“Grief is like the ocean, it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing, sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” -Viki Harrison
Grief and loss is one of the most common and human experiences that there is. There are many different ways that grief and loss are expressed yet nearly every person will experience some form of grief and loss in their lifetime. While we typically associate grief and loss around the passing of someone we deeply care about there are also situations in which a divorce, the loss of a friendship, and having any empty nest after children have left, getting denied any opportunity you wanted can also have a grieving process. Grief can truly show up in very unexpected ways but with each process it is crucial to give space for those associated feelings to be expressed.
Stages of Grief and Loss
Dr. Kübler-Ross created the stages of grief and loss originally to conceptualize the grief process for terminally ill clients. These stages of grief can also be applied to other forms of loss (relationship ending, being denied an opportunity, or age specific transitions) along with the passing of a loved one. These stages of grief are non linear, meaning that you can experience all of these emotions at once and do not need to necessarily complete one stage before you reach the next. Many individuals will continue to cycle through these depending on their specific loss and their own individualized style of grieving. These stages provide a framework for commonalities experienced throughout the grief and loss process but are very fluid in their expression for each person. One’s own grieving process will also include a cultural context. Generally our experience of grief has been shaped in some way surrounding how our family views grief, how our support system responds, and any religious/spiritual beliefs.
Denial: Feelings of shock and thoughts of “this didn’t really happen” or “this just can’t be true.” This usually happens as the first stage of grieving. This is our natural human way of coping. It is essentially us receiving the message that the loss is too much to process at this moment. This first stage is usually characterized by feeling numb or continuing to feel that you are in a dream. Typical feelings associated with this stage are: shock, fear, and confusion.
Anger: Anger can present itself in various ways. For some they may experience anger towards themselves, their loved one that has passed, at others that are still living, or towards a higher power. Anger can be internalized which usually can lead to feelings of guilt. For some anger can present itself in explosions on others and for others it can present as general irritability as they carry on with the loss. Anger is a natural response to loss and should be honored as part of the grieving process.
Bargaining: This stage is categorized by all of the “what if’s” that naturally arise as one tries to make sense of the loss. Usually, there are questions surrounding goodbyes, last words stated to the individual that is being grieved, and wondering how your life would be if things had gone differently. Many report that this stage can highlight any regrets that the person has about the person might have. These stage can also include many critiques of self and/or the situation.
Depression: This is very different than clinical depression. This stage is a predictable response to the grief but can also manifest in depressive symptoms. Such as: feeling sad often, feeling like you are on the brink of tears all the time, changes in your appetite or sleeping patterns. Usually this is primarily what others expect if they know someone that is grieving and frequently the most recognizable.
Acceptance: The final stage is reaching some level of acceptance or peace. It is a common misunderstanding that acceptance means no longer missing the person or never experiencing any of the other stages of grief again and that is completely inaccurate. Part of acceptance includes expressing feelings associated with grief and acknowledging how much that person is missed regularly. Along with acknowledging various feelings that might come up when you think about a loss of a friendship, or relationship, or childhood home.
With these stages of grief many ask, “well how do you actually grieve or what can I do now?”. The grief and loss process cannot be rushed and it is hard to predict how long each person might spend in each particular stage. There are universal ways that one can begin to make sense of a loss. However, each person will have their own expressions of grief that they are drawn to or make meaning from. Ultimately, these healing rituals are ways to honor the memory of a person while also maintaining a form of connection.
- Harvest a plant that the person enjoyed while they were alive and continue to grow it.
- Light a candle or use the person’s favorite cologne or perfume.
- Play some of the person’s favorite songs and create a playlist of these songs.
- Create a memory box that has pictures, trinkets, and other items that remind you of the person, situation, or event.
- Donate to one of their favorite charities in their honor.
- Eat their favorite food on a particular day when they are missed.
- Connect with others that also miss the person and talk about your favorite memories.
- Create an art piece that symbolizes the person, situation, or event.
- Reflect on person’s values in their life and look for ways that you can incorporate this value into your daily life.
- Walk their favorite trail or visit their favorite places.
Resources and Support:
- Center for Living with Dying – This organization has support groups and events with specialized grief counselors.
- KARA – This organization has drop in support groups, camps, and individual/family grief counseling.
If you’d like more information or a free phone consultation just complete the form below and we’ll give you a call.
Aliayh Kirby, LCSW