Not everyone grieves in the same way. People have different physical appearances, perspectives, experiences, thoughts, emotions, backgrounds, relationships, and attitudes. So when it comes to grieving, there are many healthy forms with the exception of one: not grieving.
Embracing grief is a willingness to accept the fluctuating emotions, random thoughts, internal struggles, constant questions, and ever-shifting environment. But “accept” does not mean enjoy. Grieving is hard work, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. Yet it is a necessary part of moving forward even when it is unwelcome.
A person can grieve the death of someone they love, the dissolving of a marriage, termination of a career, loss of innocence, the end of a relationship, a transition of a child into adulthood, a debilitating illness/disability, or a traumatic event in their neighborhood/community. Here are the stages of grief which can be done in any order. Most often, people find that they oscillate between stages or the stages come in waves, some stronger than others.
Stage one is denial. It is difficult to believe that what has happened has really occurred. Feelings of numbness, anxiety, panic, shock, disbelief, coldness, detachment, and emotionlessness are typical. In the case of a death, for a period of time, the person may even imagine conversations with their loved one. This usually does not last too long, anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. However, it frequently reappears during the other stages when things get overwhelming with too many new decisions to make.
Stage two is anger. This is a hard emotional reaction for some. Some become angry with the person who passed away, for missing some important detail and not paying attention, intense feelings of abandonment or rejection, or frustration over the circumstances that led to the event. Others become angry internally for not saying good-bye, not performing some task, having a fight or argument, failing to take care of matters, or an inability to help. Oftentimes, the anger is projected onto others who may or may not have anything to do with the event. Anger can be aggressive, suppressive, passive-aggressive, or the best way: assertive.
Stage three is bargaining. “If only,” “I should have,” or “I wish” are all bargaining methods of trying to regain control of life. When a person engages in this type of thinking, they are really saying that they had control over the timing or the situation. This is a normal response and while it sounds a little bit dysfunctional, this thinking can be helpful. The feelings of denial and anger seem to consume thoughts and life appears to be out of control. In contrast, bargaining is a way to return life back to some level of control.
Stage four is depression. It is perfectly normal to feel depressed after one of the events mentioned above. Depression is a valley in life, a period of time when things seem to slow down. It is a time for being introspective, doing self-evaluation, and reflecting on what has transpired. These moments can bring greater clarity and meaning which later will enhance the quality of life. Depression resulting from grief is normal and should be embraced as part of the process and not something to run from.
Stage five is acceptance. Not that the event is OK, but at some point, there is a realization that life goes on and happiness can be regained. While contentment seemed elusive before, it now becomes more frequent and the simple things bring joy again. It is as if there is a return to a better form of existence as a result of the experience. Things are better in that life is appreciated more, time with loved ones is valued, relationships are more meaningful, and purpose in life is newly redirected. Acceptance is not about forgetting; rather it is about acknowledging and enduring. This stage is not fully entered into until the other stages are complete.
Grief is normal and healthy. It can take on many different forms depending on the person. The entire process can last a few weeks, months, or years and should not be rushed as if another task to finish. This is a valuable time of insight, reflection, and understanding that can improve the quality of life going forward.