Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the world-renowned psychiatrist and author of “On Death and Dying,” once explained that there really are no coincidences that just happen to befall us in life. Instead, everything that does occur does so as a Higher Power’s greater plan for us to learn from and overcome. Ross, who spent countless time with dying patients and documenting their grief, recognized a particular cycle of grief that happens when patients are told they have acquired an incurable illness. When people experience the tragedy of a loved ones passing or even other forms of grief, such as a cancer diagnosis, there are five different stages that encompass their emotions. While no one state is a right or wrong way to feel and experience the stages of grief, it’s very common to suffer loss in cycles and some even jump back and forth.
These emotions can come flooding in like a tidal wave or they can slowly push on the doors of a person’s heart until it is paramount. Author David Kessler recently had an opportunity to expound upon Ross’s research in his adapted book, “On Grief and Grieving.” Mr. Kessler saw a need to correct the popular, but misguided conception that these seven stages of grief should act as a quick Band-Aid and allow people to compartmentalize their various emotions. This is because there is no one wrong or right way to feel. The now seven, once only recognized as five stages, are a general guideline to assist people in grief to help recognize the emotions that are stemming from the grieving process.
The various stages being Shock/Denial, Anger, Guilt, Depression, Acceptance and Engaging Life. All center around and make up the platform for accepting the loss of a loved one or a terminal diagnosis. These stages can be experienced very differently to each individual and are not exclusive to all of them or in the exact order as listed. It’s important to understand that as grief comes over a person, the same personality traits and way of expressing themselves they had before becomes heightened. For example, if a person was quick to anger before the tragedy occurred, they would most likely stay in the anger stage more often. That being said, the range of emotions involving the sorrow of a loved one can be highly unique to what they are made up of. Let’s go over a little more detail on the seven stages below to give a general consensus on how they can help in the healing process.
Stage 1: DENIAL/SHOCK
Denial is one of the more commonly experienced emotions when a loved one passes or tragic news is given. It steps in and insulates people from the other emotions, so we can try our best to find any shred of normalcy in an absolutely overwhelming situation. It also helps people to moderate the emotions of grief that can flood the mind quickly. As the denial process slowly brings to surface what has just occurred, most accept the reality of the loss and start to ask themselves questions. The denial stage at this point usually starts to slip away. Denial, however, should never be partnered with isolation. Isolation can catapult a longer season of stay in anger.
Stage 2: ANGER
One of the biggest keys to overcoming the anger a person is dealing with, is to embrace it and not bury it. For some people, anger sticks around a lot longer than the other stages because it gives them some control in an out of control situation. Blaming others or God is not a healthy thing of course or conducive to acceptance, but acknowledging it will give many the ability to face the underlining cause of it, pain. The pain can give way to feelings of abandonment which can bridge the gap toward the next phase of bargaining. Anger should ideally only be used as a temporary structure to acknowledgement of what has just occurred.
Stage 3: Guilt/Bargaining
The guilt process can be a holding field for many who are experiencing grief. The ‘what if I’ concepts can get lost in a swirl of control and false hope. Many cancer patients for example, will find themselves drinking from a fire hose Googling or You Tubing fringe cures that can do more harm than good in terms of wasting precious time over proven treatment protocols. Guilt is usually accompanied by bargaining because a person is desperate to get back what they lost, but are unable to do so in the long run. The downfall to this stage is that it holds one in prison, not allowing them to move forward from guilt.
Stage 4: Depression
When the process of bargaining becomes more apparent that it is doing no good and all attempts at control and changing the situation become futile, reality can kick the door wide open! Depression at this point, when dealing with death, supersedes even the lament or requiem of the anger stage. This is because it tends to stay around the longest duration of time. Withdrawal from life as a person knew it, can lead to severe sadness and in the worst-case scenarios thoughts of not wanting to go on. Depression is actually quite normal. The phase of depression in a large number of cases gets better quicker when equipped with professional grief counseling that help a person see through the web of confusion.
Stage 4: Acceptance
The acceptance of a person’s unfortunate circumstances should never be mistaken for the notion that they feel at peace with it or alright it. Acceptance draws people into their actual circumstances of reality that has become the mainstay. Learning to operate within this reality of acceptance is about adapting and adhering to the facts to make their lives as comfortable and fruitful as possible. Those who don’t embrace the acceptance phase usually don’t progress and this can lead to reverting to previous stages. Grief counselors are a good way to help people move forward to a better quality of life and navigate the waters of dealing with death.
Final Stage: Engaging Life
People who have overcome the previous six stages, oftentimes are ready to begin living life again in an attempt to bring healing to their everyday lives. While engaging life’s current circumstances may take a little effort, such as having to start a journal to work feelings and goals out, things will happen much easier. A different perspective is perceived and life becomes worthwhile again.
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