– as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Most importantly, you must remember that your grief is as unique as you are.
The five stages of grief as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, one of the first authors I read after Rowan died, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She suggests that this skeleton framework is the one most of us use in learning to live without our loved one.
Grief can be the result of the loss of a loved one through death, the loss of a relationship (marriage break-up or friendship break-down), the loss of a pet, job loss, the loss of a personal vision or dream – so many causes and so many actions and reactions.
Denial, the first of the five stages, helps us to survive the initial impact of our loss. The world is cold and cruel and meaningless at this stage. Life makes no sense whatsoever. We feel numb and totally overwhelmed. Denial is a way of pacing ourselves. It allows a little bit of reality in at a time. This process aids our survival after a loss. If all the pain and angst and shock hit us in one fell swoop it is unlikely so many of us would survive to see the next stage in our grief process. Through this denial, you are unknowingly beginning to heal. You are gaining a tiny little glimmer of strength.
Anger is the next stage we have to endure. It is a necessary part of the healing progression and you need to allow it to happen. The stoic folk among us sometimes try to stem the anger. This is a dangerous strategy. The more you truly feel your anger, even though it might feel destructive at the time, the quicker you will begin to heal. Anger can be strength. It can provide you with a temporary buttress and anchor to hold on to in the oblivion and emptiness of your loss. Anger is another symptom of the power of your passion for the loved-one that you have lost.
Bargaining is a strange phenomenon. We say we won’t and then we do! ‘Dear God’, you pray, ‘let this all be a bad dream’. ‘I promise I’ll devote the rest of my life to helping others……….if only you…..’ It is easy to get lost in a sea of ‘If only’ and ‘What if’s’. What we desperately need is for life to return to what it was. We want our loved one back at any cost. We would sell our Soul at this stage to have them home with us. We blame ourselves in the ‘if onlys’.
Well, bargaining didn’t work did it?
Depression sweeps in like a tsunami. We then fairly and squarely slip into a relentless and ever-darkening depression. We are acutely aware that no amount of bargaining, wishing, hoping, shouting or screaming is going to bring them back. Grief grabs the opportunity with both hands and dashes in, deeper than we ever imagined that it could be. You sit in this depression thinking that you are losing your mind. You are not. You are actually showing that your mental health is as it should be. You are exhibiting an appropriate reaction to suffering a great loss. Some people see this depression as one that needs to be fixed. They expect you to snap out of it, to move on. The loss of a loved one through whatever circumstances is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate reaction. In fact, to not experience depression would be against the ‘norm’. You may well want to withdraw from life, hide away. You may even wonder if life is worth living any more – ‘What’s the point of going on?’ The thing to remember is that depression is a stage and a necessary step in the process of healing.
Acceptance is the last of the five steps that Elisabeth talks of. Don’t confuse ‘acceptance’ with ‘being okay’ with what has happened. The truth is that we will most likely never ever feel okay about the loss. This acceptance is about acknowledging reality that we have lost and that this loss is a permanent reality for us. The reality will never be okay but we will eventually learn to accept it. We will learn to live with it. We realise that life has changed and we must learn to readjust. This acceptance may mean that we have a few more okay days in amongst the horrendous ones. We may find ourselves beginning to live again and enjoy the odd thing again. It may be that we feel, for a moment, that we are betraying our loved one by laughing again. As we accept we make new connections and new relationships. We change and we grow and we begin to live again.
So there we have it – the five stages of grief. These stages all need to be experienced before we can come out the other side………but, just to keep us on our toes, they can come and go…… We may experience one, move on, move back again – leap to and fro between them all for a while – grief is not off a conveyer belt – it is custom-made and personalised every time.
Eventually the sun shines again and you keep your loved one locked away in your heart, ever present, never forgotten.