“There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part, so just give me a happy middle and a very happy start.”
~ Shel Silverstein, Every Thing On It
I believe we all know and experience grief at some point in our lives and it is something very personal and individual. There is no one right way to grieve, no one formula to pull yourself out of grief and the reasons for grief will differ. The most common reasons for grief are the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, our own approaching death, the loss of freedom and even the loss of a job. No matter why we grieve, we need to give the grief space and time to come to terms with it. The events that cause the grief will most likely change our lives as we knew it.
In 1969 the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote in her book “On Death and Dying” that grief could be divided into five stages.
These are the five stages of grief Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes in her book:
These stages were originally devised for people who were ill but have have been adapted for other experiences with loss. Of course there are many other theories and stages so please just take this as one of the examples as it is the most widely known theory of grief.
And even if it is, people who grieve experience this in their very own way, in their own time, order and duration. Some may begin coping with loss in the bargaining stage and find themselves in anger or denial next. Some remain in one of the stages for months and skip others completely. So let’s take a look at the different stages with a few examples – some personal, some more general – a little closer.
Grief can be so unbelievably overwhelming and intense that it may not unusual to respond to this feeling of loss by pretending it didn’t happen. This denial is most often a defence mechanism that
a. helps numb the intensity of the situation
b. gives you the opportunity to give yourself more time to begin processing what has actually happened in your own time
c. let’s you resurface gradually.
Death of a loved one: My little brother died in June of 2007, only 27 years old. And even though I found him at the time, I was still in denial, believing that he’ll come around the corner any second, that I could talk to him, hug him and wake up from this horrific nightmare.
End of a relationship: I suppose most of us have been through this in one way or another and we fool ourselves by believing that the other person is just upset and that it will be all good again tomorrow.
Loss of job: This can be a tough one and the most common approach of denial is to believe that a mistake has been made and that they will come back to you saying that they need you back.
What makes moving out of the phase of denial so difficult and painful is that all those well hidden and suppressed emotions and the sorrow will begin to rise again. Even if this may be part of the journey, it can be excruciatingly painful and is often replaced by…
Anger can be a great way to hide the multitude of emotions and pain that you carry, but in the end it is just a way to mask what you are truly feeling. Unfortunately this form of anger may often be redirected at other people, such as the person who died, your ex, or your former boss. You may even want to let your anger out on inanimate objects. Rationally we usually know that no matter who or what we direct our anger at, they probably do not deserve it. But masking your true feelings that are simply too intense can be helpful for the moment. Not everyone will experience this stage, and some may go though it very intensely.
Death of a loved one: In case of my brother I was angry that he left me. I was angry that he did not give me the chance to help him.
End of a relationship: When a relationship ends and anger kicks in we try to tell yourselves that we now hate this person and fool ourselves that this person will regret having left.
Loss of job: When loosing a job we my tell ourselves that our boss is an incompetent fool and will fail. We may simply wish them the worst we can think of.
Sooner or later though the anger will subside and you may begin to think more rationally again about what has happened and allow yourself to feel the emotions you have been pushing aside. This may (or may not) lead into the next stage of…
Grief is an emotion that makes us feel vulnerable and even helpless. This loss of control over the situation is frustrating and we think of ways to regain some of this missing control. We start bargaining by creating a lot of “if only’s” and”what if’s” to try and make sense of these intense emotions. In the bargaining stage of grief we essentially try to build a line of defence against the overwhelming emotion of grief to somehow postpone the sadness and the anguish.
Death of a loved one: My brother died due to the abuse of drugs and as seeing him lying on the floor of his flat haunted me, I was is the bargaining phase for quite a while. I kept telling myself that if only I had called him more often, if I had only put more effort into getting him into rehab, he would still be there, he could still be alive.
End of a relationship: Bargaining at the end of a relationship usually depends on why the relationship ended in the first place. Perhaps you tell yourself that if you had only spent more time with your partner, listened more to your partner etc., he or she would have stayed with you.
Loss of job: Here the narrative could be that if you had only worked harder or on more weekends, they would have seen how valuable you are and have never let you go.
When you come to the point where you realise that you have no more bargaining chips you could slide into the the next stage of…
A while I wrote a short piece on depression and a lot of what I wrote there applies to this stage, so you might like revisit that post.
Compared to the other phases of grief – where you avoid and even run away from the emotions that come with grief, depression appears to be the most passive of all the stages. However, this can be quite deceptive. In the stage of depression, it can feel as if you are enveloped in hopelessness. You wish to sink deep into it and often have the feeling that you can no longer emerge from it. You may even choose to isolate yourself from others in order to fully cope with the loss.
Depression is not easy or even well defined. Like the other stages of grief, depression can be difficult and messy. It can feel so overwhelming and confusing that it might be difficult to resurface from this stage.
Death of a loved one: As I am almost 13 years older than my little brother, he was a bit like my first child and I raised him. When he died with only 27 it was beyond my comprehension and could simply not imagine a life without him in it.
End of a relationship: When a relationship ends, when someone you still love decides to leave you, it may feel as if a part of you had gone as well. It often feels as if a big chunk of our heart is simply gone and you may ask yourself, what is the sense of going on at all.
Loss of job: Losing a job can be devastating and you may be terrified, not knowing how to go forward from here.
Depression may feel like the inevitable landing point of any loss. It is alright to be depressed for a while, to even wallow in self-pity and sadness. If you get stuck in this stage however, or can’t seem to move past this stage of grief, don’t be afraid or ashamed to find someone – a good friend or family member, a coach or a therapist – to help you through this period of coping so you can finally find…
It can be quite challenging to get to the stage of acceptance. You may move from one stage to the next and even back and forth – and that is alright! When you finally come to accept the situation, that does not necessarily mean that it is a happy or uplifting stage of grief. It also does not have to mean that you have moved past the grief or loss. What it actually means is that you have started to accepted it and that you are begining to understand the impact it has on your life and how your life has now changed.
Death of a loved one: Today the thought of my brother does not make me as sad as it used to. I think if the wonderful time I had with him, the beautiful moments we shared and that fills me with gratitude and the love I still have for him.
End of a relationship: In the stage of acceptance you will hopefully come to a point where you can honestly say that the end of the relationship was ultimately a healthy choice for you.
Loss of job: In you professional life you may be able to see the new opportunities waiting for you once you have accepted that the old job lies behind you and is history.
No matter why or what you are grieving, cut yourself some slack and see that you have had a major change in your life, one that upends the way you feel about many things. Acceptance is just one way to see that there may be more good days than bad, and that it is absolutely OK to still have bad ones.
When it comes to grief I believe it is important to understand that everyone will experience this differently – there is no right or wrong. Grief is something very personal, and you may feel something different, different stages every time. You may need weeks, months and sometimes even years to cope with grief, there is no time stamp on it. What I have shared with you today can only be a very small excerpt on this topic. Just always remember to seek help when you feel stuck and hopelessness becomes too overwhelming.
“On this bald hill the new year hones its edge. Faceless and pale as china The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous, Nobody can tell what I lack.”
~ Sylvia Plath, Parliament Hill FieldsAnge