you do when someone you know dies? We all grieve in different ways, but when something like this happens to you, it’s comforting to know that we all have ways of dealing with the incredible sense of loss that accompanies death.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has written may books on death and dying, and she believes that there is such a thing as a ‘grief cycle’. I find her theories very useful when counselling clients who have experienced a devastating loss.
And remember, grieving is not just about death; you don’t have to lose someone close to you to experience loss and sadness. In fact, loss of a job, the end of a relationship, even loss of a physical part of our body, such as a limb, can have an equally strong impact as the death of a loved one. Here is some information on what we go through when we experience a major loss or trauma:
STAGE #1: Denial
According to Kubler Ross’s 5 stages of grief, the first stage is denial and isolation. A reaction such as “No, it cannot be true” is not uncommon, and this is a healthy way of dealing with a painful situation, because denial acts as a buffer after shocking news, and allows the mourner to collect his or her thoughts and summon the resources required to deal with the loss. It is a conscious (or unconscious) refusal to accept facts relating to the situation concerned.
Denial is a normal and natural defence mechanism , but some people can become locked into this stage when they are trying to cope with a traumatic change or loss. If you know someone who is grieving, or even if you're going through something yourself then this can be really useful information for you. Rest assured, with proper guidance and counselling , you can allow yourself to move forward in a positive and peaceful way.
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STAGE #2: Anger
When the stage of denial can't be maintained any longer, it is replaced by feelings of anger, rage, envy and resentment. Often the anger is displaced in all directions, and on many occasions the person who is upset may project this anger onto those who are closest to him, and onto his environment.
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them, so if you know someone who is going through this, be patient; they will improve with your support and understanding. Knowing this helps us to stay detached and non-judgmental when we are 'bombarded' with the anger of someone who is very upset.
STAGE #3: Bargaining
Having been unable to face the truth in the first stage, and having been angry at others and the world in the second stage, the mourner may feel that he can postpone the inevitable by reaching some sort of agreement. This might include making a pact with God in return for bringing back the person who has died.
People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example "Can we still be friends?..", or "We can work it out..." when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it's a matter of life or death.
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STAGE #4: Depression
When the mourner finally faces reality, he may experience depression. Depression can also be described as preparatory grieving. In a way it's like the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the 'aftermath' although this stage means different things depending on the person concerned and their circumstances.
It's a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty and other feelings like these. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality of what has happened.
STAGE #5: Acceptance
This feeling is neither depression nor anger, but having said that, it is not necessarily a happy feeling either. A better way of explaining this is that when the mourner has reached this stage, he has been able to detach himself and become devoid of feeling.
Once again, this stage varies with each person, but it is usually an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People who are dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they are leaving behind; these people must eventually go through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
The important thing to remember in all of this, is that we don’t necessarily grieve in a nice neat set of steps. We do all of the above things, but we might do them over and over again over a period of time; kind of like a series of 'mini-cycles', with each cycle having less impact than the last.
I do a lot of work with people who have been left feeling devastated by the end of a long-term relationship; these clients may experience depression one week, acceptance the next and then after all that they may go back into denial and anger again. The good news is, eventually they pull through.
This is normal and to be expected with any traumatic change or event in your life. So if you are going through something like this, remember that time heals. It’s not a matter of ‘if ‘ you will get better, but when.
Just receiving the news that someone you know has died can be really shocking, even if you were not close to that person; because it reminds us of our own mortality. So understand what you are going through and give yourself permission to go through it. Be kind to yourself and you will gain the strength and resouces you need to move forward.
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