Losing someone near and dear to you can be an extremely emotionally challenging time. You might feel like you can’t go back to being the same person ever again. Sometimes, people deal with the loss of a loved one by going into full-action mode and shifting all their focus on the logistical realities following a death, such as arranging the funeral. On the other hand, some people’s lives roll to a stop after losing a loved one, and they are unable to carry on with their usual lives. Most people, however, find a sense of normalcy following the period of grieving – known as bereavement. And, when they do so, they are able to find a healthy way to reminisce their loved one while accepting that they are no longer with them.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the eminent psychiatrist and death-and-dying expert, conceptualized grief in five stages. According to her theory on grief, individuals go through a stage of denial first, when they cannot accept that their loved one is no more. This is followed by anger around their loss and an attempt to bargain, which involves thinking of all the what if scenarios in which their loved one is still alive. However, depression follows suit as they realize that the death is in fact irreversible and permanent. Finally, comes the stage of acceptance, as an individual comes to terms with the loss.
Although Kubler-Ross’ work has helped us to understand and describe grief and bereavement, many nowadays feel that this may be an overly simplistic view on grief. Our grief may not always progress in such clear stages, or in this order, or with one feeling at a time. The unfortunate consequence of this hard-set model is that some people might criticize themselves or others for not progressing through grief along these exact stages. However, it is pivotal to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently, and that our psyche is built to process emotions in unique ways. Moreover, factors such as culture, religion, spirituality and socio-economics greatly influence the grieving process. In this talk, artist Alyssa Monks beautifully explains how she dealt with the grief of losing her beloved mother through creativity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=801&v=KRrNST9OAcA. In the process, she learned that it was important to “fall to your knees, be humbled, let go of trying to change it or even wanting it to be different” in facing grief and attaining acceptance.
Although the five stages model may not capture your individual grieving process, there are a few ideas that we can extract from the model and apply more universally. The feelings that Kubler-Ross describes, i.e. the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are all natural to experience at some point during the grieving process. What’s important to do is to work through the grief over time. If you sense that you or someone else may be experiencing a complicated grieving process following a loss, you can seek the help of a mental health professional. At the end of the day, this is not a race, and there is no set duration for a “normal” bereavement period, nor a proper or right way to grieve. Everyone will follow a different journey to acceptance.