The Grieving Process: Do we all go through the same process when dealing with the loss of a loved one?
It is often said that there are five stages of grief, as initially identified by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. However, this was originally identified in relation to dealing with a terminal illness rather than the process that we go through when dealing with the loss of a loved one.
So, is the grieving process the same, regardless of what we are grieving? Are we really such simple beings, that such an awful time in our lives can be identified in a few simple stages experienced by all of us, no matter the circumstances?
It is highly unlikely, as individuals we are all complex beings and the grieving process is a tragic period that each of us will deal with differently.
Having considered, in-depth, the grieving process we set out below some of the stages that have been identified within the grieving process, how these are dealt with, or may present themselves and how these may be alleviated.
Five Stages of Grief or Seven Stages of Grief?
A good place to start may well be seen as the five stages highlighted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, however, the five stages of grief have been updated by a model of grief that has identified seven stages of grieving and whilst these are similar to those identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and indeed combine some of those stages, they have expanded upon these.
The five stages highlighted by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are:
- Depression; and
In the model of grief that identifies seven stages of grieving these are recognised as:
- Shock and Denial;
- Pain and Guilt;
- Anger and Bargaining;
- Depression, Reflection and Loneliness
- The Upward Turn
- Reconstruction and Working Through
- Acceptance and Hope
Denial and Shock
The initial stage for many of us, when grieving, is likely to include some form of denial or sheer disbelief that the loss has happened or that the person is no longer around. This can sometimes be somewhat shocking and difficult to comprehend immediately, leading us into a stage of disbelief, shock and even denial that the death has taken place. It will of course, depend on the circumstances surrounding the death and whether the death was sudden and unexpected and so the element of denial may therefore be different and last longer in some situations than in others.
The initial stage of denial often allows us to cope with the necessities of day-to-day life and making plans as and when required, such as the immediate requirements following a death and making funeral arrangements. Denial is often seen as a mask used to cope and get through what we have to before the enormity of the situation fully hits us.
Pain and Guilt
As the initial stage of denial subsides, the enormity and sheer weight of the situation will descend upon us. Although difficult and painful, this is often seen as one of the most important stages to deal with, as it is important to deal with this pain and any guilt that may be felt rather than ignore it or avoid it. It is during this stage, although not exclusively, that many of us may be susceptible to unhelpful coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs.
The guilt associated with this stage may not be directly related to the death of the loved one, or even their cause of death, rather a guilt for things that were not said between you and the loved or things that were not done whilst the opportunity was there.
Anger and Bargaining
Anger can take many forms and there is no limit, and often no reasoning, to who this anger may be felt towards. Anger may be felt towards those around you, the professionals around at the end of the deceased’s life (such as doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals) or even towards your loved one that has passed away. The anger that is felt can last for varying lengths of time and will vary depending on who this is aimed at. This will be an extremely difficult period, as with all the stages, but especially for those around us who may well suffer as a result of our anger but feel helpless in alleviating the pain that is felt by us, or the root of such feelings. As with any pain and guilt it will be necessary to deal with any anger that is felt, rather than suppressing it, as dealing with the anger can help move us forward individually and help us consider those feelings that have been unearthed.
The bargaining stage is a stage that many of us go through, not just after the loss of a loved one but throughout our lives during difficult or traumatic periods, asking for just one thing, a temporary position or change, in return for some sort of bargain from ourselves, such as an offer of giving up anything for just one more conversation with that loved one or a bit more time. Bargaining may also take the form of questioning, such as “why was the illness not diagnosed sooner” or “what if I had have noticed a change more quickly”, “could I have changed the outcome”, this will all be necessary in dealing with the death of a loved one but can also bring with it pain, guilt and anger.
Depression, Reflection and Loneliness
Dealing with the loss of a loved one by feeling somewhat depressed, sad, down and low, is not a weakness, this is not something that should be hidden or disguised. It is most natural for us to suffer emotionally following the loss of a loved one and depression can take differing forms depending on the individual. Depression may well lead to unhelpful coping mechanisms such as excessive alcohol usage, drug use or dependence on prescription medication.
During this stage, as with any period of depression, it can last for varying lengths of time and may well demonstrate itself as a withdrawal from aspects of our usual day-to-day life and activities in favour of spending time alone to reflect. This may also lead to loneliness and a sense of being alone with no one that can understand the position we have found ourselves in.
The period of reflection, looking back on fond memories and even considering how we may be able to move on with our own life following such a loss is often entwined with the depression stage as such thoughts can cause more distress but will be necessary when dealing with the emotions and how we are able to process the death and eventually look ahead to dealing with the loss.
The Upward Turn
The Upward Turn may well seem like a distant vision that you can only dream to achieve when first dealing with the loss of a loved one, a vision that seems impossible to achieve or even imagine, but it will come. This will take time and the there is no right or wrong as to how long is too long, we are all individuals coping in our own way.
We will eventually begin to feel as though we can begin to process much of our own daily life without the heavy weight, or grey cloud, burdening our every moment.
Reconstruction and Working Through
This stage is not included within the five stages that were initially identified by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross but is seen as the stage in which we begin to become more present in our own lives, rather than just mindlessly struggling through (and in some cases, appearing to cope) and where we are able to deal with the loss of our loved one and find solutions to problems that we may be facing in our own lives, that we may well previously have relied upon the deceased loved one for help in resolving.
During this stage we will look to bring structure back into our own lives and begin resolving matters that we may well have been ignoring, or let slip, following the initial loss of our loved one.
Acceptance and Hope
This is not necessarily us being fine with the loss of our loved one or even us concluding that the death of our loved one was acceptable or necessary but rather entering a stage of acceptance of the events that have happened rather than remaining in a stage of denial.
This stage should allow us to feel some hope for the future and begin making plans for the future and as though we are able, or will be able to, enjoy future events and experiences without our loved one being there in person.
Having acceptance of the loss of our loved one, and hope for the future, does not mean that we move on and never again grieve for that person, but rather that we are in a better place to deal with our own life and circumstances. Although we may dip at times and feel low, we are able to be present again in our own life and have an acceptance of those tragic circumstances that we found ourselves in.
Help is at hand…
At the outset, we can often appear, to the outside world and even those that we are closest to, that we are coping (somewhat well!) with the situation and being practical and pragmatic in our approach to getting things sorted. However, this is often deceptive and, as set out above, we have not yet even begun to process the situation, just merely dealing with what is necessary before we can begin to unload and consider the circumstances that we are now in.
Although appearing fine, and in some circumstances, actually feeling as though we are in control and able to cope, we are not alone and do not have to take on the burden by ourselves.
Our family and loved ones can provide a great foundation and support network for us in bringing structure back into our own lives and helping us to cope and deal with the pressures of our usual life without our loved one.
Although many of us will be reliant on our loved ones throughout this period, whether that is in terms of our own emotional wellbeing or with the necessary tasks that need completing following a death, grief is traumatic for all those involved and your loved ones, who are there to support you, are likely to feel helpless at this time and unable to assist or alleviate your pain.
Seeking medical assistance from a healthcare professional or your GP, Nurse Practitioner or a Counsellor may also be necessary to talk through some of your feelings and your mental and emotional wellbeing.
There are also professionals that can help (whether that be bereavement counsellors, advisers, solicitors, probate professionals or other professionals) and alleviate some of the burden you may be feeling.
Keeping yourself busy at this time is a coping mechanism but this may well prolong the time in which this period lasts and so getting help, from whatever source you find best, can really help.
A relatable phrase that I have often read is:
Death is neither fair nor unfair, it is simply a reality.
This phrase is often worth remembering at a time where we are putting immense pressure on ourselves and feeling guilty for what has happened and trying to find someone to blame, find answers or make sense of the situation.
As set out previously, we all deal with experiences differently and so dealing with the death of a loved one and grieving is no different. Some of us may follow the five stages of grief, some of us the seven stages of grief and yet some of us may only experience one, or some, of those stages of grief. That doesn’t mean we are wrong, or that the models of grief are necessarily wrong, we are all humans, we do deal with situations differently, there is no one size fits all or one fix for all of us.
If you require any help or assistance we are always happy to have free initial consultation, please contact us on Info@TotalLegacyCare.co.uk or 01727 865 121.
This does not constitute medical, psychiatric or any advice and any opinions are of the writer’s. As stated each individual will deal with circumstances differently and should consult their own advice if required.