Stages of Grief
Each one of us has experienced some form of grief during our lifetime and each one of us has a different way of coping with our grief and emotion when we lose a loved one.
In her book “On Death and Dying”, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identifies five stages that patients may experience when they become aware of their condition and when they are on the verge of dying. One of the best New York Internists Dr. Gafanovich summarizes.
These stages include:
- Denial and the feeling that this isn’t happening to me.
- Anger and questioning why this is happening to me.
- Bargaining and promising to be a better person if only the illness was taken away.
- Depression and giving up and just not caring anymore.
- Acceptance and being prepared and ready for whatever comes.
These emotions are not just experienced by the patients but also by other family, friends and loved ones who are around that patient or who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Despite these well-defined stages, the fact is that there is really no particular direction or script for grief. While many would experience feelings of denial, anger or depression, there is really no set pattern of feelings and emotions that can be chalked out on pen and paper.
Dr. Roberta Temes in her book “Living with an Empty Chair – a guide through grief,” describes three types of behavior that are commonly exhibited by those who are dealing with loss and grief. These include a feeling of numbness, disorganization and reorganization. This definition seems more accurate from what has generally been observed with terminally ill patients and their loved ones. It may be possible that Kubler-Ross’ writings and the behaviors she describes may fall into within the three types of behavior defined by Dr. Temes.
That is why it is not so easy to dismiss one list over the other. Both these lists and many other similar lists may describe the emotions and feelings those dealing with loss and grief go through. But it is important to remember that grief is a very complex emotion and cannot be defined in specific terms, strategies, timelines and goals. Every individual feels grief in his/her own way and according to his circumstances and situation.
Everyone may not even go through all the stages of grief in the same way. For example somebody whose 98-year-old grandfather passes away peacefully in his sleep may experience a different form of grief as compared to someone who loses a two-year-old child in a car accident. While both are losses, the feeling of loss and grief is different for someone who has lived a long and fulfilling life as compared to the death of a child who was taken away too soon. That is when the feelings of anger, denial, depression all fall in till the people grieving the child finally accept their loss.
The point thus remains that there is a wide range of emotions that people experience when they grieve. There is no way that any of us can claim to know how they feel, how long they will feel that way. It is not in our control.
If you look at certain cultures and history as well, you will find that there was a time when certain customs were observed with respect to grieving. There were mourning periods; widows would be expected to wear black clothing for a year and drab clothes forever; those in mourning would not attend any social gatherings and it would be expected that the mourners would refrain from laughter and gaiety for weeks, even months after the loss of a loved one.
While these specific defined timelines may still exist in some cultures, the fact is that if somebody loses someone, they may eventually accept the loss but they will never really forget the person who passed on. We will still have memories; we will still sometimes feel sadness; there may even come a time when we falter and let raw emotion take over our feelings. This will happen because there really is no end date for grieving. There is no completion so the best thing for anyone facing such a situation is to take things as they come; deal with their grief and move on according to their own pace.