After the death of a loved one we are often left with a deep feeling of loss. This internal pain, called grief, is the result of a relationship once shared. The connection between two people can be so strong that in its absence one experiences seemingly unbearable heartache. However, with this pain there is also a process taking place, a process of healing.
Grief can take on many forms as each unique individual will internalize and process events differently. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler (2005), who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving, outline five stages of grief that can be used to identify what one is going through: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While each individual can grieve in a different way, the journey of healing often includes aspects of some or all of these stages.
Denial, the first stage, is a coping mechanism that provides protection in an overwhelming situation. It often occurs when one is unable to make sense of things and is struck with shock and numbness. Denial gives the griever the time needed to begin processing what has taken place. Anger is another stage, and is an emotion people can better understand. It allows for a certain release of feelings that can show just how much pain the griever is experiencing. Bargaining is the stage of “what if” statements and negotiations where the griever wishes the pain away or wants to go back in time as though the loss never occurred. Depression is the next stage, marked by withdraw and intensely deep sorrow. Many fear this part of the process and are afraid that it signifies mental illness. However, it is a natural and appropriate response to loss. Allowing the self to truly feel the emotions that arise will enable healing. The last stage is acceptance. This does not mean that a griever is now fine with what took place. Instead, it is about understanding one’s new reality and making adjustments accordingly. It is growth (Kubler-Ross & Kessler, 2005).
Grieving is truly a journey and requires time. Each person will take their own road to healing, making stops at some or all of the stages, maybe even multiple times and in different orders. Finding support systems is often recommended and can be immensely helpful to identifying and processing one’s feelings, thereby increasing awareness and growth. With growth will come a new way of life and a realization of internal healing.