Grief is a normal, sometimes overpowering response to the loss of a loved one – or even anticipated loss when dealing with terminal illness. Each person works through the grieving process in a different manner, but there are common stages shared by those who are suffering. In her studies on death and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages:
Denial – Generally a temporary defense, conscious or unconscious, characterized by a refusal to accept the reality of the situation.
Anger – People may be angry at themselves, with others, or even the person who has died.
Bargaining – Often a maze of “what if” or “if only” statements, this is closely associated with guilt.
Depression – This is a deep level of grief that may feel as if it will last forever, often leading people to withdraw and wonder about going on alone.
Acceptance – This stage is about accepting the reality, readjusting and learning to live with it. You can never replace what is lost, but you can evolve.
Psychiatrist John Bowlby explains grief in four phases:
Numbness – The phase which immediately follows a loss, numbness is somewhat of a defense mechanism that allows people to survive emotionally.
Searching and Yearning – This is characterized by longing or yearning for the deceased to return. Many emotions are expressed during this time and may include weeping, anger, anxiety, and confusion.
Disorganization and Despair – At this point, withdrawal from others and disengagement from activities formerly enjoyed are common, along with apathy and despair.
Reorganization and Recovery – This is the final phase where a new state of “normal” is achieved. Grief never ends, but thoughts of sadness and despair are diminished while positive memories of the deceased take over.
It’s important to realize that these are all normal emotions and responses to the loss of a loved one. It’s also important to reach out and/or accept others’ help in dealing with them. Here are some resources to help you understand and deal with grief. Many of these websites in turn have links to even more resources.