The commonly known five stage model of grief and loss was first developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’.
This model outlines the stages of grief and mourning and what you can expect to feel following a significant loss.
However the order of each one can change and we can dip into one and then another and it doesn’t have to be in any particular order.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
The 5 Stages of Grief and Mourning
- Denial and Isolation: The first reaction to learning about the terminal illness, loss, or death of a cherished loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” people often think. It is a normal reaction to rationalise overwhelming emotions, a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
- Anger: As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear off, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. This anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family – or even our dying or deceased loved one. Rationally, we know the person is not to be blamed. Emotionally, however, we may resent the person for causing us pain or for leaving us. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us angrier. Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it.
- Bargaining: The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control –
- If only we had sought medical attention sooner …
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor …
- If only we had tried to be a better person toward them …
Secretly, we may make a deal with God or our higher power in an attempt to postpone the inevitable. This is a weaker line of defense to protect us from the painful reality.
- Depression: Two types of depression are associated with mourning. The first one is a reaction to practical implications relating to the loss. Sadness and regret predominate this type of depression: We worry about the costs and burial; we worry that, in our grief, we have spent less time with others that depend on us. This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words.The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to separate and to bid our loved one farewell.
- Acceptance: Reaching this stage of mourning is a gift not afforded to everyone. Death may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not necessarily a mark of bravery to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm; it is not a period of happiness and must be distinguished from depression.
Leading up to the Loss
Loved ones that are terminally ill or aging appear to go through a final period of withdrawal. This is by no means a suggestion that they are aware of their own impending death or such, only that physical decline may be sufficient to produce a similar response. Their behaviour implies that it is natural to reach a stage at which social interaction is limited. The dignity and grace shown by our dying loved ones may well be their last gift to us.
Coping with loss is ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience — nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process. The best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the grief as it comes over you. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing.
Grief can be all consuming and a very individual process dependent on how close you were to the person who is no longer with us.
There may also be issues with ‘complex grief’ when you may have been there with the person when they passed. Watching someone fight a disease for a long time is another example of what could be considered ‘complex grief.’ Not only are you grieving but also there can be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) evident, which could require specialist attention.
Talking through your personal feelings around grief can be difficult, but it should always be taken at a pace you are comfortable with. Working with a counsellor can assist in the healing process and a doctor may feel it appropriate to prescribe medications in some instances.
In counselling for difficulties with grief and mourning, we would work on trying to ease some of the pain you are feeling with the use of talking therapies.
However it is important to be mindful that grief can be the loss of a job or a relationship, and how the sense of loss applies to other incidences. It is not restricted to someone passing away.
Helping Others through Grief and Mourning
When someone you know experiences a loss, it can be difficult to know what to say, and often people say nothing at all.
However, ‘the elephant is always there. By ignoring it, those in pain isolate themselves and those who could offer comfort create distance instead. Both sides need to reach out. Speaking with empathy and honesty is a good place to start’ (Sandberg and Grant).
This quote I feel is very relevant and emphasises the importance of empathy and not ignoring bereavement issues due to feeling ‘awkward’.
It also highlights how important it is to talk about bereavement and loss. This has almost become a taboo topic in society, yet it is something we all experience sadly at some point. Therefore I wish to work to break these barriers and make something that is sadly so natural become less of a problem for us to discuss.
Author: Liz Taylor, BA (Hons).
Liz Taylor is a social worker with over ten years’ experience in helping people with personality disorders and other mental health issues. Liz’s counselling strategies are drawn from the Relapse Prevention Model, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). She is passionate about enabling her clients to function and feel a sense of control in their lives, and to achieve the goals and outcomes that they wish.
To make an appointment with mental health social worker and counselling professional, Liz Taylor, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Excerpted from OPTION B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joyby Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Copyright © 2017 by OptionB.OrgPublished by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC