By: Lincoln Hill, Clinical Intern
Experiencing the pain and emotional turmoil often associated with grief and loss is an unfortunate, though inevitable, aspect of human existence. While loss and mourning are likely to appear multiple times and in various forms in an individual’s life, many people mistakenly believe that there is a certain or “right” way to manage grief. Everyone handles grief in a unique manner and follows an individualized timeline. Some people take days or weeks to accept grief whereas others mourn for years.
Furthermore, many people tend to conceptualize grief only in terms of death and don’t consider other forms of loss such as breakups, moving, losing a job, miscarriages, and financial instability. Regardless of whom or what an individual is grieving, it is important to note that the grief process comes in multiple waves and stages. In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed five stages of grief. These stages are not meant to be linear or absolute. These stages are not necessarily taken in order and some may never experience a particular stage. They are meant to help normalize some potential grief reactions.
- Denial/Isolation: this stage refers to ignoring the reality or weight of the situation. Example: “I know the doctor said that she only has six weeks to live, but she’ll be fine.”
- Anger: this stage occurs when we attempt to deflect from our vulnerable and painful feelings and choose to express them in the form of anger. Example: “It’s the incompetent doctor’s fault! This is his entire fault!”
- Bargaining: this stage refers to our desire to regain control in an attempt to postpone or avoid the unwanted situation. Example: “If she would have gone to the doctor more often, this wouldn’t have happened.”
- Depression: this stage refers to an overwhelming sense of sadness connected to the state of mourning. Example: “I’m really going to miss her. It’s so upsetting to imagine her not in my life.”
- Acceptance: at this stage, we begin to make peace with our loss , recognizing that we will never be able to replace or forget what the person meant to us. Example: “I don’t necessarily understand why this happened, but I choose to remember her legacy and experience my new reality without her.”