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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

A Closer Look At: Grief & Loss

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.” ― José N. Harris, MI VIDA: A Story of Faith, Hope and Love

In our culture, we typically expect people to pull up their bootstraps, get over it, and get back to work. The reality is grief and loss are much more complicated; so complicated that American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book titled On Death and Dying in 1969 in which she introduced five stages of grief and loss which is based on her previous research. Since that time, her model has been widely used in therapy and elsewhere in order to help normalize the grief process and help those who are grieving. There is no specific order one may experience these stages and no specific length of time each stage is experienced (if at all).

The model is meant to apply to any form of catastrophic personal loss, such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or income, major rejection, the end of a relationship or divorce, drug addiction, incarceration, the onset of a disease or chronic illness, an infertility diagnosis, as well as many tragedies and disasters (and even minor losses). For the purpose of this article, grief and loss will primarily refer to the death of a loved one.

The first stage is called “Denial and Isolation.” When we hear the news of a loved one’s passing, we might have a difficult time accepting they are gone so instead we may pretend it’s not a reality. A normal response is, “This cannot be happening to me.” This is usually a temporary response which usually occurs first in the process, but not always.

The second stage is known as “Anger.” Instead of feeling vulnerable and sad we may mask it with our anger toward the situation. The anger may even be directed at the person who left us. It can also be directed at the people who did not get the person who passed away help for their addiction or mental illness. The anger could even be directed at the doctor who gave the cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. We know it is not rational and will not bring the person back, but it is a normal response to our loss. Sometimes because we are angry, we feel guilty, which can lead to more anger and start a vicious cycle. During this stage especially, it is important to realize your feelings of anger are normal; accept them and let them pass.

The third stage is “Bargaining.” When we experience grief and loss, we often feel vulnerable, weak, and as though we have little to no control. One often strives to get control back in any way possible. A way of doing this is through bargaining. Thoughts of bargaining include: If we would have gone to the doctor sooner, if we would have tried treatment option A rather than option B, if we would have gotten them the help they needed they would not have taken their own life/overdosed/drove drunk/etc. Sometimes we try to bargain with God, too. Again, this response is completely normal and expected.

The fourth stage is “Depression.” During this stage one feels too sad to function normally. We may feel self-pity, lonely or isolated, empty, lost, or anxious. The person grieving may become silent, refuse visitors, or spend much of the time crying over their loss. While this stage can be unpleasant, it usually means the person is no longer in denial about what happened and is starting to accept the reality of the situation; which brings us to the fifth and final stage.

The fifth stage is “Acceptance.” It can take a day, a week, months, a year, a decade, or maybe never to get to this place. You may even find yourself in this stage for a short time and then cycle back to another stage later on, which is not at all uncommon.

While all five stages are perfectly normal, it is important for those grieving to find support. You can try turning to a family or friend, draw comfort from your faith, join a support group, or talk to a therapist. During this process it is important to take care of yourself and be in touch with what you are feeling. It is important to face your feelings and know that they are normal and expected. It is also important to look after your physical health due to the powerful mind and body connection. Experiencing loss can often make one forget about daily tasks such as eating, exercising, and taking care of your health.

Above all, please remember that there is no appropriate amount of time to grieve. It is a process unique to each individual. It takes longer for others which is completely okay. Grief will proceed at its own rate. Do not wait for things to return to normal; the old normal is gone and a new normal will take its place.

If you are interacting with someone who is grieving, the Huffington Post recently posted an article about the 8 things you SHOULD say to someone who is grieving:

1. “I feel your pain.” NOT, “I know how you feel.”

2. “How about a hug?” Our childhood attachment needs tell us that sometimes we just need to be held when we’re sad.

3. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

4. I’m here for you.”

5. I’ll bring you a casserole on Tuesday.” Make a statement and be specific, rather than telling them, “Let me know if you need anything.” Chances are they will be too afraid, busy, sad, or angry to ask for what they need.

6. "Would you like to talk about your loved one?” Don’t be afraid to mention the person who has passed away. It may be a relief to talk about them without people pretending they never existed for fear that they will break you if they mention the person’s name.

7. Ask, “How are you doing?” and then listen…Really listen!

8. Say nothing. Just be present with them in their grief. Go for a walk, make them a cup of coffee, hand them a tissue, or just sit and do nothing.

To read the complete article, please visit this link.

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