People can grieve for many reasons. There can be a loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of a house, a loss of a city even. All these incidents can cause a person to be traumatized and then gives way to grief. Everyone grieves differently and over difference amounts of time. You might have heard of the “5 stages of grief” (or 4 or 7). This theory was created by Kubler-Ross.
Some people see these stages listed and take comfort in the belief that they can identify where someone grieving is on this list and know how much more grieving is coming. I mean if you know what stage you are in right now then you know what you need to move to. Just step it through until you get to acceptance, right? Families of those grieving can also feel a sense of false comfort a loved one’s behavior and think, “Whew! She is at stage 3; only two more to go.”
Of course, in real life none of that happens. Heartache is not linear nor move from one step to the next in a clean process like a staircase. Grief is a process that looks more like a cat’s cradle than a straight line. Loved ones can go from denial to bargaining to anger and then back again in the whole process of healing from a loss.
For a family member or friend this can be frustrating to watch. Family members try to support the person grief-stricken but end up feeling exhausted, frustrated and irritated. So often family and friends mean well but a person cannot go through the grieving process at our family or friends schedule. It is deeply personal. What can be even harder for family and friends is when person that is trying to heal might not see a way to actually help himself or herself. Family and friends can become upset and aggressive with the person grieving. You can hear statements like, “She is having a pity party” or “He is not trying to get help” or “He/She is purposely not looking to heal”. This is when “victim blaming” comes into play and the person with the loss can feel hurt, misunderstood and threatened.
Death and loss are topics that we, as a society, don’t often address. When someone is in your circle of friends and family and they experience a loss, many people can feel uncomfortable and lost in the process of helping the griever. For myself as I have aged I look back and think to myself, “What was I thinking?” I have been guilty of platitudes or expecting someone to heal at my speed not theirs. The person grieving is doing what is natural for their body, brain and heart. Your body and mind have to find its own way toward learning to live with this change to their lives.
So How Do The Stages Actually Appear In An Individual?
The first stage is denial. Your brain will shut itself down if you are in a traumatizing experience. Being told that someone has died, you have lost your home, or some other loss is a traumatizing experience. You really can’t take all the information in. When you continue with your life hours or days later you are continually reminded of what you have lost.
At some point, you can become angry. “Why would someone say (enter platitude) to me? Why am I all the sudden feeling very alone.” This is often the point where the person that is grieving is starting to recognize that whatever they have lost is not coming back. This stage can revert back to denial if the person continues to be shut down.
The anger and questioning can often move into bargaining. This is the point where a person tries to make a bargain to get their loss back. “I will do X and you will give me back ____.” The bargaining step can easily circle back to anger when their plan or wish does not come true. As an observer you might wonder what happened? It appeared this person was making progress but then we are starting over again.
Throughout this process the person grieving can become sadder than they had been throughout, this is depression. At the point where anger has burned out and bargaining has failed an individual can feel hopeless and more alone. The person can feel that they don’t have energy, they can’t feel pleasure from anything, their sleep and eating can be off. If a person has symptoms of depression it can be hard to get him/her moving. It can be even harder to get this person help or convince them that they need help to fight this. Continued support is very helpful.
The final stage is acceptance. This is a hard stage to get to and some people never get here. It requires the understanding that whatever you have loss, it isn’t coming back. With that understanding there must be a sense of “I will be ok”. It doesn’t mean the person is not troubled or affected when thinking about the loss. The person can continue with their life. They are no longer “stuck”.
This whole grieving process can take a day, a week, years. There are no set expectations for what is needed for the person grieving to pass through the healing process. Those around this person can only be present to offer comfort or just an ear to listen. Family and friends can offer help for whatever the bereaved might need help on. (i.e. picking up the kids now and then, calling or coming by just to listen to what your friend needs).
If you are working with someone grieving you should continue to be aware of how you are doing. Make sure you do selfcare. You have to take care of yourself first before you can offer help. Keep in mind any signs of exhaustion such as :Are you feeling tired? Do you try to avoid calls from the person grieving in your life? Do feel overwhelmed when trying to offer help?
All of these should be warning signs to you that you need to stop and take some time out to replenish yourself. There is nothing wrong with helping yourself. If you feel like a person you know fits any of these roles and you are concerned about their wellbeing, seek out help. See if anyone you know have ideas that can be presented to the person grieving as options (not requirements). If that person expresses a need to hurt themselves seek professional help.