Although you may not know it, you may be experiencing grief. Many people think of grieving in terms of dealing with death, but we can grieve for many reasons:
· The loss of a job, pet or loved one
· Childhood trauma and abuse
· Growing older, loss of health or mobility
· Moving to a new home or area
· Disappointment in a loved one’s choices
· Marital problems
· Addiction issues—yours or someone else’s
· Illness of a loved one or yourself
According to the often-quoted work of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross there are five stages of the grieving process. One generally does not move through this process in a linear fashion and therefore it is common for a person to revisit each of the stages several times in random order. Because the process of grieving is unique for everyone the amount of time spent moving through these steps will vary greatly from person to person.
Stages of the Grieving Process (Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross*):
1. Shock/Denial: This stage involves being in a state of disbelief about what is happening or has happened. A person in denial rejects the reality or the gravity of the loss. A person in shock usually feels numb. Shock and denial are protective mechanisms to prevent someone from emotional breakdown. When one’s ability to deal with a loss increases, shock wears off and denial usually decreases.
2. Anger: People are sometimes surprised at the intense feelings of anger and resentment after a loss. People in this stage may act-out or ask why the loss had to happen. They may be angry at the world and sometimes take it out on other people, or themselves. It is very important to get help with anger that feels out of control. Anger can be dealt with in a healthy way. Feeling it finally dissipate is a form of liberation.
3. Bargaining: This stage is characterized by desperate attempts to cushion or prevent the loss. A person may strike a bargain to try to make the situation go away. However, some losses are forever and there is no amount of bargaining that can effectively change history. Eventually, despite all our mental maneuvering, we realize things have changed and the past is not coming back.
4. Depression: This is the pervasive feeling of sadness usually associated with grief. Depression often includes feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. A depressed person may feel exhausted by anger and bargaining and have little energy for those things anymore. Depression is normal after a loss, and it helps to talk about it when you’re ready. Treatment for depression can be very helpful and generally has good outcomes. See a therapist or join a support group but please don’t suffer alone.
5. Acceptance: Coming to acceptance usually comes after a good deal of emotional work. Accepting a loss does not mean we like the fact it happened. Acceptance means choosing to be happy again, whenever possible, in spite of the loss. It means acknowledging the reality of the loss and trying to live as fully as possible afterward. Reaching this stage doesn’t mean we never feel sad or angry about the loss again. It is common to feel acceptance one day and depression the next. Eventually we learn the grieving process can be managed. Sometimes acceptance is choosing peace, forgiveness and letting go of that which we can’t control on a daily basis.
If you feel your grief is unusually complicated or prolonged, it is highly recommended to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Grief Recovery Helpline: 800-445-4808
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255
Compassionate Friends (death of a child) 1-708-990-0010
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) 1-800-247-4370
*Based on the book from: Kubler-Ross, E. (2014). On Grief and Grieving; Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York: Scribner.