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At some point in our lives, we may experience unexpected and sometimes tragic events. These events can be in the form of loss. Loss of a job, a home, a pet, loss of good health, and the loss or death of someone dear to us. It can also be in the form of divorce or break-ups, transfer from one state to another, graduating from college and being faced with the real world, not having enough support from significant people in your life. It can also be by just being merely away from family and friends that you get to experience extreme sadness.
Dealing with these kinds of losses causes a person to grieve for a while. What is grief? Are we allowed to grieve? Is it normal to grieve? Grief is defined as an extreme sadness or sorrow that a person feels whenever he or she is faced with a loss, especially the death of a loved one. It is normal for a person to grieve when he or she had just experienced a loss. Grief is a healthy part of healing because you get to release all the painful emotions you are going through. Bereavement, on the other hand, is the condition of being in grief, especially when a person is being deprived of a loved one through profound absence, like that of death.
As you may see through the definition of grief and bereavement, both focus on the sorrow that a person feels after a death of a loved one. But let us talk about it in a general way, because as we have stated, there are a lot of events that can cause someone to grieve. Loss can cause you to feel a great wave of emotions, such as anger, shock, disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness. It may also disrupt your normal daily routines, such as eating, taking a shower, having enough exercise, and a lot more activities that you usually do before the loss took place.
The grieving process takes time. Let us take into consideration the stages of grief according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. She based these stages while she was observing patients who have terminal illnesses, however, it was soon generalized to other types of negative life changes that a person may go through, including loss. What are these stages and how to deal with each stage healthily?
The first stage is Denial, in this stage, a person denies the loss, he or she is in great disbelief of what is happening or what has occurred. This is the hardest stage because a person will have to, at some point acknowledge the loss and the pain that comes with it. This is the first struggle that a person should overcome. In this stage, support is very important, and validation of the person’s feelings from a significant other, family, or friends, or even a health care provider is essential. It is normal for them to undergo denial. However, acknowledging the feelings of this person can help them to absorb and understand what is happening, and eventually, it can help them empower themselves to accept what happened and overcome the grieving process.
Anger is the second stage of grief, according to Ross. Again, this is a normal feeling. A person may burst his anger and ask “Why is this happening to me?” In this stage, allow the person to cry if he or she must. Allow them to express their anger but at the same time making sure that they are okay and do not predispose themselves to any harm. Some people may also not cry and that is okay because grieving is an individualized process and experience. It is just important that in this stage we allow them to express their anger. Actually, in all stages, it is important to allow them to express their emotions and acknowledge that what they feel is normal. The person, at some point, may also feel guilty about what happened. If this is the case, assure them that nothing that had happened is their fault. Make them realize that after the loss, they are still worthy of good things to come their way.
In this stage, a person coping with loss may feel desperate and willing to do anything just to get back what was lost. When bargaining, a person directs his or her request to a higher power or something bigger than they are, which may be able to give them a different outcome. This may be because a person feels helpless. A person may state “God, please take away this illness and I promise to always be kind!” or “Please don’t let me lose my job, I will be more productive.” So a person tries to bargain what he or she can do in exchange for getting back the things or person they’ve lost. In this stage, again, you have to acknowledge how the person feels. If the loss is inevitable like a death of a loved one, support is important, acknowledge the feeling, but do not acknowledge the person’s request that the loss will eventually come back. It is important that you shift them back to reality and remind them of how life can still be purposeful after the loss.
Yes, according to Ross, depression is part of the grieving process. At this time a person starts to calm down and realize the loss. They start to realize the reality of what is happening and they start to face the situation. Oftentimes, sadness will fill up their emotions because they have come to realize that the loss took place and it is inevitable. At this stage, a person may want to be just alone, and as a health care provider, we have to respect that. We can advise this person’s family and friends to give them space because that will help them to recover. However, making sure that they are free from self-harm, especially committing suicide is essential. It is important that you also talk to the person and advice him or her that it is okay to seek help.
Finally, after all the struggles, the last stage is acceptance. In this stage, a person is now ready to accept what happened and move on with life. At this stage, commend the person and still provide support. Acceptance does not mean that the person forgot the pain of the loss, but rather the person has already faced the reality of the situation and that he or she is ready to embrace new beginnings.
These stages as theorized by Ross may or may not happen to all, a person may reach the acceptance stage without going through bargaining or depression, someone might stay longer in the denial stage than another, because again, grieving process is different for every person. What’s important is we recognize and acknowledge what the person feels and we provide support and shift them to reality if needed. Don’t provide false hopes as this will just exacerbate how they feel when these hopes are not met. Respect each person’s way of grieving. Do not impose a timeline as to how long they should grieve. Do not force them to move on. Advise them that it is okay to seek help when needed and remind them of how worthy they are of all the best things in life.