It is inevitable that everyone in life will experience loss, whether it is from a job, friendship or a loved one. With loss comes grief. It is simply part of living. Psychologists, grief therapists and others often state that there are five stages of grief. While not everyone experiences them in the same order due to individual personalities, most do have them in a typical sequence. Knowing these stages and what to expect in each one will help as one transitions through each phase. This knowledge will also help one through the stages without developing long-term issues.
The first two stages are denial and anger. The denial comes from the shock of a loss. How can it be that the loss occurred? I really liked my job! I JUST saw this person over the weekend! They can’t be gone… Denial is a coping mechanism we all use at some time or another to help with the initial shock of a loss. It is one way we react to an event while we are internalizing, processing and recognizing the impact of that loss. Along with denial comes anger. The anger can be toward self or a higher power. It may even be toward the person who has died. Why didn’t I spend more time with Mom when I knew she was getting older? Why didn’t I tell her I loved her when I could? Why would God let this child die? Why didn’t the loved one share with people he was sick? Or, why did he die when we had had words and before we could move passed our dispute? It is important to remember that all these emotions are NORMAL. It is okay to feel anger, and God does understand this human emotion! He will not hold a grudge over this human trait!
Following anger comes the bargaining phase. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who pioneered research into the grieving process, wrote in her book, Grief and Grieving, that bargaining may be an attempt to reason with who or what caused the loss. A person may try to convince someone not to end the relationship. Or, someone may think if they pray hard enough, events might be reversed. This is especially true if there is a terminal illness, and the person has not yet passed. This is not to dispel the power of prayer. God does intervene, and miracles do occur. However, the finality of death brings with it the fact that event will not be reversed. In this situation, it is perfectly fine to pray for God’s assistance in helping one cope with a loss. In fact, prayer is one way many use to help them through a loss.
Depression is the fourth stage. Depressed people respond in individual ways. They will either sleep more than normal or be unable to sleep. They will also tend to overeat or lose their appetite. Frequent mood changes occur. One may cry for hours then become quiet. (Scientists have learned that when one cries, the brain releases endorphins, or chemicals, that serve as antidepressants. So, the body is helping itself to elevate its mood through crying! Therefore, crying IS therapeutic!) Short-term depression is normal and to be expected, especially when there is a death involved. If, however, the symptoms persist or become debilitative and disrupt one’s health, clinical depression may occur. At this time, it is strongly encouraged to seek the help of a medical professional.
The last stage is acceptance. An individual comes to terms with the fact they no longer have a job, a relationship has ended or a loved one has died. This does not mean an individual forgets about a loved one or stops feeling both love and loss of that individual. It simply means one has worked through the emotional pain of a loss and has adjusted to the differences the loss has made in life.
It is important to remember that there is no time frame for the grieving process. Everyone will experience grief in their own way. Sometimes people will experience the stages in a different order, or they may revisit an earlier stage. This is especially true when important life events occur. For example, one may become depressed at the holidays or on the anniversary of the loss. This again is perfectly normal. There is a famous cartoon illustration of the five stages of grief as they are outlined by professionals. On the left side of the cartoon, it shows a neat, orderly progression through each stage of grief. On the right side of the page, there is a very childish squiggle line showing what grief is really like! This squiggle line is much more realistic. Acknowledging that loss and grief will occur in life as well as knowing and understanding its stages are important keys to successfully coping with loss and grief.