“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” –Vicki Harrison
Everyone’s life has its share of ups and downs. When someone or something important is lost to us, the grief can overcome us at various degrees of intensity. Sometimes they may be over simpler things in life like being forced to sell a precious heirloom or even your ancestral home. It can be over a heart wrenching relationship break up or it may be the overwhelming earth shattering grief of losing a loved one to death.
There is scientific evidence of the connection between the mind and body – what we think and feel has a direct effect on our biological systems. Grief makes us susceptible to diseases from the common cold sore throats to other stress related diseases such as ulcerative colitis, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.
Grief is a natural response. Even if you can’t control the process, it will be helpful to know the reasons behind your feelings. You will be able to deal with it better and seek the support you need so that you can forgive yourself, if needed, and heal your mind, body and soul.
The 5 Stages of Grief
There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. Everyone grieves differently and not everyone experiences all the stages or in the same order. You should not judge how a person experiences their grief. Some people bury their feelings and may not show any outward emotion while there are many that can’t help but wear their emotions on their sleeve and be outwardly emotional.
Using the five stages of the grief cycle as a guide helps you understand and put into context where you are and how you can move on.
This generally is our first reaction to any bad news. The worse the bad news, the bigger the shock and denial. This is nature’s way of protecting our mind and body from the overwhelming pain of loss. It’s a buffers mechanism for the immediate shock of the loss, a blessing that carries you through the first wave of pain.
You may still feel married to your divorced/dead spouse. You deny the possibility that your partner cheated on you. A mother may act like the child is still alive. “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening,” is often the first reaction.
When the paralysing effects of denial wears off and realty sets in, anger tends to be the most dominant emotion. “Why me?”, “How can this happen?” You may feel angry with yourself, with the loved one who dies or even at God for allowing the tragedy to occur. The anger may be directed at inanimate objects, friends or complete strangers. You may feel guilty for being angry and this may make you feel even angrier.
This stage involves looking for ways to avoid the cause of grief. Especially in a stage where a person is facing the trauma like having a loved one diagnosed with a critical illness, we try to overcome our helplessness and try to regain control by bargaining. When we love someone, we want to protect them. We try to negotiate deals with higher powers in order to postpone the inevitable. “I’d sell my soul to have him back.”
The fourth stage starts when the individual acknowledges the futility of the denial, anger or bargaining. A sense of doom sets at the recognition of their mortality. The pain, sorrow and despair can be overwhelming at this stage. The depths of sorrow can also be very frightening to many. You may find yourself refusing to see anyone else, wanting to mourn your loss in private.
This is the stage where one begins to accept the reality of the loss. Depending on the circumstance, you begin preparing for the inevitable future tragedy or accepting that the tragic event has actually happened. Emotions are more stable and withdrawn at this point. Acceptance does not mean resolved and happy. It is also different from depression where the person is resigned and in despair.
In many circumstances, where needed, forgiveness precedes acceptance. You may need to forgive yourself or maybe the loved one involved. Holding on to bitterness towards your partner after a divorce, blaming yourself for not preventing a loved one’s death, unresolved issues with a departed parent, sibling, partner or friend – forgiveness is step you need to take to heal and get on with life.
Overcoming the Grief and Moving Forward
Coping with grief is deeply personal experience and nobody can understand all the emotions involved. Allow others to comfort and be there for you. Resisting the healing process will only prolong the grief.
Learning to forgive and love yourself is the key to getting through the different stages. Grieving is healthy and healing process that helps us adjust and overcome our losses. Many people allow fear to get in their way; the pain of future loss prevents them from opening up of loving again. This means they are stuck in the depression stage and have not reached the acceptance stage. Such people need to reach out for help. If you know someone like that, maybe you should reach out to them to help them move to the next phase of healing.
The five stages of grief are applicable to virtually every serious life event, including being diagnosed morbidly obese. Many overweight people are also suffering through similar phases – denial, depression, anger and bargaining. To move forward and resolve the problem – to actually lose weight and get fit– it is important that we recognise what stage of grief we are at. The denial and anger stage are not the best time to discuss diet plans. One needs to get past the depression or the bargaining stage before acceptance sets in and an individual is willing to get proactive and do what needs to be done to resolve the issue.