The stages of grief include, denial-shock-maybe even isolation or refusal to talk about the death or loss, anger, bargaining, depression and healing. The stages do not happen in any particular order. I will explain each stage below and offer some suggestions on how to make it through.
1. Denial/Isolation-Denial and isolation is a known response when someone is grieving. A person may be at this stage as a way to cope with their loss and function while shielding themselves from the intense pain of a loss. This stage is normally temporary and helps people be able to make decisions on behalf of their deceased loved one.
2. Anger-This stage is a common stage of grief. Every person who experiences a tragedy or loss is extremely vulnerable and may feel guilty or powerless. The person left to cope with a tragedy or loss may express their anger at people involved or not involved in the loss (e.g. doctor’s, caregivers, family, friends, the victim, survivors or the perpetrator).
3. Bargaining- “This would not have happened if I...” Bargaining is a tough stage where one thinks about what or how things could have gone differently to prevent the tragedy or loss. Some people can become obsessed with their thoughts and/or grief in this stage as they deeply wish or think they could have done something different to save their loved one’s life. In order to get past intense anger or guilt and continue with one’s healing process, this stage will need to be resolved and bargaining thoughts will have to cease.
4. Depression-A stage where an individual realizes the reality of their loss of tragedy. This stage comes when one understands that their loved one is not returning to a state of normalcy or of being present and/or alive on this earth and they are emotionally and mentally unable to cope or accept that fact. In this stage, a person my have trouble sleeping, eating, may lack energy, are always crying or refuses to get out of bed or get dressed or do normal activities throughout the day. In this stage, it is extremely important to be surrounded by loving, caring and supportive people.
5. Healing is when an individual can move from mourning to healing. This stage is when one comes to terms with their loss or tragedy and accepts the emotions they have and are experiencing throughout their stages of grief. An individual can begin to see how life is still full of opportunity and/or hope. An individual can begin to move forward with their life.
Ways to Manage:
1. Realize that when you are experiencing a loss or tragedy, that grieving will happen. You will not be able to skip this part of the deal. You can delay it, yet at some point it will come out. I remember thinking that I could be strong for my family and be the one who was present and unaffected by the death of my grandfather from pneumonia. I was totally wrong. On the day of my grandfather’s funeral, I grieved deeply through tears and sharing memories. I was able to delay the grief for a few days, yet it came when I could no longer delay it.
2. Recognize that your grief is your grief and your process is your process. It is okay to grieve and know that you will grieve in the way that you need to to gain clarity and/or promote healing for you.
3. Give yourself permission and time to work through your grief and express your emotions. If you are feeling and experiencing certain emotions, they are there for a reason and you need to be able to process that.
4. Surround yourself with loving friends and family. Working through grief alone is very isolating and can slow your healing process. Yet, when you are able to share your grief with a loving community and get the support your need, you are able to work towards healing faster.
5. Get help from a mental health professional if you feel overwhelmed by your grief or unable to function. I must admit hardly anyone in my mother’s family got help from a licensed psychologist after the murder of their mom and we have suffered as a family with alcoholism and other troubles with the law. A mental health professional can help you work through your grief and process it and work through your pain.
6. Journal about your loss and feelings. This can help you gain perspective, come to acceptance and understand and/or process the change in your life and the changes to come.
7. As you feel stronger and each new day comes, start to return to activities that you love. Do things that will cultivate your spirit and energy in a positive way. Some things may include: gardening, singing, sewing, drawing, painting, jogging, bike riding, dancing, writing, and/or listening to gospel, classical or jazz music. Any positive activity that you can begin to include in your life, do it. It will help you cope.