The holiday season is a difficult time for many people. It does not always bring tidings of comfort and joy but of regret, sorrow and loss. For those who have experienced loss they feel the pain and grief of that loss particularly at the Holidays.
Grief is a normal and common response to loss. While it is a normal occurrence, God did not create us to experience loss. Loss came about because of sin. This is what makes grief so difficult and different for everyone. Grief is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief will be. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a relationship break-up. People experience grief over a variety of loss such as a job loss, failure of a business, or loss of a home.
The five stages of grief
- Denial – Denial occurs as a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
- Anger – Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them.
- Bargaining – Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with God. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
- Depression – Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
- Acceptance – This stage is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
People enter a cycle of grief when experiencing loss. Each stage of the cycle and the resulting emotions may occur simultaneously. This complicates the experience of grief as a person floats in and out of each stage creating emotional chaos that the person attempts to eradicate and bring order and sense too. The problem is that there is no order to grief. People try to “escape” the grief instead of experiencing it.
Loss is a normal experience and the best way to deal with grief is to experience it. Ignoring what you are feeling at any given moment does not allow you to experience the emotions created by grief. These feelings will come out sideways and prolong the experience of grief.
To cope with grief, I advise my clients to recognize what they are feeling and then share it with someone who is safe and will validate your feelings of grief. Sharing the feelings gives others the opportunity to validate the loss and walk along someone who is grieving.
I remember when my best friends wife died after a yearlong struggle with breast cancer. At the end of her life she had withered away physically to someone almost unrecognizable. At the moment of her passing, her husband gently and quietly told her to let go and stop trying to hold onto a life that was yielding. We all felt the same and were comforted by his gesture. Linda let go and died.
At that moment I remember feeling “Come back, we will take you sick and frail as long as you don’t leave us.” This was grief. I had jumped from acceptance to bargaining and denial in a matter of moments. What helped in that moment was sharing with the others in the room. Once again we came together, cried shared our thoughts and feelings, cried again and accepted what had just happened…Linda was gone from us forever…we could not have her back. Through sharing this moment with others, I was comforted.
Sharing feelings makes us vulnerable. But that vulnerability creates an intimate moment which builds a very strong foundation of trust. As we grieve, we must embrace the process and chaos of feelings in order to come out the other side whole and functional. I tell my clients do not try to get around, go over or ignore your feelings of grief. Instead walk straight into it, embrace it and share it. This is the shortest path through the painful experience of loss.