Much has been written about grief, and theories abound However, theories are simply that; they are different people’s opinions, but what are the facts?
The fact is that grief is potentially the worst emotional pain any of us may suffer. The fact is most of us survive our grief and, over a period of time, start to feel better. The fact is everyone copes differently.
Some people benefit from understanding the stages of grief. It can be helpful to understand you are not going mad – that others have suffered and survived and moved on with their lives. This knowledge can get you through the darkest hours.
The stages that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified in the 1970s were first defined in a book entitled On Death and Dying published in 1969, and these are arguably still one of the more popular and have been in use ever since. Elizabeth identified stages of grief when she was working with people who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and were in fact grieving for the loss of their own lives. These stages were then adapted to those grieving for the loss of others.
The five principles are listed below in her defined order but, in fact, they may be experienced in any sequence. They are as follows:
Denial is often considered to be the mind’s defence mechanism. If the consequences of the news of death were to be realised at the moment of receipt,the mind might not be able to cope. Denial is a net that catches bad news and sieves it through to the conscious mind.
Anger often follows denial – anger directed at the person who died, the doctor, the messenger, God, or even yourself. It may seem strange to think that you might feel angry with the person who has died, but it is not uncommon.
Blaming medical staff or mistakes made during treatment is also a common form of anger, and often understandable.
Guilt is another common emotion after death. As Elizabeth Kübler-Ross said: ‘Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death’. Perhaps one of the most important things is to understand that feelings of guilt are so natural and common as to be almost ‘normal.’ They seem to be so much a part of the grieving process that it may be wise to understand and accept this.
Depression is arguably the most dangerous stage in the grieving process. Not everyone experiences depression to any significant degree, but some level of a ‘what is the point of life?’ attitude is often experienced. Some people find it
very difficult to come out of the depression, especially if they have a previous history of depressive illness, have had multiple losses throughout their lives, or are elderly and feel they have very little to look forward to.
Acceptance – some people never reach this stage. Acceptance is relative. Accepting does not mean forgetting, but the constant wish for things to be as they once were can be replaced by a search for new relationships and new activities. A sense of sadness and of longing may re-surface from time to time, often for years afterwards, and this is completely natural.
The downside to the broad acceptance of stages of grief is that sometimes others can expect you to be ‘at a different stage by now’. There is can be little tolerance for someone who, after months or even years, is still saying ‘I still find it hard to believe…’. The attitude tends to be, ‘Shouldn’t you have moved on by now?’ We are a very impatient society, perhaps partly due to the internet. We expect everything ‘right now’, and the thought of supporting someone through a long journey of grief can make even the most patient person itch for progress. Grief doesn’t have an end date; it is an ongoing process, but most people will forget that. If someone insists that it is time to move on you can tell them that grief has its own time frame - and then change the subject.
It is very important to have someone to talk to about how you feel, but it doesn’t always have to be the same person. By talking to different people at different times, you avoid overwhelming any one person with your pain.
Dealing with grief:
There are no right or wrong ways to deal with grief. Everything you do and feel under these difficult circumstances is normal, including:
Crying a lot, sometimes at the most inopportune moments.
Wanting to talk about what happened over and over again.
Thinking that everyone else’s life seems to have moved on except yours.
Feeling very alone.
Thinking that you see the person who has died, or can feel or smell them.
Dreaming about the person who has died and feeling sure that you have (in some strange alternative reality) met and conversed with them.
Finding it hard to sleep.
Feeling fine one moment, and a complete mess the next.
Not wanting to get up/washed/dressed.
Waking up very early in the morning.
Forgetting upon waking that the person you are mourning is dead.
Going through a lot of ‘if only’ and ‘what if ’ and ‘I wish I had/hadn’t’
Finding yourself thinking: ‘this time last week/month/year…’.
Perhaps think of grief as like the sea: incomparably deep in some places, and quite shallow in others; some days so stormy you fear you might drown, and others so calm you float through it. And, like the sea, it can change suddenly from calm to stormy and back again.