Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined the five stages of grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Grief is a deeply personal process and each individual experiences it on their own terms. Some may endure all five stages, others only a portion; some progress in a seemingly reasonable period of time, for others the process is much slower. In any case, it is important to recognize that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and no time frame that is considered normal. It is equally important to understand that grief, like every other emotions, fluctuates. One is not condemned to a lifetime of suffering from the loss of a loved one. Likewise, the grief process does not simply apply to human loss: loss of a pet, a lifestyle, a career, a home, estrangement – each can trigger the five stages of grief. With the proper resources, support, and attitude one can embrace an emotional and spiritual healing and be restored to wholeness.
The Five Stages of Grief:
Denial: a numbing sense of disbelief, refusal to accept the facts. This defense mechanism is used to avoid feeling pain. Shock serves to protect the individual from becoming overwhelmed all at once and can last for several weeks.
Anger: As the shock dissipates, one experiences intense pain and suffering. Although unbearable, it is critical to acknowledge pain rather than try to suppress or deny it. This is a critical period when some individuals may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their emotions. However, feelings do not heal spontaneously. They need to be identified and worked through. The root of anger is hurt, fear, and/or frustration. Any or all of these are part of the grief process. Anger towards others (“who can I hold accountable for their death?”), anger at the self for what was said or done that shouldn’t have happened (hurt) or what one failed to say/do, words left unspoken (regret/guilt). Fear (“what will happen now, how can I live without them?”); frustration (“I couldn’t save them.”) Self-pity may also surface during this stage.
Bargaining: Bargaining with God is a tool used to pull oneself out of despair. (“If you just bring my husband back I promise to go to church every Sunday!”) We seek to restore some sense of power over the situation that we feel has been taken from us.
Depression: Months after the loss it is not uncommon to experience periods of depression and deep sadness. The magnitude and finality of what has occurred sets in and some may withdrawn from family and friends. Melancholy brought on by time spent reflecting on certain aspects of your lives together can lead to feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and despair. It’s critical at this time to reach out to others for support. Isolation can lead to more serious problems.
Keep in mind, that these stages do not necessarily occur in order nor are they complete once you’ve experienced them. It is not uncommon to revisit those emotions that you thought had been put to rest.
Acceptance: In this the final stage of the grieving process one reaches a point of acceptance, a quiet recognition of reality, an objectivity that allows for a clearer view of what is still good about life. There is oftentimes a sense of emotional calmness and inner peace.
Healing And Wholeness
One need not suffer indefinitely from a significant loss. There is hope to restore wholeness and a sense of joy to your life. Here are some additional suggestions:
• Understand that death is a natural process of life. It is not an end but rather a transition from the physical (temporary) world back to pure spirit (eternal).
• Put your focus on feeling gratitude for the time you spent together.
• Honor your loved one’s life by doing something in memory of them.
• Seek the lessons in the loss: to love more freely, to appreciate those while they are present and let them know; to forgive more readily, and so on.
• Replace the pain of your loss with the warmth of fond memories.
• Allow God to heal your heart and mind from your loss.
• Use this experience to bring you into a deeper understanding of our loving Father. All healing comes from the Divine. He will provide all of your needs so rest peacefully in His loving care.
Psalms 39: 7 “And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.”
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