Grief and Grieving

Grief is a normal human reaction to a loss from our life and we usually feel this powerful emotion following an event of significant magnitude such as the death of a loved one. In this post, I would like to propose an adjustment to the the theory of grief and grieving first proposed in her book, Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

According to the Kübler-Ross model, the grieving process involves the individual passing through a number of separate stages in a sequence that eventually ends with the acceptance of the situation. My proposal is that grieving is, in fact, a much longer process than has been traditionally accepted and that the model might be adjusted to include an additional final stage that we may call ‘normalisation’.

The five discrete stages of grieving as follows:

• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance

For each person the process may be a little different, but the basic idea is that eventually, we will come to terms with our loss (acceptance) so helping another person involves working with them until they finally reach the acceptance stage. Time, they say, is a great healer. That’s because, it simply takes time to pass through these phases and so eventually, just by working our way through the situation, we must inevitably reach acceptance.

What I would like to add to the discussion is my own observations about the grieving process. Take them for what they are – just my thoughts and ideas, not the conclusions of any kind of scientific study. Personally, I think that grief is experienced in waves. Sometimes the first wave is not instantaneous, but when the emotional reaction comes, it is like a wave of feeling that rises in intensity and then eventually passes. What then happens is that eventually, another wave of intense emotion arises; again the experience is like a wave of rising and falling intensity.

As grieving continues, the waves come and go periodically. But the intensity of each wave gets progressively less and the frequency of the waves gets longer. It may even be years after the event that triggered the grieving process that another wave of emotion might be experienced, but the waves get further and further apart and each time, they are of lesser intensity. This process continues until the waves are so far apart that they finally cease to arrive at all.

It can take years, but eventually, we are adjusted to the new situation. Time has indeed played its part and is, eventually, the great healer. In this model, the emotion gets progressively less intense over the course of time and so, gets progressively easier to bear. The grieving process is much longer, I believe, than has often been suggested, but the increasingly lengthy interval between waves makes it seem as if the grieving process has ended when, sometimes, it has not.

Helping other people through the process typically involves helping them to cope with the high intensity of the early waves of emotion. Naturally, this can only be done by sharing, listening and being empathic. There is nothing we can say that makes people feel any better, so that’s something we need to accept, but we can be there for them. Being there is exactly that – your physical presence is what really counts, not anything you might say.

When the grieving person understands that they can work their way through the waves of intense emotion, which they learn though their own experience, then they are ready to get on with life in the knowledge that they will be able to cope with whatever is to come. The grieving process has not really ended at that point, but any initial dependency on others, that there may have been, has gradually come to a natural end. This is the point that is usually referred to as acceptance.

As I have proposed, I believe that grieving does not really end there. The process can be really quite lengthy. After the acceptance stage, I would propose that the final stage of grieving involves adjusting to dealing with the lower level feelings that continue to arise for an extended period of time as we gradually adjust to the new situation.

The grief curve might then be extended to allow for this period of normalisation:

• Denial
• Anger
• Bargaining
• Depression
• Acceptance
• Normalisation

In closing, I would again like to reiterate that the above does not represent any kind of study into the process. It is simply the fruit of my own thoughts and reflections on the experience of working through personal loss. I hope some people might find these insights helpful.

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