While there is no true solution for managing grief, there are supportive methods to help one cope. The first thing to do, is to realize that the loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event. As a result of this event, one may experience a vast range of emotions, even when the death is expected.
One of the first feelings many report after first learning of a death is an initial stage of numbness. However, there is no real order to the grieving process. A few other emotions one could experience may include denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair, guilt and finally, great sorrow.
After the death of someone you love, you experience what is known as “bereavement,” which literally means “to be deprived by death.” Considering that this loss can lead to a catastrophic emotional crisis, it is vital to learn methods to help one handle their sorrow. Read on to learn more about two well-known and respected, therapeutic methods to help one handle their grief.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief: In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what is now widely known as the “five stages of grief.” These were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many have used and generalized them to help handle other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.” This is often one of the first stages one could go through and is often accompanied by an intense feeling of numbness.
Anger:“Why is this happening? Who is to blame?” This is a very common feeling to occur, and shouldn’t be discredited.
Bargaining:“Make this not happen, and in return, I will ____.” This stage can often go with denial, as a method to help the mind deal with the trauma of losing someone they love.
Depression:“I’m too sad to do anything.” While all stages are extremely devastating, this is one of the most. Those suffering within this stage, are advised to seek additional outside help (therapy/ counseling) to help move through this stage.
Acceptance:“I’m at peace with what happened.” This final stage could occur much earlier. However, it is important to know, that at some point, everyone going through grief, can and should have this as an end goal.
While some may experience going through all of these stages, Kübler-Ross does point out, contrary to popular belief, one does not have to go through each stage in order to heal. In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages. However, it can help many to know about these.
William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning:Psychologist J. William Worden provides a framework of four tasks that help us understand how people journey through grief. His theory, titled the “Four Tasks of Mourning,” explains that healing happens gradually, as grievers address these tasks, in no specific order, going back and forth from one to another over time.
Task #1:Accept the Reality of the Loss: While one may know in their mind, that their loved one has died, at first they may experience a sense of disbelief. In order to fully understand the reality of their death means mourners have to “take it in” with their whole being.
For some, the reality may start immediately after the death, when one has to call the mortuary, attend the memorial, or pick up the ashes. Afterward, this acceptance may reappear during the weeks, months or years later, when special occasions arise where the loved one normally would be in attendance. Again, this stark reality will hit as one realizes that their loved one has died.
Task #2:Process the Pain of Grief: Since grief is experienced emotionally, cognitively, physically, and spiritually. With all types, it is vital that one “leans into the grief.” Meaning don’t be afraid to cry, scream, yell, etc. as one goes through their own grief process. If some people are telling one to: “Get over it; move on; be strong,” this task is the opposite. In contrast, this task aims at encouraging the safe expression of all the natural grief reactions.
Task #3:Adjust to a World without the Deceased: As one begins going through life, they have to make specific adjustments to living a life without their loved one. External adjustments include taking on responsibility and learning new skills. Internal adjustments include adapting to a new identity. Finally, spiritual adjustments include grappling with questions about one’s own belief system, purpose, and meaning of life.
Task #4:Find an Enduring Connection with the Deceased in the Midst of Embarking on a New Life: This is a step that takes the most time. It occurs when one can acknowledge that yes, their loved one is gone, but they will always be with them in another sense. This occurs when one can create a unique balance between remembering the person who died and living their own full and meaningful life.
As someone who personally just went through the loss of a loved one (my father succumbed to a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease last May), I know the difficulty that grief can inflict on a person’s life. While there is not one day that goes by that I don’t miss my father, I will say that these methods did help me get through the beginning of my own grief journey.