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Grieving Process – The Stages of Grief

What is the grieving process?

The grieving process is a very healthy and normal reaction to a loss of some kind, usually the death of a loved one. While grief is a universal feeling, grieving is a unique and strange experience for everyone. Not all people mourn or respond to loss in the same way.

Everyone will journey through stages of grief at some point or another in their life, often more than once. But people’s journey through the grieving process can differ in paths taken and time needed. Hopefully, though, we should all arrive at a similar destination.

The grieving process is inevitable after suffering a loss and is as natural as it is necessary. However, this does not mean that it cannot be deeply disconcerting and distressing. Grieving a loss is an incredibly painful and confusing time that forces you to run the whole gamut of human emotion. The vast array of emotions contained in this simple five-letter word can leave your life in disarray and turn your world upside down.

This is why we have attempted to demystify grief for those who may be wandering lost in its winding, convoluted corridors. Clearly naming and identifying an emotion or feeling can be the first step in resolving it and reducing some of its power over you.

The grieving process is a messy and uncertain time that fosters complicated, painful feelings. Vagueness and lack of clarity can prolong and strengthen these intense, overwhelming emotions. It is easier to move a clearly-defined, solid object than a shapeless, formless mass that lacks definition and scope.

Hopefully, these words will help give some form and shape to the complex multitude of feelings one can be immersed in while grieving.

It is very important, however, that you reach out and ask for help and support in dealing with your grief, if needed.

Grief Definition – What is Grief?

The literal definition of grief is an intense feeling of sorrow, typically caused by a death. But, in truth, grief is many things. Grief is shock, disbelief, fear, panic, numbness, uncertainty, confusion, anxiety, loneliness, pain, anger, hopelessness, depression, guilt, exhaustion, isolation and suffering. Grief is all these things and more, and none of the emotions caused by grief should be called incorrect or abnormal. But, in time, grief can also come to mean acceptance, strength and peace.

Grief can take many forms, but it is always a deeply personal, profound and intimate experience. It never fits any predefined model or particular structure and can’t be allotted a specific period of time to run its course. Everyone’s grieving process is uniquely theirs. But there are some broad stages of grief that often occur within a person’s grieving process.

What are the Stages of Grief?

It is widely considered that the grieving process can often follow five distinct stages. This theory of the five stages of grief was created by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. However, it is important to note that while this may be the most widely accepted theory on the stages of grief, it is not the only one. There are many other popular theories, including one with seven stages and another with only two.

It is also worth remembering that not everyone will experience all five of these stages of grief and not necessarily in this specific sequence either. However, it is still worth learning about the stages of grief as it could give you some much needed context for your own grief and confusion.

It is best to look at the stages of grief more as points of reference rather than a set of rules or regulations that should or need to be followed. Think of it as a framework to help you through the messier and more tumultuous moments of mourning. The stages of grief can help you make sense of where you are in your grieving process journey, where you have been and where you may go next.

Denial

Grief is a devastating and frightening emotion. It can be overwhelming in its intensity and suddenness and the thought of living in grief can seem unbearable. That is why a person’s first response to grief may be denial.

Profound grief has the ability to alter your life, even change you as a person. The idea of living in a world of which your loved one is no longer a part can feel bizarre, or even surreal. Confronting the gaping void left in their absence can be terrifying. That is why some people may refuse to allow themselves to acknowledge this new reality at first.

It is a defence mechanism that gives you more time to slowly absorb and process the news. It numbs you to the shock as you adjust to your new reality and reduces the risk of you being overwhelmed or breaking down.

Anger

As numbness wears off, you can no longer pretend that the loss hasn’t occurred and that grief is something you can avoid. This may cause you to feel angry. Anger is often used to conceal other, more vulnerable emotions like fear or intense sadness.

In many cultures, anger is a far more socially acceptable emotion than others, one that can be expressed without fear of judgement or rejection. It can hide the messier, more complicated feelings we have deep down or serve as an emotional outlet for them. You can redirect your pain as anger onto other people or simple matters that are easier to understand than your grief.

Unfortunately, such anger can leave us isolated and cut-off at a time when we need human connection the most.

Bargaining

As you move away from anger and let yourself be vulnerable, you may feel powerless and helpless. Therefore, it is only natural to want to regain a sense of autonomy or control over the situation. It is tempting, maybe even comforting, to think that you have the power to control the outcome or result of a situation.

You may also be so desperate that you will be willing to do or give anything to avoid the pain of grief and loss. At this point, you may start imagining a number of ‘what if’ or ‘if only’ scenarios, such as: “if only I had been a better friend’’ or “if only I had made him stay longer before driving home’’. There is a tendency to blame ourselves or focus on our faults and perceived mistakes.

You may even pray to God or a higher power and try to bargain with them for another outcome. Bargaining is ultimately a way of clinging onto hope and delaying the pain.

Depression

At this point, grief is no longer avoidable. There are no other distractions or defences. The initial shock, panic, anger and fear has subsided and the cloud of confusion has begun to clear. You are forced to confront the uncompromising reality of the situation, in all its grim starkness.

Fully realising the loss that you have suffered and its finality can cause intense sadness and despair. While in this stage, you may withdraw from others and isolate yourself as you learn to live with this pain. However, it is important you reach out to others and talk when you are ready.

Although depression is extremely painful and difficult to overcome, it is a very normal and natural response to grief. It may be a necessary step on your path to healing.

Acceptance

Acceptance is not an end to your pain. Acceptance is no longer ignoring or denying your pain. Acceptance is understanding your pain and letting it be a part of your world. It is about being able to feel your loss and grief in its entirety and no longer trying to resist or escape your new reality.

Once you have accepted the loss you’ve endured, you can begin to make the necessary readjustments and rearrangements to your life so you can move forward. Your life has indeed changed now and, in some ways, you must change as well and learn to adapt.

Once you have reconciled the past in which your loved one was alive and the present in which they no longer are, you may be able to progress into a new future. This stage of grief is not always a happy or easy one, but it might bring more peace than previous stages.

It is important to remember that there may be times when your acceptance relapses and you return to a previous stage of grief. This is also normal and healthy. The grieving process is very rarely a linear, one-way path. You may revisit previous stages or experience new stages for the first time, at any time.

In conclusion, you need to remember that grieving is a highly subjective and individual process. There is no wrong way to grieve and no emotion that you should be feeling instead of the emotion you are feeling. Grief is never a neat, straight line. You may go through your own grieving process in a number of weeks or it could be something you experience for several years. Do not let the above stages of grief guide your grieving, but merely help to clarify what you may or may not be feeling.

If you feel that you need help in coping with your grief, there are a number of mental health professionals and services you can avail of to give you support.

When you feel that your journey with the grieving process may be coming to an end, a memorial tree can be a poignant and meaningful way to symbolise acceptance and peace. Planting a tree in memory of someone can also help consolidate the acceptance of their loss. Grief is entirely natural and this is best represented by the natural beauty and power of planting a remembrance tree.

Plant an Irish Oak Memorial Tree, in memory, as an enduring gesture to help heal the heart and the planet. Click HERE for more information. A handwritten card will accompany the Planting Certificate.

Article researched and written by Nicholas Collender.

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