Facing the loss of a loved one can often be one of the most challenging and difficult things we face in life. Unfortunately, it is an experience that we all encounter at some point. Our understanding of grieving has also shifted over the fifty or so years that it has been studied by the mental health professions. Much of what we originally understood about grieving was borrowed from Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ descriptions of the emotional journey of someone facing death. She proposed that the dying journey occurs in a series of stages, often known as the “Five Stages of Grief,” beginning with denial, then anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. Her writings were soon borrowed/applied to our understanding of how we grieve for the loss of another and in many cases the fact that they were “borrowed” gets overlooked. Of course, in hindsight, we can understand that this model would not be a perfect fit for a different process. If you have dealt with the loss of someone dear to you, you are likely to report that your experience was less orderly and more complex that those simple five stages and may have included more or fewer emotions. New research has been conducted that more accurately describes the experience of grievers – interestingly there are both similarities and differences. One important thing that we know now is that grieving the loss of another does not occur in separate stages and is usually not a neat or tidy process.
New studies suggest grievers may experience several of the emotions simultaneously. Other emotions are also likely – both disbelief and yearning are frequent. Each person also experiences each emotion in different measure and this may change over time. My own experience in working with people who are grieving, is that the process is usually quite individualized. It is greatly affected by circumstances of the death (was it expected, accidental, etc.) and by the nature of the relationship (were there unresolved issues between the person who passed and the bereaved, how central the deceased person was in the life of the bereaved, etc.) as well as the coping style and resources of the bereaved person.
Perhaps a more realistic understanding is that grieving involves accomplishing many tasks, such as coming to terms with why the loss occurred, reconciling your own responsibility or lack of control about the death, accepting the absence of the person, coming to terms with the meaning for you in your spiritual and philosophical beliefs, creating a new future for yourself, allowing for the passage of time, and finding comfort and peace in a painful situation. Grief is a highly personal experience and although there are common emotions while grieving, there is no concrete time-table or one method of coping with loss. If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a loved one and would like professional assistance or support, please feel free to give me a call. For more information on this topic please visit the following links:
Stages Grief Time New Model
Five Stages of Grief