Dear Dr. Romance: What Is The Grieving Process?
Dear Dr. Romance:
What Is The Grieving Process? What are the stages of the grieving process? How long does it take to go through each stage? Can one stage be relived over and over again? Is there a way to help someone through each stage?
If you've had a personal loss, I am sorry that you have to go through it. The traditional stages of grieving, developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, are Denial (or shock), Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. How long it takes depends on how big the loss is. We can grieve even over the loss of a job. "Surviving Loss and Thriving Again" will give you more details and specific help with grieving.
Grief is an organic process, it has its own wisdom, and it needs a witness. An understanding friend, family member or co-worker can be that witness. There is nothing you can do to make a terrible loss less tragic, so the grief, anger and frustration that you feel are normal reactions to the circumstances. So you go through the stages of grief: shock, anger, seeking, depression and peace. It's normal for both of you to feel fear and rage that something terrible happened, a need for prayer and comfort, bouts of being overwhelmed, exhausted, disconnected, and depressed, and, finally, acceptance and understanding that this devastating event is a part of the risky life we humans all live. These feelings will come jumbled up, they'll recycle, and come in different order.
Grief is an essential life skill -- knowing how to survive grief means feeling safe to take another risk, and grieving actually expands one's capacity to love. Expression of grief, and respect for the dead, is very important to the grieving process.
Anniversaries are very important in the grieving process. Each time an anniversary comes around, survivors relive the original loss. The first year of grief is the hardest, because it presents you with anniversaries and/or holidays all year around and each one is the first time without your loved one. The second year is somewhat easier, because you've survived each anniversary once. The actual anniversary of the event is the day that marked the change in your life, so for most people it continues to be significant. Marking the anniversary of your loss with a ceremonial event (such as posting on a grief site) helps you feel better. It also helps to include a reference to the person who was lost on each significant occasion, such as wedding anniversaries, religious holidays and birthdays.
The Real Thirteenth Step: Discovering Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs contains information about recovering from grief.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.