Understanding grief and loss
Grief and loss is something that every single one of us will go through at various points in our lives. It is a completely natural experience however, that does not make it any less painful or easier to go through. Sometimes just understanding the natural process helps us to understand that the way we are feeling. Every one of us will grieve in a different way there is no right or wrong way to do so as long as we acknowledge our thoughts and feelings and don’t try to suppress them.
It is not just the loss of a person that can make us go through this process it can be a loss of a way of life say if you’ve been in a job a long time or your children leave home and head off to university you will experience the same feelings as a bereaved person, maybe not on the same scale. There are many models on the process of grieving with all the same outcome just different labels, I have highlighted below a classic example (from the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross M.D.) of the stages broken down into six:
Denial and isolation
When we first learn that someone has passed away or we have lost something dear to us our first reaction is shock. Even if it was expected, for example a long terminal illness, we say things to ourselves such as “no not me it can’t be true” we can deny that it could be the person thinking “no they’ve got it mixed up it's not them”. We like to isolate ourselves often cancelling arrangements and just wanting to be alone to contemplate what has happened. Funerals for those we have lost usually happen when the majority of us are still in this stage and when everyone is still rallying round offering support. This stage does not usually last for long and gives way to anger.
Once we come to terms with the shocking news that has shattered our worlds and are no longer in denial hot anger follows suit. Usually anger at “why me” or usually “life is so unfair”, people can often feel that they are disassociated from the world and can be angry that life goes on without that other person or thing they have lost. This stage usually comes after the funeral when people have stopped asking how you are and stopped being as supportive. It can be very lonely in this stage as you take out your anger on other people that you don’t mean to do. Little things can cause an explosion of anger, rage, envy, resentment and you can often feel angry at the person for leaving you or at other people who are not in this pain. It is hard to be supportive to someone in this stage as they can seem irrational and unreasonable.
Once the anger has subsided we often go into bargaining saying to ourselves “if I do this will it bring them back?” This is a brief stage but no less important. It goes back to as a child our response to being told no from our parents after the initial shock then temper tantrum we try to bargain with them offering to do jobs around the house in order for them to say yes and change their minds. It is a natural part of the grieving process and once we learn that nothing we do will change it despair and depression take hold.
Depression and despair will be the very bottom of the curve and the lowest we will feel, after this stage the only way is up. This can be the longest stage and often we will find it hard to get out of bed, feel joy, feel excitement or even hope. It is such a lonely stage and so painful to watch someone you love go through this. There is no set amount of time that one should stay in this stage it is only until they have reached the next stage of acceptance are they finally free of the depths of despair.
When someone has come through the depression they will eventually reach acceptance whereby they start to accept the world without that person. Or if it is a job they have lost or a way of life they start to come to terms with it. It can seem sometimes that this stage may never come and that you are stuck in depression for a long time. This stage will eventually come and with it comes the peace of mind that has been missing through the other stages. This is when people start to go out socialising again and unfreeze their lives.
This is the final stage whereby you start to restructure your new life without that person you have grieved for; you start to make plans for the future and looking forward to what may happen. Our lives are never the same after we have lost someone but we can adapt to a new life where the pain is less and we can walk around with a song in our hearts again.
If you have had a recent loss there are charities around that specialise in bereavement counselling and will offer support and help for free in your home. It is important to talk to someone if you feel you need support during this time whether that’s a friend, relative or counsellor there is help out there you don’t need to be alone through this. Grief is such a natural process and one we will experience many times in our lives it can seem an intolerable amount of time when you going through the pain and it is no wonder people develop self-defeating behaviours as a way of getting them through. It only becomes detrimental to progress when it stops you moving forward.
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