Grief Goes Beyond the Five Stages

April 13, 2018

Grief is not a problem waiting to be solved or a disease to be cured. It cannot be divided into five or seven stages. Grief is often seen as a linear process that includes denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This process also assumes a beginning and an end, or an expiration date of sorts when the grieving person is expected to go back to their life and back to their “normal.” Unfortunately, life isn’t quite so tidy. As well-meaning as people are, they often don’t realize that grief is more than just five stages, and more than something to “get over.”
Grief is a normal, multi-faceted reaction to a profound sense of loss. Most of us experience at least some of the five stages or phases of grief after death of a loved one. However, this widely-accepted progression was the result of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s work with terminally ill patients, not bereaved people. Those in mourning are expected to work through each stage before moving on to the next, in what is seen as a natural progression. However, time and experience have shown that here are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Pushing someone through what should be their own unique process is hurtful and harmful, as is expecting grief to pass within a set amount of time.
How long is long enough? Some grief takes months to work through, some takes years, and some is forever. Taking time for yourself after the death of a loved one is appropriate and expected, but then you are encouraged to get back to your life and move forward. Allowing yourself that time and space to mourn at your own pace is imperative. While moving forward with your life is important and encouraging, it can also be isolating and difficult if everyone assumes you are back to normal.
Mourning is a process and it is as unique to every individual as was their relationship with the deceased. While getting over it is not possible and returning to the way life was before is even less likely, taking small steps toward healing and finding ways to express grief is key. Speak your pain, because keeping it masked or bottled will only prolong it. One way to do that is to commemorate the departed in ways that feel good. Another is to express grief in ways that are not harmful, such as journaling or talking to a friend who will listen and not try to fix it.
There is nothing wrong with what you feel.

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