Introduction to a Discussion on Grief
What you are now reading is not a lecture. It is better called a discussion.
Use the ideas expressed in this discussion as thought-starters or as a catalyst for introspection. Please note that what is said here does not, on its own, have the power to help you process your grief. However, you can take these thoughts, reflect upon them, apply them in your life according to their relevance, and then it will have the power to change your life. Most of all, implementing the exercises presented will empower you to understand your feelings and grieve adequately positively and beneficially.
While reading the discussion, pause and reflect, as many times as you want to. Sort and discard, keep what is relevant, and talk to yourself about grief. Please keep a pen and notepad handy, take your time and write down any thoughts that occur to you as you are reading.
A Grief Discussion
Is there a difference between living a life filled with grief and living a life where the pain is an essential and necessary part but not a problematic or dominant role?
Think about this for a moment.
There are two critical things to understand and consider.
One: Grieving will last a lifetime.
Two: Grief is good.
That must seem like the most insensitive and cruelest thing that one can say to anyone who’s lost someone whom they truly and dearly love.
And yet both statements are very accurate.
If you’ve recently lost someone, would you rather grieve now or later? Would you want to get it over with as soon as possible and move on with your life?
Grieving is not the same as mourning. Mourning is limited. It might last for two weeks. Perhaps even two years.
Grieving is limitless. It lasts a lifetime.
Mourning is a series of accepted social and cultural rituals that you do as a mark of respect or as part of a tradition. There are rules and guiding principles on how to mourn. You know what to do, or if you don’t, there are people whom you can turn to and ask for guidance, your elders, or a religious or community leader.
When it Comes to Grieving, There are No Rules
Grieving is a very personal process. It is internal, even though it is often evident externally in your appearance and your actions. For instance, there is a fixed period for mourning, more or less, according to social, religious, or cultural norms. After the mourning period is over, many people believe that it is in the best interest of the mourner to move on. It is deemed to be appropriate, normal, natural, and even healthy to do so. It’s generally other people, friends, family members, and colleagues at work who are giving you permission to stop mourning and resume your life. Mourning is, therefore, an external socially acceptable requirement, which may not always be voluntary. Still, it is something that you do because of expectations.
Grieving, on the other hand, because it is a very personal and internal process can take unexpected turns and continue inordinately. Grieving, unlike mourning, can last a lifetime. Though this may sound very depressing and frightening, feeling the loss of someone whom you genuinely love will and does last a lifetime. You may not always feel or be aware of the loss. However, there will be moments in your life many years after you experience a tragedy when you can still feel the loss, almost as powerfully as if it happened yesterday. These feelings are something that you have to be aware of, accept, and understand.
Just as moving on with your life following a tragedy is essential and nothing to be ashamed of, grieving, or the fact that it can last for a lifetime is nothing to fear.
Grieving Can Get Out of Control, Only if You Allow it
It is important not to avoid grief. Embrace grief so you can understand it. Grieving produce a lot of mixed feelings – pain, sadness, anger, guilt, helplessness, outrage, shock, and in some cases, even relief or a sense of freedom.
Grief is good because it defines the strong relationships that you have built and the bonds that you have forged in your life. The feeling of loss that you have is something to be treasured. Why? It shows that you care. It proves that your love for someone gave you happiness. That’s why you are feeling sad, now, at this very moment.
Think for a few moments about the happiness that you enjoyed.
Did you recall happy moments or incidents from the past when you were together? Did you remember the good times you had?
Now, do you think that you will be as happy as that, ever again? You are wrong if you tell yourself that you will never feel that happy again because the person you love and who was the source of your happiness is no longer with you.
You can and Will Feel Happiness as Intensely as You are Feeling Sadness
Be honest, and be humble. Do you think it’s possible to accept that grief is good and that it will last a lifetime? Is it a burden? Or is it a means to channel your emotions to attain freedom from bottling them up?
Is it right to think and reflect on what happened? How much of introspection is okay, and when does it become brooding and negative? You will know the answers when you are brave enough to ask yourself these questions.
Is grieving a necessary process?
It is. It helps you to connect and enjoy your different lives. The life before the tragedy and the one after. The experiences that you have yet to live. Telling someone who is grieving that he can enjoy his life after a catastrophe may seem very odd. It also may seem contradictory because, on the one hand, grief will last a lifetime and also that you can enjoy your life. Is it possible?
It is if you take control. You can and should seek the support of others to cope with grief, but only you can give yourself permission to move on and live your life according to your terms.
Such is the cycle of life.
Know the Five Stages of Grief and Recognize Them When You are Going Through Any of Them
Doctor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first mentioned the five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying, published in 1969.
The five stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
Before we begin to examine the five stages, a few things should be clarified.
The five stages of grief do not occur progressively, one after the other. It is possible to experience them in any order.
One doesn’t need to go through all the five stages. You may experience some of them, and it is also possible they may overlap or co-occur, thereby preventing a clear distinction.
The five stages of grief are not neat, compartmentalized methods to grieve. They are, at best, an attempt to explain how one heals. They help explain why it is necessary to endure rather than resist emotional turmoil as well as to channel our emotions instead of bottling them up.
The five stages of grief can help us to understand what our varying emotional states are trying to tell us. They help us to cope with a tragic loss in a graceful and least damaging manner.
The five stages of grief can be used to interpret the intense feelings that a person goes through before, during, or after the tragic loss of a loved one. These stages are relevant to:
- All those who are involved with the loss
- Those who have lost a loved one
- Any individual who is dying or is terminally ill
- Those who have endured suffering and survived a painful ordeal.
Reflect on the five stages so you can subject your state of mind to introspection and analyze your situation.
Denial is the state where one unconsciously evades facing the truth, ignoring or even distorting reality to protect oneself from being affected by a tragic incident. It is a classic defense mechanism that people involved in a tragedy adopt to postpone going through the pain and the suffering. Sometimes a person can recognize when he or she is in denial. At other times, it may require someone to point it out externally, such as a close relative, friend, or counselor. It is normal to go into denial before, during, or immediately following a tragedy. Still, it is equally important to recognize that it cannot be used as a shield forever. You need to step out of denial, accept the truth, to heal, and return to a healthy reality emotionally.
Anger is a powerful negative emotion that can potentially cause damage to the person who feels it as well as those around. It is natural to feel angry when you suffer. However, it is essential to be aware that it is not the time to take action but to allow your feelings to calm down. Anger can put anyone in a confused state. Many times when angry, one does not know at who. It could be the person who is dying or is dead, at fate, god, or other people such as doctors or friends or themselves. It’s one way of trying to explain the tragedy or put the blame on someone or something. Experience anger like you would go through a storm, try to stay safe and grounded. Take precautions so that you don’t hurt yourself or others when you are angry. When it’s over, ask for forgiveness if you acted rashly and also forgive yourself and others for hurting and being hurt.
Bargaining is an attempt to prevent or change the outcome of a tragedy. It is not practical. Once you realize the futility of trying to create an alternative reality, you will be able to focus your energies effectively to see more clearly.
Depression is a difficult phase where strong emotions can cloud rational thinking. To feel depressed is natural and, many times, unavoidable. Depression many times is accompanied by intense feelings of sadness, remorse, regret, fear, and guilt. It may alter normal behavior and may produce tendencies towards the extreme. Seeking support and assistance from family and friends or even professional psychological counseling can ease one through depression. Fear and uncertainty about what is to come can make you feel resigned and listless, but there is hope and understanding within it if you look for it. Depression is the proverbial cloud that hides the silver lining. Following this intense emotional stage, one can heal and emerge more durable and resilient from the ordeal.
Acceptance takes one from the emotional plane to the rational plane. An air of finality and being resigned to consider the inevitable defines one end of the spectrum. On the brighter side, it is the ability to objectively view the situation with a certain amount of emotional detachment. Facing hard facts can be liberating in the sense that it can enable those involved in the tragedy to guide one another to see things from the right perspective. Once you accept, you can go about putting things in order and resume living your life.
A final mnemonic note; to remember the five stages of grief, remember DABDA. The first letters of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance form D-A-B-D-A, DABDA.
Close your eyes and reflect on yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Do you feel more clarity about grief and how it affects us?
• Are you fully aware of your present state of being?
• Can you identify and recognize the emotional states that you are currently experiencing?
Take your time to allow your mind to think about how you feel. If you feel tired and want to drift off to sleep, feel free to do so.
When you are ready, open your eyes, take a pen and notebook.
Make a Wish List
Make two columns titled Subject and Wish.
First, write down a subject. It could be the name of a person, place, condition, disease, or even something like a house or a hospital.
Next to it would be your wish for the subject that you want to change.
So, for example, if the subject is a person you know who is terminally ill, then you write their name. Next to it, you may write that you wish he or she recovered from his or her illness. Or you may write that he or she dies sooner because he or she is suffering, and you know that the pain is unbearable.
Be honest. Be brave.
Once you have completed the wish list, read it, and make any changes if you want to.
Now, you are ready for the next step.
The Action List
List down the possible actions you think you should or can take to make the situation better.
• Is there another doctor or hospital you can consult with to get a second opinion?
• Can you try an alternative treatment?
• Can you spend more time with the person who is suffering?
• Will it help them and help you cope better?
• Does the person who is dying have any dreams or desires that your actions can help fulfill?
And so on.
Be practical. Be realistic.
Now you have two lists: the Wish List and the Action List.
The Wish List will throw light upon the emotions that you are undergoing. The Action List will guide you to the possibilities that are available to you to change the situation or make it better.
Now, you will know what to do.
Keep adding, deleting, and changing both lists.
Tell Your Story
The final step is to tell your story of grief.
There are many ways to do this. You can either speak to a close family member, a friend, or a professional counselor. You can join online grief support groups. You can also write down your story in a journal, start an online journal, or even speak into a recorder. The objective is to face your fears, recognize your feelings, and put into perspective what actions you can take.
Making the lists are essential steps to take stock of the situation.
Telling the story is the therapeutic part where it can be a cathartic and emotionally healing experience.
The grief is good. It is not harmful or damaging, and it can purge and purify your thoughts. It is, in a way, a celebration of love and life. Losing a loved one hurts, and learning to love someone who is no longer with you is to understand grief.
Grief can last a lifetime, but you can control how it influences you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Grief can liberate you.
Stay in touch with your emotions, and you will stay in control.