When you’re grieving, you’re hurting.
You may wonder how long it will last, whether it will always hurt so badly, and if you’re doing grief “right.”
Maybe you’ve even heard of “the five stages of grief,” and wonder where you are on the continuum.
Can a timeline of experiences be of much comfort?
Perhaps, but thinking of grief in stages might be too confining a way to look at your very normal, very personal response to loss.
In her book “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross provided an informative look at the grieving process. She related the emotional experiences that accompany loss, and described common stages that most people recognise, as they deal with their pain.
Basically, the 5 stages of grief are described in the following way:
– Shock/ Denial: “This can’t be happening,” or “I don’t believe it.”
– Anger: “This isn’t fair.”
– Bargaining/Guilt: “I’ll do anything for more time,” or “I should’ve been there.”
– Depression: “There’s nothing I can do,” or “What’s the point.”
– Acceptance and Hope: “It’s going to be okay.”
Still, as prevalent as those stages are, they aren’t a how-to list or grief formula meant to lock you into grieving in a specific way.
It’s important to note that Kübler-Ross, years after her findings, regretted intimating that the stages of grief were a predictable progression of emotional boxes, to be ticked off in a particular order. The stages look and occur differently in the lives of different people. They may last a long time, or you may not be able to pinpoint a stage at all. They may mingle or feel indistinguishable.
In fact, if you need to live in one of Kübler-Ross’ stages for a while, or revisit it, that’s far more helpful and cathartic than worrying you must feel or do something specific, to be “normal” in your bereavement.
Sometimes people feel pressured to get over it, move on, or pick up the pieces before they are ready. They may use the stages to mask their true feelings. To the world, they are “getting along well,” but inside they may be suffering alone.
The grief process is your own process. Allow the stages of grief to guide you, like a map, toward acceptance. Not confine you like a straightjacket, in a linear march toward being okay again.
Grief is a tangle of emotions. That tangle is often disorienting, exhausting, worrisome, and chaotic. Trying to “logically” apply the five stages may simply get in the way of the natural re-balancing act that helps you acclimatise to a new normal.
Try not to see the stages as steps to take, but as landmarks on your journey. As you grieve, use the stages for increased self-knowledge, or circle one stage a few times to work through specific difficulties. Either way, the stages needn’t define your grief, but instead support you, as you get a handle on the new landscape of your life.
It’s natural to want to contain grief with logic and a plan. However, riding it out is a better way to manage the pain. Some of the stages will naturally occur and some may never materialise. Grief will happen; observe it, allow it, and extend self-compassion as healing finds a way.
If you cannot grieve without being consumed by the experience, you may need a therapist’s help. Seek out an experienced grief counsellor, or support group, to help you recover from your loss.
If you are interested in bereavement counselling, call Neil Ward Counselling on 07970 860 711.