Life is hard, and we don’t always have the tools to cope, especially with loss. Grief is one of the most difficult emotional experiences we will have to endure, and no one is exempt. However, grief is more than an emotional experience in terms of coping; it is a process. A process that has no specific step-by-step guide because it isn’t a one size fits all experience. However, understanding the grief process can make coping with grief a little more bearable.
As a licensed psychotherapist when I work with clients through grief, I often start with psychoeducation and walk through the stages of grief. Elisabeth Kubler Ross created what is known as the five stages of grief. These five stages are what most people flow through when experiencing grief. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages aren’t linear, and people typically flow in and out of them several times. These stages can also serve as a process to work through the grief of losing a loved one.
For some, there is a stage of disbelief, and this can be in various terms. Whether you refuse to believe the person is gone or deny the impact that it is causing. Denial can come in various forms, and it’s ok. Grief is tricky, and it may take some time to accept the loss and how to accept the life that is now your reality as a result of the loss.
This may be the easiest to recognize but often the hardest to accept. The loss of a loved one is hard, and you have every right to be angry. It isn’t fair, and it sucks; you can be angry about it. But even though anger is a part of the process and understandable, you still have a responsibility to be accountable for your behavior. So, if you find yourself lashing out because of anger, be sure to apologize to those that you may have hurt. While your anger is valid, your behavior, as a result, isn’t.
Bargaining typically happens before the actual loss occurs. This is where you ask for an alternate reality. Something like, “if you…then I will…” For some, this happens with God or a higher power, and this stage usually transitions into anger. Bargaining is our way of trying to rectify the situation and often leads to an avoidance of reality. Bargaining can be a normal part of the process but a pivotal one because it can set the stage for anger and depression when the bargain isn’t accepted.
Depression is the sadness, heartbreak, and despair of the overall experience. This is the longest stage for most but hardest to accept because people either want to fast forward or sulk. While there is no timeline with the sadness associated with grief, it can be rushed or prolonged. The depression stage can be comparable to the healing of a scar; there is no exact time the scar will heal because your body is in charge. Instead, it will do what it needs to in whatever time it needs to heal itself. The same is true for depression in the stages of grief. If you allow yourself the time, you will heal because your soul knows what to do.
This is the healing stage after the denial, bargaining, and depression have surpassed, and you accept the reality of the loss. Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t occasional bouts of anger or sadness; it just means that you have accepted the reality of the loss and are either ready or becoming ready to move forward. During this stage, it may be a pleasant idea to find ways to honor the loss of the loved one in physical or emotional aspects. This may include visiting their gravesite, posting pictures within your home, or honoring them on their birthday or another special time.
Positives of Following Through the Grief Process & What Next?
Understanding the stages allows you to validate your experience and the process of that experience. You allow yourself to feel all the feelings and understand those feelings, which creates a “healthy grieving process.” There should be no timeline with yourself during this process. Understanding the process, your process can also create a clear space to begin moving forward after the acceptance phase. After the acceptance phase, you are preparing yourself to create a life post-loss.
To create a life post-loss, there must be an understanding that life will be forever changed, which most often means adjustments and can also mean there may be the discomfort of creating your new normal. Life will look different, and that will take some getting used to. The entire grief progress is a time of adjustment. You are learning to adjust to a new normal, and depending on the proximity of the loss, the adjustment may be extreme. Be graceful with yourself by taking the necessary time to create a new normal and allowing the necessary adjustments (and possible re-adjustments). There is no rush, especially if you feel like there is. Life goes on, and so will you but baby steps still move you forward. Take as many baby steps as necessary; eventually, you’ll be ready to take bigger steps. And when you are, you will, and you’ll be living in your new normal.