Although it is never easy, grief and loss are unavoidably part of human life. We can experience loss in many forms, after which grief will follow. The grief process is a unique process for each of us and each individual will work through their grief in their own way. Grief is a painful process, but it allows us to acknowledge our loss and move closer to coming to terms with what has happened. Many times, grief can help clear the way to be able to move on. Understanding the different stages of grief and being familiar with various coping mechanisms could make it a little easier when we are faced with loss in our lives.
Grief is often divided into five stages. These five stages can provide a framework of what we can expect. Here are the stages:
1. Denial and Isolation.
The first stage of grief is the denial and isolation stage. It is the first reaction upon learning of the loss, death or even terminal illness of cherished one. Denying the reality helps one survive a loss situation initially. “This isn’t and can’t be happening right now,” people often think. At this stage, you might think that life makes no sense and has no meaning. It is common to wonder how life will be in this different state, as life has changed instantly. Denial and isolation help in pacing your feelings of grief. The stage is a normal reaction or a body’s natural defense mechanism to rationalize the overwhelming sense of loss. To go through this first wave of pain, we tend to hide from the facts. Once denial starts fading, the healing process begins. It is at this point that the suppressed feelings resurface.
As the effects of denial start fading and you begin to live with the actual reality, pain often re-emerges, and anger and resentment begin to set in. At this stage, it is common to think that life is not fair, and questions such as “why did this have to happen?” will resurface. You might start blaming others or maybe redirect your anger to inanimate objects, family, friends, doctors or even complete strangers. Those who are strong in faith might even start questioning their belief in God with questions such as “where was God?” or “why did God allow this to happen?” etc. You can also find yourself emotionally resenting the person for leaving you and causing all this pain. As difficult as it may be, this is a necessary stage of the grieving process that helps us dissipate the anger and continue healing. Anger is considered as a strength that binds you to reality; it is a natural step of healing that you should grasp on to.
When something bad happens, we often wish to regain control of the situation. Most people find themselves trying to make a deal with God, or believe that they can avoid the loss through negotiation. “Please God, if you could only heal my (loved one), I will strive to do the best without further complaints” In a way, this is a stage of false hope. Bargaining makes you so desperate to get your life back as it was and presents itself with endless “what if” and “if only” statements. Examples of this stage are statements such as “If only I had left the house ten minutes earlier, the accident would not have happened,” or “if only we had tried seeking medical attention elsewhere early enough, the tumor could not have spread.” Bargaining is a weaker attempt of protecting us from the painful reality by thinking we could have postponed the inevitable.
Depression is a commonly accepted stage and form of grief. It is a representation of the emptiness we feel in our hearts living in reality and realize that a person is gone, or situation is over. In fact, it is at this stage that a person might withdraw from life, live in a fog, feel numb and might even not get out of bed. It is common to experience feelings of hopelessness, and feelings that things will never get better. In severe cases, one might feel suicidal thoughts creeping in and could struggle with trying to find the point of going on. If you find suicidal thoughts invading your thought life, tell someone immediately! Know there is hope and help, no matter what your situation is!
Acceptance is considered the last stage of grief. You live with the pain and acknowledgment that even though you have lost someone you love, you will go on and, even though it won’t be easy, life will continue. It is at this stage that your emotions begin stabilizing after accepting the reality. Acceptance is a time of adjustment and readjustment, with the hope that better days are coming. You start engaging with friends again and restore your relationship with others as time goes on. Understanding that nothing can replace our loved ones helps us grow and evolve into a new reality. It is in this final stage of grief that we hopefully gain a certain amount of peace.
The loss of someone or something that we dearly love is a painful process. Many times talking with a trained professional such as a psychologist or counselor can help us identify, sort and understand our feelings, thus clearing the path for healing to take place.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a loss, there is help available! Dr. Michael Cristiano, a board-certified psychologist in Boca Raton, specializes in helping others cope with grief and loss. Having earned the coveted Psychology Today verification, Dr. Cristiano provides sound clinical advice in a nurturing atmosphere. Schedule your appointment today by calling 561-962-0450. Let Dr. Cristiano help you work through your grief so you can embrace the future.