Those on the outside of a death or serious loss often underestimate the severity and pain of true grief. Many have described others grieving as ‘missing someone very badly’, or ‘getting used to being without something or someone’. Although these descriptions are technically accurate, they fail to convey just how devastating the death of a loved one, a loss of a marriage or home, or even a tough transition between careers or life stages can be.
As the reader is walked through the five stages of grief as laid out by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a well-renowned psychological researcher in the late 60’s, try to step outside the bounds of analysis and observation, and view the experience and situation as if the subject being described is you. It is important to note that this process is hardly linear; individuals move entirely at their own pace, and often back and forth throughout the grieving process.
Many counselors and therapists use the Freudian term of ‘denial’, but both words are meant to convey a person’s resistance to believing or accepting the reality of a terribly painful situation. When an incoming thought, feeling, or experience is perceived as a threat to the well-being and equilibrium of a body and mind, defense mechanisms are unconsciously utilized. Like the urge to ‘fight, flee, or freeze’ in life-threatening situations, the mind does the same when intense pain hits…trying to metaphorically ‘evade’ the situation by not accepting it’s reality.
When the masking effects of disbelief begin to fade, often a new defense mechanism kicks in: anger. Seemingly trying to ‘fight’ the awful reality of a loved one dying, the second stage of grieving revolves around the individual becoming angry, being aimed towards a variety of targets including God, family, inanimate objects, or more dangerously, themselves. They question the fairness and justice of their situation as if a successful argument of their case might result in getting back what was recently lost.
At this point of the process, sensations of vulnerability and helplessness often rise to the surface, and the awareness of one’s lack of control over life’s events becomes overpowering. In the futile effort to recover what wasn’t really theirs in the first place, grievers may find themselves trying to ‘rewrite the past’ by telling themselves “if only…” statements: “If only I had been there, he wouldn’t have died…” or “if only I had been more caring and kind, she wouldn’t have left…” The validity of these statements is null and void; they don’t really change much.
Often considered the ‘lowest point’ of grieving, this is the point where the defense mechanisms and evasive maneuvers have been wiped away, and one is finally present to the fullness of the pain. This is a critical stage; many allow themselves to own and really experience the situation as a whole, while others still evade the apex of the struggle. Although they certainly cannot be blamed for not wanting to go through this reality, it is typically in this stage where the battle of true grieving is won, or lost.
How one truly accepts the experience as a whole, and moves forward, is very unique to each person. This ‘last stage’ isn’t a party either; the loss is still honored and remembered, not forgotten. However, the process hopefully resulted in deep, authentic growth and experience within one’s body, mind, and soul. Resisting the entire process unfortunately does little to actually help a person, and rather delays and prevents true healing.
For those who know someone who is grieving, or is grieving themselves: be sure to treat each situation and each individual as just that…individual. No two people are the same. This is meant only as a guide for how this process ultimately moves, and to offer some small guiding or encouraging towards internal healing.
Image source: MyBlogGuest platform Written by Clif, a freelance writer for SereniCare Funeral Homes. My writing focuses on psychology, interpersonal relationship, and other social phenomena. Thank you for reading this post!