Understanding the Stages of Grief
The 5 stages have been very misunderstood over the past several decades. The identification of the stages was not meant to box in people’s emotions into neat little packages. They are some of the responses to loss that many people have. Just as there is not typical loss, there is no typical response – everyone will grieve in their own way.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and they are a part of the process of learning to live without the one we lost. They are tools to help us understand and identify what we may be feeling. Everyone will not go through all the stages and the order may be different. Understanding the stages will help layout a map of the process and better equip people to deal with loss.
In this first stage, life can start to feel meaningless and overwhelming. We are in a state of shock and wonder how we are going to go on with our lives. Finding a way to get through each day becomes very hard. Denial and shock are coping mechanisms that help us survive. Denial helps us to control the pace of our grief. It is nature’s way of limiting the flood of emotions pouring over us all at one time.
As the reality of the loss starts sinking in you will naturally start asking yourself questions. And with these questions comes the other feelings you were denying.
A necessary stage of grief is the Anger stage. You must be willing and free to feel your anger, as difficult and endless as it may seem. The more you allow yourself to feel it, the more it will begin to fade and the more you will recover. There are a lot of other emotions under the anger that will surface in time. Anger is an emotion that reaches very far. It can be extended to your family, friends, doctors, your loved one who passed, and even to God.
Anger provides strength and it can be like an anchor that gives a temporary structure to the feelings of nothingness you are experiencing. Grief can at first make you feel lost with no direction or connection to anything. Then anger sets in and is directed at someone like a family member, the doctor; it could really be anyone for any different number of reasons. The anger you place on someone else suddenly gives you some sort of structure. The anger becomes a connection to hold on to that feels better than nothingness. We are usually better at suppressing anger than openly feeling it.
During the time leading up to the loss of a loved one it seems as though we would do anything to stop it from happening, including trading places with them and make promises to God asking him to spare them.
Our mind become crowded with a flood of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life to be as it was and for our loved one to come back to us. We want a “do over”, a chance to go back and do things differently like: go to the doctor more frequently, find the illness sooner and start treatment sooner, stop the accident from happening, and so on. These thoughts lead way to a heavy burden of guilt and we blame ourselves for the things we could have done differently. People sometimes think the stages will last a few weeks or months. The feelings in each stage can last for minutes or hours and we can bounce in and out them several times a day. It is not a linear progression.
This next stage moves us squarely into the present. Emptiness and grief grow stronger and deeper than we ever thought it could. This depression feels like it will never end. It’s important to know that this type of depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the natural response to suffering a loss of this magnitude. Depression after a loss is wrongly seen as unnatural and as something that needs to be fixed or snapped out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. Not experiencing depression after a loved one passes away would be unusual. When the loss fully sets in, and the realization that your loved one is not coming back becomes real, depression will naturally follow.
Acceptance is wrongfully assumed to be the point where everything is all better now. This is not true. Most people don’t ever fully and completely get over the loss of a loved one. This stage is when we accept the reality that our loved one is physically gone and we recognize our new life’s permanent reality. We won’t ever like this reality, but we eventually accept it. In an effort to resist the new normal, many people will at first try to maintain life just as it was before. In time, through small doses of acceptance we realize that we cannot continue to do this. Life has been forever changed and we must readjust.
Real progress may be just having more good days than bad ones. Many people feel as though they are betraying their loved when they begin to start living and enjoy life again. Nothing can replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections with others and start a new. We shouldn’t suppress our feelings. We listen and respond to our needs, move on, change, grow and evolve. We invest in our relationships with others and in ourselves. We can’t begin to truly live again we have given grief the time to heal.