Understanding the Grief Stages

Posted September 12th, 2018 in Featured, Grief, Individual Counseling, Men’s Issues, Women’s Issues by

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold. But you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott

I am writing about one of life’s most uncomfortable and difficult topics to discuss – grief. This topic is so much more poignant and sensitive to the touch for me right now, as I have been walking through some personal grief recently that happens to be associated directly with this line of work that I have been called to do.

I must admit, as a counselor, grief is one of the toughest topics for me to grapple with when I am sitting across from you and you’re in the midst of heartbreak and loss. Your world has just been forever changed; the reality that you have been accustomed to is now forever different.

As someone whose job it is to sit with you and share in this heartache, I find that no matter how many skills or tools, or how much knowledge or education I have for you during this time, I am still as human as you are, with the same emotions that you have, and I have to accept that perhaps the best thing I can do for you is to just sit there with you and allow you to share your heart with me.

I will never have access to all of the memories, the emotions, or the experiences that you shared with the one you have lost. As someone who thrives on seeing others experience healing, hope, and growth, this may always be a challenge for me; but to be the one there with you during this struggle is an honor and a privilege that I do not take lightly, and I never will.

Experiencing loss and grief is as though you have always looked upon a painting and seen the same characters, elements, and items depicted within this painting, but now, all of a sudden (sometimes with notice, sometimes without) the painting has been altered, and one person, animal, or element of your life that has up until now been a constant is no longer there. Now you must adapt to the painting taking on a different appearance and meaning. This is no small task, and it does not happen quickly or easily for most of us.

What is Grief?

Grief is defined as a “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret” and “a cause or occasion of keen distress or sorrow” (Dictionary.com). One might assume that grief is primarily related to the death of a loved one, but there are numerous losses in life that may introduce us to grief.

Some of these include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Death of a pet
  • Divorce or the end of a romantic relationship
  • Miscarriage
  • Loss of one’s good health
  • Loss of a loved one’s good health
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a dream or goal
  • Loss of a friendship
  • Loss of a sense of safety after experiencing trauma
  • Retirement
  • Leaving one’s family home
  • Loss of relationship dynamics and/or proximity when friends or loved ones move out or move away (Source: helpguide.org)

As you read through that list, I’m sure you are able to identify with at least one – if not several – of those experiences. Being that we will all undoubtedly be subject to grief at some point in our lives, it would behoove us to understand more about how to deal with it.

Understanding Grief Stages

Dating back to 1969, a psychiatrist by the name of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the famous grief stages that most of us have heard of at some point or another. She came up with these based on her studies of patients who had terminal illnesses, and the feelings that coincided with such a reality. However, as we discuss these stages, you may see that they are very applicable to most forms of grief and loss that we experience.

The Five Grief Stages

Stage 1: Denial. “This is not happening. This is not real.”

Stage 2: Anger. “Why is this happening? Who is to blame for this?”

Stage 3: Bargaining.Dear God, make this not be true. If you make this untrue I will ____ in return.”

Stage 4: Depression. “I’m too heartbroken to do anything. My life will never be the same. It is hard to have hope right now.”

Stage 5: Acceptance. “I may not agree with or like what has happened . . . but I am choosing to be at peace with it.”

Some of us may move through certain stages in the grieving process so quickly that we are largely unaware of ourselves encountering a specific stage. Grieving is a very personal and unique experience for each person, and there is no set right or wrong way to experience it.

Some people question how long grief will last, and again, that is not something that is measurable or definitive. Moreover, these are not rigid parameters, and some of us may bypass certain grief stages depending on the type of loss or change we are experiencing.

Having access to someone who can relate to or identify with what you are trying to make sense of can make all of the difference. Because of this, one of my go-to materials I recommend to my clients when they are moving through the experience of grief and loss is the book, A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.  I appreciate his rawness and the way in which he truly grapples with God and other concepts concerning the death of his wife.

In this work, C.S. Lewis powerfully states:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”

In William Worden’s work about grief, he identified tasks that we move through in relation to a loss. He describes this as the “TEAR Model of Grief” which includes:

T: To accept the reality of the loss

E: Experience the pain of the loss

A: Adjust to the new environment without the lost person

R: Reinvest in the new reality

I appreciate the way in which Worden describes these tasks, because he ends with the concept of pressing into life as it now is and not how we wish that it was; because the truth of it is, we would never wish for our life to be void of that person, place, or thing that we have lost.

Most of us would gladly go back in time and change what has happened or at least the method of how it has happened, but we cannot. We could attempt to ignore the pain in hopes that it will go away more quickly, but this unfortunately does not work. In fact, the best thing we can do is press into the grief at full force and trust that this will help us experience real healing in the long-run.

Another common misconception is that we must “be strong” while enduring a loss. The truth of the matter is that God gave us emotions for a reason – to work with them, not against them – and if He made a mistake giving us these emotions, then it was a mighty big blunder to have equipped every human being who has ever lived with the same set of them.

God Himself is an emotional God; did He not get angry over sin, and thereby decide to redeem us through the blood of His Son? Is God not the most compassionate of all of us? Does He not feel everything that we feel to a degree which we cannot fathom? I believe He does.

We are made in His image; we are in His likeness. We have these feelings for a reason. There is no “being strong” when your heart has been broken, when your reality has been shifted. However, let us also be mindful that sadness and mourning does not look the same for all of us. Crying is a natural response to sadness, but it is not the only response. Some people may feel pain very deeply, but they do not express it with tears streaming down their face.

Another area I believe we need to clarify is that of moving on from the loss. Perhaps you have grappled with feelings of guilt when you are finally able to laugh again, to enjoy the company of others, or to love again. However, moving forward in life does not equate to you forgetting about your loss; rather, it means that you have accepted it.

We never forget that which is important to us or has made a lasting impact on us. We learn from our experiences, we treasure the memories we have, and we choose to open ourselves to the world around us and allow God to soothe our souls; to form new memories; to form new relationships and bonds; to create strength, perspective, and insight – so that we live differently henceforth. But there is no replacement of those and that which we have loved and cared deeply for.

But there is newness. There is hope. As long as Jesus lives, there is hope.

As long as Jesus lives, there is hope. Click To Tweet

You see, life is not as meaningful without pain. Life’s value – our value – increases over time. We become so much richer with each loss, each heartache, each sting. We become one who has a story to share, an ear to lend, a wisdom that is earned and only taught through experience.

God Himself did not spare His Son from unimaginable pain – but God knew that there was an eternal reward on the other side of that pain, that cannot be measured.

“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Right now, it may be difficult to imagine any good coming from this loss you are experiencing, and I understand that. If you are experiencing grief, please reach out to a counselor at Seattle Christian Counseling. We are ready and eager to walk this path alongside you so that we may help minister to your spirit in the midst of this struggle.

If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you have a God Who relates to you, Who is familiar with loss, and Who is also familiar with resurrection and hope. He is not willing that you should walk this path alone. In the midst of your heartache, look for Him. I assure you that He is there.

 

“One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

 After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

 This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

 He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never ever. During your trials and testing,
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

— “Footprints in the Sand”, Author Unknown

 

References

Coping with Grief and Loss from www.helpguide.org

Lewis, C.S. (1961). A grief observed. Crossreach publications.

Worden, J.W. (1991). Grief Counseling and grief therapy: A Handbook for the mental health practitioner. (2nd edition). London; Springer.

Photos:
“Beauty in Death”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; XXXXX “Silver Lining”, courtesy of Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Footprints”, Courtesy of Felipe Correia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;

Author Info

Maryann Stigen, MA, LMHCA, CSAT-Candidate

Licensed Mental Health Counselor Associate

Contact Maryann directly:

(425) 200-0477 | maryanns@seattlechristiancounseling.com

Read More about Maryann’s Services

Individual and Family Counselor
Everett & Mill Creek
 

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