The Seven Stages of Grief
Grief and loss can be associated with any stage of life. Grief is associated with any kind of loss and will vary in length and intensity.
Grief is a normal, natural part of life. It is important that grief be regarded as a healing process. There are seven recognized grief stages. An individual will experience each stage during their grief; however, it may not be in order and some stages may be visited more than once.
There are many different definitions of the stages of grief, among which are the common dictionary defintions. The seven stages of grief and a brief definition as they apply to grief are:
1. Shock or Disbelief that the loss has occured. As it relates to violent or natural death, is a psychological mechanism, a fog, which allows us to function sometimes even efficiently, at a very devastating time in our lives. Much of what happens during this time we will never remember. This fog will protect us for days, weeks and sometimes even months. It is believed that shock is the ally of the grief stricken. Shock is probably the only factor that prevents the onset of more serious mental problems, later during grieving.
2. Denial is the stage in which the person refuses to accept the loss has occured. Denial is an escape from reality. Denial, is an unconscious defense mechanism, characterized by refusal to accept the reality of death.
3. In the Bargaining stage, the person attempts to reconcile the loss by making deals with other people, sometimes also with Diety.
4. Guilt is marked by statements of "if only I had done/been...".Many of us that work with victims classify guilt as the "What if's." What if I had taken him to the store with me? What if she had not been out after midnight? Guilt wears many hoods. Very few of us escape feeling of guilt. For example, I will worry for the rest of my life whether something I did or didn't do, lead to Susan's death.
5. Anger is a natural stage everyone must pass. Anger may be directed toward the loss, the person lost, or even Diety. Anger and rage in these cases can be directed toward: other family members, [for not preventing the death]; the victim [for dying];doctors, [for not saving the life of the victim]; law enforcement agencies, [for a variety of reasons such as lack of resolution of a criminal case].
6. Depression is a stage that comes and goes throughout the grief process. Resignation at the end of the depression indicates that the truth of the loss has been accepted and the person is ready to move on. Depression is a deep sadness at the loss often accompanied by hopelessness of the occasion. Depression results from an emptiness in your life that can't be filled. Some symptoms would be the inability to concentrate, insomnia. Depression often requires professional treatment.
7. Acceptance and Hope means that you understand your life will never be the same but it will go on with meaning and hope. This term is largely metaphysical in nature. It is necessary for us to get beyond this point. We must accept the reality of death and its permanence. Unfortunately the nature of death often makes it difficult to admit that a death has occurred.
Mourner's Bill of Rights
Ten Inalienable Right As You Journey Through Grief
1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.
- No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don't allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
- Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don't feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
- Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.
- Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience "grief bursts."
- Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but it is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
- The funeral rite does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral and other healing rituals are silly or unnecessary, don't listen.
7. You have the right to embrace spirituality.
- If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with you who won't be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning.
- You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for cliched responses some people may give you. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you still have to be thankful for" are not helpful, and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories.
- Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find other with whom you can share them.
10. You have thre right to move toward your grief and heal.
- Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is best experienced in "doses". Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those people around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.
Taken from: Journey Through Grief, Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
The Mourner's Six Central Needs
By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.
Your grief journey will not be quick and easy. Often it will feel like you are moving backwards, not ahead. But to reconcile your grief, you must ultimately move forward as you work on meeting the following six needs:
Need 1. Acknowledge the reality of the death.
Whether the death was sudden or anticipated, acknowledging the full reality of the loss may take weeks or months. You may move back and forth between protesting and encountering the reality of the death. You may discover yourself replaying events surrounding the death and confronting memories, both good and bad. It's as if each time you talk it out, the event is a little more real.
Need 2. Move toward the pain of the loss.
Expressing your thoughts and feelings about the death with all of their intensity is a difficult but important need. You will probably discover that you need to "dose" yourself when experiencing your pain. In other words, you cannot, nor should you try, to do this all at once.
Need 3. Continue the relationship with the person who died through memory.
Embracing your memories - both happy and sad - can be a very slow and, at times, painful process that occurs in small steps. But remembering the past makes hoping for the future possible.
Need 4. Develop a new self-identity.
Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have created with other people. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity naturally changes. Many people discover that as they move forward their grief journeys, they ultimately find that some aspects of their self-identities have been positively changed. You may feel more confident, for example, or more open to life's challenges.
Need 5. Search for meaning.
When someone loved dies, you naturally question the meaning and purpose of life. Coming to terms with those questions is another need you must meet if you are to progress in your grief journey. Move at your own pace as you recognize that allowing yourself to hurt and find ongoing meaning in your life will blend into each other, with the latter overtaking the former as healing occurs.
Need 6. Continue to receive support from others.
You will never stop needing the love and support of others because you never "get over" your grief. As you learn to reconcile your grief, you will need help less intensely and less often, but you will always need your friends and family members to listen and support you in your continuing grief journey. Support groups can be another long-term helping resource.
RECONCILING YOUR GRIEF
You may have heard that your grief journey's end will come when you resolve, or recover from, your grief. But your journey will never end. People do not"get over" grief.
Reconciliation is a term I find more appropriate for what occurs as the mourner works to integrate the new reality of moving forward in life without the physical presence of the person who died. With reconciliation comes a renewed sense of energy and confidence, an ability to fully acknowledge the reality of the death and a capacity to become reinvolved in the activities of living.
In reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief gives rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. Your feeling of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.
Basic Principles of Comforting Those in Grief
* Having Compassion
* Understanding the uniqueness of grief
* Being there
Suggestions to Help Mourners Heal
* Reach out to the grieving person
Share your caring feelings and show your interest. Do say that you are sorry and that you are available to listen.
Don't worry so much about what you will say. Concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. By allowing the person to talk freely without the fear of disapproval, healthy memories are created.
* Ask how you can help
Taking over a simple task at home or at work is not only helpful, it also offers reassurance that you care. Be specific in your offer to do something and then follow up with action.
* Remember Holidays and Anniversaries
These days as well as other significant days can be quite difficult for the grieving person. Do not allow the person to be isolated. Remember to share your home, yourself, or anything that may be of comfort.
* Suggest activities that you can do together
Walking or other exercises can be an opportunity to talk, and a good source of energy for a tired body and mind.
* Help the grieving person find new activities and friends
Grieving people may require some encouragement to get back into social situations. Include them in your life. Be persistent, but try not to press them to participate before they are ready.
* Watch for warning signs
Observing signs of weight loss, substance abuse, depression, physical problems,etc. may mean the grieving person needs professional help. If you feel this is the case, a suggestion from you or from a trusted friend or family member may be appropiate.
Things to Say to Those Who Are Grieving
* I'm sorry.
* I'm thinking of you.
* I care.
* I love you.
* You are so important to me.
* I'm here for you.
* I want to help.
* I'm thinking of you and praying for you every day.
* I want you to know that I loved __________.
Things NOT to Say to Those Who Are Grieving
Mourner's deep and extremely complicated feeling of loss are often dismissed with overly simple, empty phrases such as:
* Give it time.
* Keep busy.
* Be strong.
* At least he didn't suffer.
* It's time to move on.
* He lived a long life.
* Try not to think about it.
* I know how you feel.
* You'll become stronger because of this.
* Be glad you had him as long as you did.
* It was God's will.
* God only give you what you can handle.
* Now she's in a better place.
* This is a blessing.
Though well-intended, such cliches hurt because they diminish the mourner's feelings and take away his right to mourn. If you've used any of these phrases before, don't worry too much. Your friend knows you were trying to help. But make an effort not to fall back on these cliches again as you attempt to comfort those who are grieving.