person you truly are.
- Keep talking and expressing your feelings of anger, remorse, loneliness and sadness.
- Writing in a journal will give you awareness on a conscious level of all the changes taking place in your life. At the end of six months go back and look through what has transpired in your day to day life. Write out positive affirmations for you to repeat every day. This positive self-talk will help to counteract the negative things. Example: “I am strong and can do anything that needs to be done.” Write your own script of what you want your life story to be from now on. If you don’t take on the job of creating your own life, who will?
- Cry for your loss. Every day you can start over and don’t be too hard on yourself; it will get easier as you heal.
- Memories will never leave you and there will be days that you will say; “If he knew what I was doing, he would be upset” or “If she could see me now, she would be laughing till she cried.” Let the memories flow to give you courage to move forward.
- Take care of yourself physically and mentally with proper food, rest and exercise. If you don’t maintain your energy it’s harder to cope and easier to fall into a state of depression.
- When it’s the loss of a parent, you have to resist the temptation to rationalize it as “They lived a long life.” You suffered a significant loss so take time to properly grieve.
- The death of a child is an impossible grief because parents expect to outlive their children. Children are supposed to live and keep the adventure of life alive for their parents. Hold onto your memories and treasure them by doing a scrapbook, a special garden spot, a memory candle or some other creative way just for you.
- Stop to evaluate regrets and comments like, “Why is this happening to me?” The truth is that everything is not always a positive, uplifting experience. Your life will have its peaks and valleys as you travel along your path. There can be incredible healing in being able to let go and be open to new opportunities coming from unexpected sources. When you open yourself to changes new people will show up at just the right time to help you.
- All changes occur in an instant. Making a decision one way or another gives you a clear course of action and the momentum of purpose. Not making decisions because it’s too difficult or too painful will lead to physical and emotional stress. Take that stress and use it as a catalyst to create something positive in your life.
- Take the fear out of change. You have already faced the biggest change with the loss of your loved one. Nothing can be as bad, so challenge yourself to heal and live a full life. In due time, you will learn to let go of what you cannot control. Open your heart to the awareness that you are worth a lot to the world and in turn the world wants to give back to you. You are no longer the same person and you have the opportunity to do great things for yourself and others. A great thing can be as simple as being “the very best friend or grandparent” that a child could know.
- Today relax and be present in your life. Make attempts to do something outside your comfort zone that will stretch your boundaries. It’s always easier to curse the darkness than to go after the light. Being responsible for the light, will access all the power you have within you and that is true healing.