Grief is a normal yet highly personal response to loss. It is neither an illness nor a pathological condition but rather a natural process that occurs over time. If managed and understood, grief has the potential to lead to life-changing healing and personal growth.
We grieve all number of losses. These include the loss of another person by death, the loss of an important relationship, the loss of a job through redundancy or retirement, the loss of health through aging or illness or accident and also the losses that occur as we move through the life-cycle.
Although there are a number of excellent models of grief (see below), how grief is experienced and expressed varies among individuals. We all grieve differently, according to such as our age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss, level of pre-existing personal growth before the loss and the degree of available support.
With regards to a loss due to a death in a family, the grieving process will even be different among members of the same family. This is because each person’s relationship with, and attachment to, the deceased family member varies.
How we will react to this death depends on such as:
What was lost to us when this death happened. What is lost when somebody dies is not only the person who died, but also aspects of our own life as well. These aspects include our hopes and vision of the future, our concept of reality and who we were in our relationship with that person.
Who died. Is it a parent, your child, your spouse, your grandparent?
What that person meant to you. This is about the nature of the relationship between you. There may have been nurture and support. There may have been partnership and teamwork. You may have been friends and lovers. There may have been conflict, estrangement or unresolved hurts.
How the death occurred. Was it accident, illness or age? Was it preventable? Was it murder? Was it suicide? Was it peaceful? Was it painful? Was it expected or was it a shock?
Your own personal paradigm including your spirituality.
Understanding the grieving process and knowing what to expect can help us cope. Each person’s pattern of progressing through grief will be uneven, unpredictable and unique, with no set time frame. But the more we learn about our grief, the better we can cope with it.
When we understand what is happening to us and have some idea of what to expect, we can feel more in control of the grief and will be in a better position to take care of ourselves, to find our own way through this loss and to begin rebuilding a meaningful life.
The Kübler-Ross model presents grief as a five stage process. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross spend decades researching death and dying. Her model is particularly about loss through death but is applicable to all loss.
It is important to note that these stages are not meant to be complete or chronological. Not everyone who experiences a loss event feels all five of the responses. Nor will everyone who does experience them do so in the order in which they are written.
Reactions to loss are as unique as the person experiencing them. Some phases may be re-experienced again and again. It is also possible to get stuck in a phase. This is where therapy is particularly useful.
Kübler-Ross Phases of Grief:
This is the body/mind's way of saving you from the devastating pain of the loss, at least initially. It is a blessing at best, but at worst can become a long-term numbness to feelings that resembles a sort of living death. It will pass naturally as long as the other components of the grief process are honoured.
This is your mind's attempt to protect you from the reality of the loss. You may lie to yourself and think about the person as if they were still alive. A certain period of denial is normal but if prolonged, it can keep you stuck and prevent resolution. There are many forms of denial, as varied as people are different from each other.
When you lose someone you love, it is natural to be angry for a period of time. You may be angry with the person for leaving you, angry with yourself for what you did not do to save them or angry with God for taking them away. You may just be angry at the unfairness and injustice of life. Healthy anger management techniques may be essential here.
There seems to be a human tendency to blame yourself when something happens to a loved one. In loving someone, you automatically take some degree of responsibility for her or his welfare. It is only natural to question yourself for a period of time after your loved ones die. This is a normal part of the grief process, but it is extremely important that you move through it and don't get stuck in this stage.
PAIN & SORROW
These feelings often exist throughout the entire grief process, and are the core feelings of grief. In the early stages, however, you are often distracted from your sorrow by denial, anger, guilt and the resulting confusion.
Fear can also be a tremendous barrier to the experience of sorrow, triggering all of the defense mechanisms. To truly face and experience the pain and sorrow is necessary and healthy however, and it moves you forward in the grief process.
Working with love is the key for moving through this phase, because only love has the power to move us to the depths of our being where the greatest loss is registered.
RELEASE & RESOLUTION
This stage of the grief process is accompanied by a sense of acceptance of the reality of the loss, a sense of "letting go." There may also be a degree of forgiveness that occurs in this phase. The denial, guilt and anger stages are over, and the pain and sorrow is not as intense as it was before.
Many people ask, "How long does it take?" The answer is different according to the severity of the loss and the health of the individual who is grieving. Grieving moves in cycles, and it may seem as if we are through for a substantial period of time.
A birthday, anniversary or another loss can bring back many of the same feelings that were there when our loved one died. Any loss or low emotional period can bring back the feelings of loss, particularly if you have not reached resolution.
When the release finally occurs, your entire body will feel it. I have watched many people go through emotional release in their grieving, and I am convinced that it is as much a physical, non-verbal process as it is verbal and conscious.
RETURN TO THE WILLINGNESS TO LOVE
This is the final stage of the grieving process. Healing has occurred, and the grieving person is able to laugh again and to get involved in life. Fear can slow you down or even stop you at this point, because new love means the risk of new loss. By honouring and completing all aspects of the grief process, however, you will overcome your fear and move forward.
This occurs through an appreciation for yourself and the life you are left to live. Nurturing your inner child is an excellent tool to use to help you through the entire grief process, and particularly as you move back out "into the world" after a period of grieving. Part of the return to love also includes remembering the love you felt for the one you lost.
The love lives on and the anger, guilt, pain and sorrow fade away.This final stage of the grief process is ultimately a spiritual one. It is a fact that all of us on this planet will die. You need to have some way of living, laughing and loving with this reality.
That's where spirituality comes in. True security cannot be found in another person or in any external circumstances. You have to turn within, to your own concept of the infinite, to ultimately find peace and security in a life that is only temporary in its tangible form.
Grief Model Source: