The Different Ways in which Bereavement can Affect People
Bereavement is not an easy or linear thing. It is quite normal for feelings of grief to surface slowly or erratically or to come and go. The grieving process takes time and if there are other things going on in our life it can be stalled (perhaps partly as a defence mechanism).
Although there is no one set way in which people grieve since it is a very individual thing, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified 5 Stages of Grief which tend to happen to most people though the grieving process. These ideas can be of great compassionate help to those who suffer the emotional suffering brought on by loss, death and trauma. The five stages are all relative and all interchangeable. They are all perfectly normal and human. They can come in any order over different lengths of time and in different strengths, and some may be revisited, skimmed over or left out completely. The stages are: denial (refusing to accept that the loss has happened – this is a useful and natural defence mechanism, but ultimately it is a stage that needs to be moved though for healing to take place), anger (this can be directed at life, God, oneself for not doing better, or the lost person or thing), bargaining (perhaps with God or a boss – “if you give me back this lost thing, I will....”), depression (a great outpouring of sadness which is often a beginning of accepting what has happened), acceptance (when some objectivity about carrying on and moving forward happens – and often a dying person will reach this stage long before those they leave behind).
I heard recently of someone whose grief took its time to arrive. For six months after his father’s death he felt and let out little emotion until he heard a favourite song of his dad’s in a shop. He broke down and sobbed almost continuously for the next three days. Grief can never be forced. It happens when you are ready for it. You may get to a stage at which you feel that you have done all of your grieving only to find that you revisit it later on – though often the revisited grief is much less painful than it was at the start.
The same is true for other sorts of loss – divorce, the loss of a job, a friendship, good health or a relationship, for instance. Depending on circumstances, these can all be as painful as a death, but the deep feelings may take time to sink in, especially if you are the sort who finds it difficult to deal with your feelings openly to start with. Feelings need to be expressed or they are repressed and surface in all sorts of unhealthy ways – avoidant behaviour, anger, snappiness with others etc.
Often one part of the process is very hard and another quite easy. It depends on the individual. For some, the most difficult stage is denial. Others prefer to start to facing and dealing with things quicker, but they may then have to deal with anger and depression. People find different ways to express their grief – art, poetry, an angry outburst, perhaps tears, or perhaps something less healthy like drinking too much alcohol. Counselling is also a very good way of moving through the process.
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