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Understanding Grief: The Five Stages

If there is one thing that is certain in this life, it’s that we will all lose something. Someone we care about will die. We will get older. Our identities will shift. Change and loss are simply parts of life. I do not say this to bring you down, but to bring awareness to the fact that it is often helpful to understand grief in order to know how to best manage it.

Two experts on grief, Elisabeth KublerRoss and David Kessler, can help guide us here. They determined that, with any loss, individuals go through five stages of grief:

DENIAL: This is when we do not acknowledge a loss, believe the crisis will be over soon or downplay the magnitude of the problem. We may say things like “It will be a short recovery” or “I don’t really have Diabetes”. We may even still set the place at the dinner table where our loved one used to sit. Ignorance is bliss because acknowledgment is too hard.

ANGER: Anger can be directed to many different places when grieving. We may blame ourselves for not seeing the signs of illness. We may be furious at the drunk driver who killed our child in an accident. We may even be angry with our Higher Power for letting a pet die. This stage involves yelling and frustration about the realization that just hit us.

BARGAINING: This stage commonly relates to a Higher Power. We may bargain for health or life by saying “If my grandmother survives this, I will go to church every Sunday.” Or we may work to convince ourselves that, “If I take this medication, I will be cancer-free.”

DEPRESSION: This is the classic picture of grief. We may stay in bed, experience changes in eating and sleeping and want to isolate just to avoid questions or things that remind us of what we have lost. Tears flow freely and we may feel hopeless.

ACCEPTANCE: After a while, however, there is recognition that, while a loss hurts, things will get better. You may not physically be the person you once were or you may no longer be able to talk with your spouse about your day, but life will go on. Each day hurts a little less and you can begin to see yourself being able to live again.

While this can be a helpful template to understanding grief, these stages are fluid. We may move forward three steps but take two steps back. We may be at acceptance for years but then have a day where we can hardly function. That is okay.

Grief is normal. It is uncomfortable. In the end, it is a journey. Be gentle with yourself. However, if you or a loved one is experiencing grief that is persistent or there are thoughts of suicide, get help. Reach out to someone, whether a loved one or a therapist, and get the support you deserve.

Ashley Carter Youngblood, , LMSW, LMFT, CADC, is a Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist at Inner Peace Counseling, PLC in Kalamazoo. Her specialties include women’s issues, anxiety, holistic healing/mindfulness, and couples counseling. Find out more about her at her website, www.kalamazoo-counseling.com

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