When it comes to the grieving process, it can be broken down into five stages known as the five stages of grief. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, author of ‘On Grief and Grieving’, gave a detailed description of the stages.
The first stage is denial. This is when you know that your loved one has died but when you are sitting at home, you cannot believe that they are dead and you are almost expecting them to walk in the door or ring you. You may be in a dream state whereby you are waiting to wake up to find it was all just a nightmare.
This state of denial allows the grieving person a mere moment where the pain of loss doesn’t exist.
Denial is a way of survival, which may be hard to comprehend when you feel your whole world has been destroyed. When we are experiencing denial, the whole world around us becomes meaningless.
Things that once seemed so important and that overwhelmed us are pointless and irrelevant.
Kubler-Ross says denial is a way for us to cope with the loss of a loved one. “Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief”.
The second stage of grief is anger. It can take many different forms. You may experience all forms or only one form.
You may be angry with the person that has died, angry they left too soon, angry at yourself for not saying how you really felt, angry with the medical staff for not saving their life. You may be angry with God, something that many experience and begin to question your religious beliefs.
“The will to save a life is not the power to stop a death”, Kubler-Ross explains. Anger is an indication of the love you have for the person that has died.
Feelings of anger can isolate you from family and friends when you need them the most. You may feel they are not there for you but in actual fact your feelings of suffering and loss tend to push them away. They have not abandoned you, they are allowing you to feel the anger and giving you time to suppress these feelings.
Anger toward yourself may also take the form of guilt. You may blame yourself and be angry that you didn’t do something different that may have prevented the death.
“Anger affirms that you can feel, that you did love and that you have lost,” says Kubler-Ross.
The third stage in the grieving process is bargaining. This is when you plead with god or whoever it is you believe in. Questions such as, ‘If you bring him back I will go to mass more, I will do more charity work’ etc. Our everyday life becomes consumed in ‘What if’ and ‘If only’.
We may even beg that we be taken and our loved one returned in our place. Parents who bury a child usually plea for their life to be taken in place of the young child. It is also normal to ask for a sign that your loved one is in a safe and happy place or that you could hug them one last time.
We become stuck in the past. We will do anything that will take away the pain and return our loved one. Bargaining can become an escape from the reality, pain and suffering, a distraction in life.
Following the stages of denial, anger and bargaining, you may fall into a state of sadness or as the fourth stage is referred to, depression. This is not a clinical depression that will be hanging over you for the remainder of your life. It is a reactive depression caused through grief.
It is extremely normal to feel this withdrawal from life and intense sadness. You may feel there is no reason to get out of bed, no energy or reason to leave the house.
Life feels pointless. Every task seems like an incredible effort that you would rather avoid. Social outings are no longer an option because you would be no fun because you feel too sorry for yourself.
THIS feeling of sadness can come and go. An activity can help lift you from the slump and give a release of energy. When you are in a depressive state it is because your brain is low in serotonin, which is a chemical that releases the feelings of happiness. An hour of exercise a day releases serotonin in the brain and puts you in naturally a better mood.
The depressive state can make you feel as though you are at rock bottom but with exercise and activities you will begin to see the light. When you are low and in a depressive state, the only way is up.
The final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. For some this may take years to accept what has happened and begin to move forward. It usually takes something significant for this to occur.
Perhaps meeting a certain person, something you read that makes life clearer, something that happens to you. The birth of a child or a new friendship could take you to this stage or an inquest that can close a case.
There is no time on acceptance and the individual must experience each stage of the grieving process to gain acceptance.
Once you can accept that your loved one is now in a happier place, you can move on and start living your life again.
Don’t ever be afraid to talk to someone professional to reason, understand and let go.