Grief in Stages: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One
Losing a loved one is often accompanied by many different emotions. You may have heard of the “five stages of grief,” which were originally presented by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. While every individual goes through their own progression of grief, Kübler-Ross recognized a pattern which has been used as somewhat of a roadmap for people to understand what they’re feeling—and why.
The stages are briefly described as follows:
- Denial—can’t believe the loss has happened; feels a sense of surrealism.
- Anger—rooted in the body’s “fight or flight” response (sympathetic nervous system); generally temporary in nature.
- Bargaining—taking the approach, “If only it was me, not you.”
- Depression—feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Acceptance—come to an understanding that nothing can change the loss.
A newer sixth stage has also been identified: purpose. “From the death and all of those stages, people get to the point of, ‘Okay. Because that happened, I'm going to do this
.’ You see that when people do walks in memory of a person or even goes as far as changing state legislature because of an event,” states Dr. Libby Brown, clinical psychologist at Deaconess The Women's Hospital
Level Up Your Coping Skills
When dealing with loss, it can be helpful to have certain coping skills in place—both for the person who has experienced the loss, as well as those around them.
For example, Dr. Brown says it’s important to not dismiss the affected person’s feelings. Even saying something like, “You’re going to be okay in the long run” can come off cold. She also advises being a good listener, as well as making sure to give the grieving person some time and space to do just that: grieve.
“I think the core to all of this is to not forget they'll be grieving for quite a while. It's really hard to remember when you see someone two months, six months, one year later, they may still be dealing with tremendous issues even if they don't talk about it. I like to be very respectful of the length of time someone is grieving. You can't rush grief,” she cautions.
One factor that’s difficult for a lot of people is understanding the depth of grief, no matter the situation. Dr. Brown notes that many people don’t comprehend just how devastating a miscarriage can be and may not afford the women and her partner the same level of compassion as someone who has lost a spouse or young child.
No Right or Wrong Way to Grieve
Again, everyone grieves in their own way—so there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to process those feelings. Some people are void of tears, but that doesn’t mean they are suffering any less. Dr. Brown says that going numb is one type of protection mechanism.
“A person’s grief is their own; to go through in their own way and to realize that's within the norm. I think sometimes people begin to judge their own grieving process and feel like something's wrong with them. ‘Why is it all these many months later and I still feel bad? Everyone said I'd feel better after a year, but a year has come, and I feel worse.’ There's a lot of self-talk about the ‘right’ way to do it, the length of time. But, this is a very process of going through something and not trying to play by anyone's rules. Just do whatever you need to, uniquely, and reach out to good listeners when you feel like you need it.”
**To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Dr. Libby Brown, clinical psychologist at Deaconess The Women's Hospital, follow this link: https://radiomd.com/deaconess/item/45607