Understanding Grief: The Five Stages
[As printed in The Women’s Lifestyle Magazine of Greater Kalamazoo, July 2018 Edition]
It would be nice if life was made only of blissful moments. However, we all know that is not the reality. So, although we are in a season of sunshine and warmth, there are still some dealing with grief.
Grief can be tricky because we often do not know what to say or do when facing a loss. Another unique aspect of grief is that what one person may not interpret as a loss may be devastating to another. So, while grief can be obvious, it is not always easy to see or understand.
Yet, in life we can know for certain that we will lose something. Someone will die. We will get older. Our identity will shift. Change happens. I do not say this to bring you down, but to bring awareness to the fact that it is often helpful to understand grief in order to know how to best manage it. And, we will have to manage it at some time in our lives.
Two experts on grief, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, can help guide us here. They found that, with any loss, we go through five stages of grief:
- Denial– This is when we do not acknowledge a loss, believe the problem will be over soon, or downplay the magnitude of the problem. We may say things like “It will be a short recovery,” or “I don’t really have Diabetes,” or we may still set the place at the dinner table where our loved one use to sit. Ignorance is bliss because acknowledgment is too hard.
- Anger– Anger can be directed to many different places when grieving. We may be angry at ourselves for not seeing the signs of illness. We may be angry at the drunk driver who killed our child in an accident. We may even be angry with our Higher Power for letting a pet die. This stage involves yelling and frustration about the realization that just hit us.
- Bargaining– This stage commonly relates to a Higher Power. We may bargain for health or life by saying “If my grandmother survives this, I will go to Church every Sunday.” Or, we may work to convince ourselves that, “If I take this medication, I will be cancer-free.”
- Depression– This is the classic picture of grief. We may stay in bed, have changes in eating and sleeping, and want to isolate just to avoid questions or things that remind us of what we have lost. Tears flow freely and we may feel hopeless.
- Acceptance– After a while, however, there is recognition that, while a loss hurts, things will get better. You may not physically be the person you once were or you may no longer be able to talk with your spouse about your day. But, life will go on. Each day hurts a little less and you can begin to see yourself being able to live again.
While this can be a helpful template to understanding grief, these stages are fluid. We may move forward three steps but take two steps back. We may be at acceptance for years but then have a day where we can hardly function. That is okay.
Grief is normal. It is uncomfortable. And, it is a journey. So, be gentle to yourself. But, if you or a loved one is experiencing grief that is persistent or there are thoughts of suicide, get help. We all know how hard grief can be to deal with. So, reach out to someone, whether a loved one or a therapist, and get the support you deserve.
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS
Ashley Carter Youngblood is both a fully-licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling at her woman-owned business, Inner Peace Counseling, PLC, for those in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, or life coaching. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
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