Because death is an inevitable, natural fact of life, grief is only just as natural. “Grief” is defined as a deep sorrow, especially one that is caused by someone’s death. Some handle the death of a loved one better than others. Others, well, it tears them up inside and continues to negatively affect them for the rest of their life. Nonetheless, there is generally a process that a person tends to experience beginning after the passing of a loved one, and it starts with the initial shock of losing a dearly loved person and ends with finally accepting their passing. One model that explains the process of grieving is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ model “The Five Stages of Grief” – in which there is 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression and 5) Acceptance.
Denial happens to people when they first lose a person to death and can’t believe it has happened. They deny it. It is essentially a stage of shock, numbness, and disbelief. They are not denying the death has occurred; they are more so experiencing this mentality: “I can’t believe this person, whom I love so much and came to depend on, will never be around to embrace again.” This thought process serves to protect the grieving because to understand this reality all at once would be too intense and overwhelming for the living loved ones. Eventually one asks, “How did this happen?” and “Why?” But this is natural; it’s a sign that they are moving out of the denial phase and into the process of healing.
The second stage is anger – at oneself, at God, at the loved one, at the world. It is often kept bottled up inside until it turns into guilt – guilt that more could have been done to prevent this loved one’s death. But this is a completely natural response to loss. Recognizing this anger phase of the process of grieving and being able to control these strong emotions is a crucial step to moving on toward acceptance.
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Bargaining is the third stage. This occurs when the grieving person wants life to be like it used to be when the deceased was still alive and well. They essentially fixate on going back in time in order to prevent the death from happening in the first place. It is the “If only” mentality. This keeps the person focused on the past – and they avoid dealing with the emotions of the present, the reality of the deceased.
Depression is the fourth stage of grieving, according to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ model of “The Five Stages of Grief.” It is when the person who has lost a loved one and who is grieving enters a darker level – one with intense feelings of emptiness and sadness. When daily habits become a burden, and joy is hard to find in any event or experience. It is not a mental illness at this point, per se, but a natural response to loss. In this stage, the griever allows himself or herself to begin accepting the loss. At this point, they allow themselves to feel the pain, loss, grief and sadness that comes with the death of a loved one. This is crucial to healing – experiencing these emotions for this reason.
The fifth and final stage of the grieving process is acceptance. It is not the cure to grief, as the loss of a dearly loved one can impact a person for the rest of their lives. Acceptance only means the person who has lost a loved one is ready to try and move on – to accommodate themselves in this world without the loved one.
This is a process that everyone experience in one shape or form. It is one that can actually bring a person closer to the departed, the loved one, with a clear sense of the previous life and clear understanding how they want life to be now.
While it is true that people require "air, food, water, clothing, and shelter,” in order to survive, we must also add "relationships" to this list because it is a rare person who is able to thrive in the absence of intimate relationships with other people, places, and things.
Grief is the process and emotions that we experience when our important relationships are significantly interrupted or (more frequently) ended, either through death, divorce, relocation, theft, destruction, or some similar process. A related term, “bereavement”, has different meanings for different people, but all meanings refer to the grieving process. While some view bereavement as a specific subtype of grief that occurs when a loved one (usually a spouse) dies, others think of the term as referring to the period of time during which grief is felt and losses are dealt with.
Grief starts when someone or something we care about is lost to us. We do not grieve for all lost relationships; instead, we grieve only for those that have become important to us over time. These can be relationships with people that we have strong connections to, such as family members, spouses, significant others, and friends; places we feel attached to, such as the house we grew up in or our hometown; or things that are important to us, such as love letters, a watch that a grandparent gave us, etc. We may have loved or hated that person, place, or thing, but we feel grief when they (or it) are gone.
There are two types of losses that we may grieve. The first is the actual loss of the person or thing in our lives. The second is the symbolic loss of the events that can no longer occur in the future because of that actual loss. For example, if a child is lost to parents, those parents lose not only their actual child, but also all the many events they expected to share with that child, including birthdays, graduations, wedding days, and other shared events large and small that make up the ongoing relationship with the lost child that is no longer possible because that child has died.
In many ways, we live our lives through our important relationships. Our relationships define us and who we are; they become intimately intertwined into our sense of self (or self-concept) and are thus a living part of us. It is terribly painful to lose one of these key relationships, because with the loss of such an important relationship, we also lose an important part of ourselves. For this reason, grief is not something that happens 'out there' in the world. Instead, it happens inside each grieving person's sense of self which is personally wounded and damaged by such losses. The work of grief is thus the personal work of healing and regrowing the sense of self.
Grief ends when we have gotten past the acute need for the lost other person or thing in our lives and are able to function normally without them. This doesn't mean that we stop feeling sad when we think about older losses; it only means that we are no longer significantly crippled by them.