From Grief to Happiness | Helping Others On Their Journey
Losing a precious loved one, living through a season of grief, and someday reaching joy and fulfillment in life once again, is a messy journey of the unknown, fraught with many new and challenging trials. Often just getting from one day to the next feels impossible.
When we see friends, loved ones, and family in this kind of grief, we can often become paralyzed by fear, not knowing the right thing to do or say and not wanting to cause more pain. As a result, we do nothing, even though we anguish seeing our loved one in pain.
The journey of grief is always individually unique; just like the loved one who passed was one-of-a-kind. There are, however, common pathways which many individuals have walked down on their journey of healing. We don’t know when these paths will appear, what obstacles will be on them, or how long they will be. Just knowing they exist and what they have looked like for many others can help give us the confidence to offer a helping hand to our loved one in their time of need. These paths are called the Five Stages of Grief.
The Five Stages of Grief
Elizabeth Kübler Ross (1), a psychologist, humanitarian, and pioneer of hospice, first introduced the now-famous five stages of grief through her experience of working with the terminally ill, their family, and those who experienced unexpected loss. The five stages were identified as an observed pattern of healing and adjustment.
Helping others through pain begins by extending grace and patience, knowing that all they are feeling is normal and part of the healing process. Gaining an intellectual understanding of the natural expressions of grieving can help you extend this grace and patience to loved ones who are in their own unique season of grief.
It is important to say again that their experiences will be unique to themselves. (2) They may or may not experience all of the five stages. They will also not experience them in a linear timeline. They may be in stage two one day and five the next. An unexpected sight, sound, smell, or memory may bring them quickly back to phase one for a time. The five stages were created to help orient each person to where they are each moment in their journey of healing. The stages are responses to feelings which can last minutes, hours, or days.
Stage One - Denial
Denial helps make survival possible by pacing our feelings of grief. It is like a spillway on a dam; when storms rage, it regulates the deluge flow of water to a manageable level. Denial helps to numb and limit the sudden flood of pain and emotion to a level which we can handle at that moment, enabling us to cope and get through another day.
Stage Two - Anger
Anger is an indicator of the intensity of our love for the departed. We are used to managing anger; it is the feeling which rises to the surface when many other feelings swirl just below. Anger is an emotion of strength and can help give us a temporary anchor in life while we weather the storm of grief. After the loss of a loved one, the connection to others is vital in healing and the restoration of a healthy life. Anger gives us those connections. We are used to suppressing anger, but in the journey of grief, it is one of the normal paths of healing.
Stage Three - Bargaining
We want life restored to what it once was; we want our loved one back. We negotiate with “If I do this” statements, hoping we will be granted a miracle and wake up one morning to find it was all just a terrible nightmare. Our hearts remain in the past, trying to negotiate out of the pain we are feeling. Bargaining serves as a temporary truce with the pain we feel. For an outsider, bargaining may seem like a disconnect from reality, but it is actually a protective response which enables those grieving to get by until strength begins to grow anew.
Stage Four - Depression
The loss of a loved one is a woefully terrible situation. Depression is a natural and appropriate response. It is not an indicator of mental illness, but rather is a measure of the depth of loss we feel. We move to this stage when our thoughts begin to move from the past into the present. If grief is a journey of healing, then depression is one of the steps along that path. No one would willingly choose depression, but it is a mile-marker of progress on that journey. The length of this stage is highly personal and should not be rushed. Like the other stages, it will fade in time.
Stage Five - Acceptance
It is entirely normal to never feel “ok” with the loss of a loved one. Acceptance is not about that. It is about adjusting to a new reality and learning to live in a world without our loved one. We are not trying to replace them, but rather adapt our life to create a new normal. Acceptance usually does not happen all at once but is realized, one small step at a time. It is also completely normal to begin experiencing acceptance while also feeling some anger, bargaining, or depression. These are not “steps back” but actually healthy steps forward.(3)
Knowing the Five Stages Of Grief can help us intellectually get a grasp on all our loved one is feeling and why; equipping us to be a source of comfort and stability in their season of need. If you would like to go deeper and learn more about helping others on their journey of grief, please visit us at https://greenhillsmemorial.com/ where you can find Grief Resources or give us a call at (310) 521-4468.
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