Over 30 years ago psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book called ‘on death and dying’ in which she out lined the 5 stages of grief. Through her work she had been observing people who were living with a terminal illness and found that those stages were more likely to be experienced by a dying patient. Although she made it clear that it was not etched in stone because they may not go through any of the stages let alone go through them in sequence.
Since its publication, many people use her book as a tool to measure their emotions and as guide as to how the griever is supposed to move forward through their stages of grief, but those stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are used to reflect how people cope with the reality of death and dying and they were never intended to be used as a tool to move through grief. You see, if you feel that this is how it has to be in order to get through your emotional pain, then this could lead the griever into thinking that there is a set pattern of specific reactions to be followed after the death of a loved one, which is not true.
Sadly, many health care professionals continue to prescribe those stages to people struggling with emotional pain and although a griever might experience some or even all of those feeling stages, it is not a correct or helpful basis for dealing with the conflicting feelings caused by loss. And many people feel that if they are not going through those stages of grief, then they must be doing something wrong, but, there is no step by step process. Your grief is your own and you will move through it in your own way.
I get it, because, when loss hits you hard you’re usually in need of some kind of guide book, and so for many they turn to the ‘five stages of grief’ hoping that it will help them to mend a broken heart. But grief is not linier and it doesn’t fit neatly into a box, there is no predictable pattern and there are no set stages of grief. Everyone is different and will grieve in their own unique way.
Let’s look at denial, I can honestly say that when my family members died all within eight months of each other, there was absolutely no denying the fact that they had gone. Also, there was no denying that my life had changed and I hated it. I felt more disbelief than anything, it was hard to swallow that three of my family members had died so close together. I remember feeling numb and everything seemed so surreal, yet at the same time I felt a huge sense relief because I couldn’t bear to see my brother suffering and struggling through the pain of pancreatic cancer.
I remember feeling so heartbroken that my family were no longer physically here, but I finally found peace in believing that they lived together and they died together so maybe now, they were all together again. I felt grateful that got to say goodbye to my dad and my brother, but I felt guilty and sad at not being with mum when she died, however, I came to the conclusion that maybe she wanted to be alone when she left this world, maybe that’s just the way she wanted it to be, because ten minutes after my brother and his wife left her hospital room, she left her body.
Now, it could be a very different story and created different feelings If we had not gotten along so well, I mighthave been angry that she died before we had a chance to repair any damage, and If that were true I would definitely need to include the sense of anger into my emotion list because that would have left me feeling like I had a lot if unfinished business with that relationship, fortunately, that was not the case.
You see, unresolved grief or undelivered communication of an emotional nature can fill us with a host of feelings that may be attached to those unsaid things like; happiness, sadness, love, fear, guilt, anger, relief, and compassion, which are just some of the feelings that a griever might experience and feel very confused.
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to loss, and grief is emotional not intellectual, but those so-called stages of grief can easily confuse a griever, and personally I prefer to help each griever find their own expression of their thoughts and feelings. You see, if grief is left undealt with, pain and hurt will diminish a person’s quality of life and let’s be honest, each and every one of us will bring different and varying beliefs to all of those losses that occur in our lives, therefore we will each perceive and feel very differently about each and every loss.
If a person feels depressed after a loss (and its quite normal to do so) its mainly due to their heavy heartache unless they were clinically depressed before the loss. Depression is not a stage that you move through and time alone does not heal that emotional pain, nothing will change unless you find the courage to take action and do something about it.
As for acceptance, I find that’s a strange and confusing one for grievers, let’s face it, if we are not in denial about what’s happened, then we must have accepted our loss otherwise we wouldn’t be grieving. As for guilt well, I have to say for a short while I did feel guilty for not being with my mum when she died, but in doing the grief recovery program I quickly learnt that the feeling of guilt really represented things I wished had been different, better, or more in my relationship with my mum. The truth was that I felt lost, scared, overwhelmed, and devastated because I no longer had my parents, my older brother, or my family home and roots back in England.
So, no matter how much you long for that guide book for grievers, please know that it’s your journey to deal with as you choose. Grief takes many different forms and it’s experienced in limitless ways that really cannot be explained in five simple stages. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, you know that your life has changed forever and you will miss your loved one.
So, no comparing or feeling that you’re doing something wrong, there are many healthy ways to let go of your emotional pain you just have to find what works for you, that way you’ll be able to focus on those loving and fond memories.
Just as the grief recovery program helped me, it will provide you with meaningful bereavement support, it can help you take action to deal with any of the underlying issues that makes your grief feel so overwhelming. Grief is an emotion and not an intellectual issue, when you take the right action you can once again enjoy those fond memories without being overwhelmed by your emotional pain, and that will allow you to regain control over your happiness and your future. So why wait another day?
Right now, you probably are feeling overwhelmed and wondering how on earth you are going to survive on your own. You may start to question yourself and wonder if you have the energy to even try, where on earth do you start?
Here are some practical suggestions to help you move toward healing.
1.Grieve in your own way. No one can tell you that they know how you feel, because they don’t, they only know how they felt when they experienced a loss. Your experience is influenced by your circumstances surrounding the death, or any other losses you may have experienced. So, do yourself a favor, and don’t compare your experience with that of others. You may feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself, acknowledge your feelings as it’s all part of the grieving process. Take it one day at a time and move at your own pace.
2.Feel and talk about your emotions. Healing truly starts when you can share your grief with others. Find a safe person who will listen and allow yourself to talk about the death and your feelings. Death affects you physically, mentally and emotionally. Fear, loneliness, confusion, relief, anger and guilt are just a few emotions that you may feel. Don’t worry if out of the blue you suddenly feel overwhelmed by your emotional pain, these feelings are normal and natural reactions to any significant loss. Don’t try to push them away, allow yourself to feel and try to learn from these emotions.
3.Give yourself a break. Self-care is so important for your emotional well-being, when you practice consciously taking care of yourself it’s something that you’ll never regret. Your body and mind react to grief and during periods of intense grief you may experience, appetite changes, feel emotionally drained, can’t sleep, have mood swings or loss of concentration. Be kind to yourself, grief is painful so treat yourself as you would a friend and allow yourself the time and space to feel your grief. Give yourself a break and lower your expectations for yourself, don’t expect to do as much as you did before your loss and know that it’s OK if you need to breakdown and cry, accept that sometimes you might have a bad day for what seems like no apparent reason and that’s OK too.
4.Connect and communicate. Find yourself a support system as it’s one of the most important things you can do for your well-being. Go for a walk with a trusted friend, find a non-judgmental listener with whom you feel comfortable talking about your grief. Communicate with family and friends so that they can help you Find a support group that you might want to attend, and if you need extra support don’t hesitate to find a professional, you have the right to express your grief and you also have the right not to share. You have to do what feels right for you.
5.Celebrate your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies a spouse leaves when they die and it’s important to remember that those fond memories do not live in the pain of grief… Your memories live in the stories you tell to you friends or the ones you share together with your family. They live in the things you used to love to do together, in the things you do to honor your loved ones memory. They live in the laughter you make, the food you loved to eat, the music you danced to and listened to on those long car ride, they live in the pictures you have, in your holidays and adventures you experienced together. Those memories live in you, deep within in your heart waiting for you to move on from your pain.