On grief and grieving

Grief - the process of healing

An escape from the pain

It is commonly understood that the grieving process involves five stages, however, the first important point to make is that we do not enter or leave each stage of grieving in a linear fashion: we may feel one, then another, then go back to the first, so being patient with ourselves is really important, albeit unbelievably difficult.

Stage 1

Denial - This is often our first response to losing someone close. Denial helps us to survive the loss. We feel we cannot go on. Life is meaningless, and we become numb. We feel we will not survive. Shock, and denial, help us cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us pace our feelings of grief; it’s nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle at that time.

Stage 2

Anger - Anger is a strength; strong emotions keep suffering at a distance, they are an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. It means that all those feelings that were too much before, are being allowed to come to the surface. The more anger we allow, the more feelings we find underneath. Anger is there because it is the most immediate emotion. It is an indication of the intensity of our love, so despite hard to deal with comments from friends and family, try not to suppress your anger – explore it.

Stage 3

Bargaining - Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. “If only” or “what if”, we remain in the past. We try and negotiate our way out of pain, and bargaining is a way of escaping from the pain. It is another temporary relief before realisation happens. It can also be there to help our mind move from one state of loss to another – time to adjust. Bargaining may fill the gaps that our strong emotions generally dominate, which often keeps suffering at a distance. Bargaining is just a bridge to feeling, across which we need to go.

Stage 4

Depression - Depression is the appropriate response to a great loss. It is a way for nature to keep us protected, by shutting down the nervous system so that we can adapt to something we feel we cannot handle. It slows us down and allows us to take real stock of the loss. If we sit with our depression and really feel what it is about it allows us to explore our loss in its entirety. It takes us to a depth that we have never been to before and lays a floor down. It allows us to rebuild ourselves from the ground up. It allows growth.

Stage 5

Acceptance - This stage is not about liking a situation. It is about acknowledging all that has been lost, and learning to live with that loss. It is a process we experience, not a final stage with an end point. It is the time we withdraw our energy from the loss, and begin to invest it once more into life.

Telling the story over and over again is a way of denying the pain, while trying to accept the reality of loss, we need to do this, despite sometimes, those around us trying to force us to move on.

Regrets

Chances are, however much you did for your loved one, you always feel there might have been something more you could have done. The feelings of regret need to be investigated though, as they may have a deeper root cause: are there any regrets in other areas of life?

When someone close to us dies, we not only lose their physical presence, we also lose the role they played for us, for example, our protector, our life long companion, our financial support, and hard as it might be to accept, sometimes when someone close to us dies, we can feel relieved at never having to suffer abuse at their hands again, never having to lie about their alcoholism etc, so the grieving process doesn’t always involve loving feelings for another, and often we feel guilt about this.

It’s a complicated process, and one that counselling can be very helpful with. Counselling offers a safe place to express your feelings, to talk about the person you’ve lost, look at photographs, share items that may have been important for you both, do whatever you need, for as long as you need.

Grieving is possibly one of the hardest things we ever have to cope with, and often, the process takes a lot longer than friends, family, and we ourselves would like, and sometimes the process can get stuck, but with the right support, healing from loss can be achieved.

(With thanks to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross for her book ‘On Grief and Grieving - Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss’ available here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grief-Grieving-Finding-Meaning-Through/dp/0743263448/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266525070&sr=1-1)

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