Understanding the “Stages” of Grief

I had a woman call me the other day inquiring about grief support for herself and her family after the death of a family member

Her Mom had died several years prior and she doesn’t think she grieved very well back then. She really wants to make sure her family can talk through their grief this time. She mentioned to me over the phone that she wants to understand the “stages” of grief. This is a question, and similar ones, I get quite often: “What stage of grief should I be in?”, “Am I doing this right?”, “When will I be done grieving and find closure?”

Here’s a brief overview of how the popular 5 Stages of Grief theory come into being. In the 1960’s Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross wrote a book title “On Death and Dying” in which she detailed her theory, based upon her vast experience working with and interviewing terminally ill patients, of the five stages of grief. Her stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Over the past 50 years, most modern theories on grief have moved away from this linear model of thinking that we need to experience one “stage” of grief before we can move on to the next “stage”. We see grief as much more fluid, multi-determined and highly individualized. While a griever may absolutely experience any of these “stages”, he or she may not experience them in any particular order. We may even experience all of these “stages” and more within a single day or week. Members of the same family often experience grief in very different ways too.

That’s the danger of thinking of grief in a very linear, steppingstone way; “If my feelings aren’t mirroring this order then I must be doing it wrong.” The bottom line is our grief is unique to us and there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is our normal and natural response to a loss. It’s a process of adaptation - a life transition. While the sharp edges of grief usually soften over time, we will intermittently experience grief following a significant loss for the rest of our lives.

When it comes to grief, there is no rule book and no time frame. It’s as individual as our fingerprints. Theories and models are just that and nothing more - theories; they are simply tools to help us better understand what we are feeling. We feel a million things when we are grieving, including joy and those other feelings we label as “good”. Our grief is our grief; it’s never easy, yet it’s never right or wrong. It simply just is. There are moments of devastation and despair, but when we allow ourselves to sit with our emotions, we gain confidence that we are not a failure, that we are not doing it “wrong”, and that we are not going crazy. Rather, we begin to understand that grief is a part of life, and it is a storm we will weather.

Make space for your grief, carry it with you, learn to live with it and maybe, just possibly, even thrive despite it.

Becky Lomaka, MA, CT, Director of Grief Support and Education O’Connor Mortuary

O’Connor Mortuary
25301 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
(949) 581-4300
www.oconnormortuary.com

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