Grief is difficult to define. Grief is difficult to go through. For about the past three decades, psychologists have put the process of grief into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance. These stages were developed in the late 1970s as a way for people to identify what they may feel when they lose a loved one. Grief is our response to death; not just emotionally, but mentally and physically as well.
My mother died many years ago and even though I have children of my own, Mother’s Day has always been a very numb day for me. My brother died last year and I am still in “in the grieving process” for his passing. However, we know that people deal with grief in their own way and although we think we know what grieving should look like, grief is as unique as our fingerprints. Sometimes I think of my mother and brother as being on a long cruise or on a trip to Italy (why Italy, I don’t know…). As there is no real ‘typical’ response to a loss, I believe that these stages of grief can help someone who may want to help someone else who is dealing with grief.
Stage 1 – Denial. I also like to call this stage the shocking stage of disbelief. In February, a dear friend passed away, and although he was older, I did not expect nor want to accept that he had died. I find myself still in this stage of shock. As we find out that someone has died, we can react with a type of numbness and disbelief. The feeling of being overwhelmed can be within a reaction of slowness where everything can seem to stand still. We can be in this stage for an hour or, for some people, for weeks. As one goes through shock, the body can physically shut down, making any kind of mental or emotional reaction difficult.
Stage 2 – Anger. I also like to call this stage painfully guilty. Once the stage of shock has subsided, a person can feel angry, and dealing with their pain can bring up emotions of guilt. Mostly guilt of surviving or the inability to have saved our loved one. This is the stage where most of the pain seems unbearable. It is so important for people who are grieving to go through this stage. Unfortunately, many people never do. We need to feel this pain in its fullest so that we can expel the emotions through a type of physical release such as crying, screaming, or running for miles in the rain to fall into an exhaustive sleep (my response when my mother died). Life at this point will feel chaotic and the ability to function normally is out the window.
Stage 3 – Bargaining. I also like to call this stage the If Only stage. Our anger and frustration lay way to blame and loss of control. If you only had made them go to the doctor sooner, then the illness would have been cured; if you only had not asked for ice cream, then our loved one would not have been shot in the liquor store. This stage also bears a lot of undeserved blame which causes cognitive thinking to be absent. We can be more consumed in this stage as we think about what we could have done, what should have been done, and what can I do now. Bargaining is when we pray to ‘the powers that be’ to please not let this be true; you would trade your life for the death of your child.
Stage 4 – Depression. I also like to call this stage isolated reflection. This is when we feel the loneliness of that person being gone. This can be the longest stage to bear. Although the anger may not be there, the sadness kicks in and it can overtake your mental, physical and emotional behaviors. You can seek to be alone, as you can feel empty even in a room full of people. People who understand this stage should not offer encouragement of getting on with your life. You need to truly feel the magnitude of your loss and focus (and cry) on the memories and the feelings of missing your loved one.
Stage 5 – Acceptance. I also like to call this stage hopeful reconstruction. This stage can be broken up into its own, smaller stages. At the beginning of this stage, thinking is becoming clearer and the symptoms of depression has become less exhausting. You can begin to adjust to daily tasks but the sadness will hit at inopportune times. As you move through this stage you will find yourself even more functional. Memories may come but the extreme sadness has passed. In the middle of this stage you will find the ways in which to reconstruct your life without the person who passed. The reality of the death has set in and you begin to feel hope again; hope for the future. A way to go forward in your life without your loved one is difficult but it will be reached. The wrenching grief and pain will be gone and the memories you recall can be seen with bright eyes and a thankful heart.