“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
– Elisabeth Kulber-Ross
Grief is a universal process that touches all humans. When thinking about loss, we commonly think of a death of a loved one, however, we encounter many other experiences that cause us to grieve. Whether we are grieving the death of a loved one, a lost job or opportunity, an illness or a faded relationship or friendship, feelings of loss and pain naturally surface. Each of us grieves differently, although feelings of suffering, guilt, sadness and anger most likely emerge. These feelings may knock us off of our feet, cause us to question what we have or re-trigger previous experiences of loss in our lives, but they are natural to the human experience of loss.
The process of grief involves many different emotions, feelings and behaviors and requires courage to heal. This process asks us to be compassionate to ourselves and to be strong, despite the overwhelming and heart-breaking pain that may reside within. During the process of grief, it is important to allow time to sit with our feelings of loss and allow time for healing and reflection while remembering to be patient and nurturing to ourselves. We must gather up the energy to take especially good care of ourselves and of our emotional and spiritual needs. Allowing ourselves to be supported by others is also an important piece to the grief process. Others with a warm and caring listening ear are great aids in the process of healing.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler are experts on the topics of death and dying and grief and loss. Together, they extensively studied the process of grief and came up with five stages that are key to understanding how we respond to death and other losses. The emotions that Kubler-Ross and Kessler speak of are not meant to occur in linear order. The stages below act as tools to help us understand what we are going through and what we are feeling.
- Denial involves feelings of shock and numbness that act as defenses to our survival after our experience of loss.
- Anger is an important emotion to our healing. When we let ourselves be anger, we are given access to the pain that hides underneath our anger.
- Bargaining brings up questions and statements such as what if…and if only…. as we plea for a different outcome. In this stage we may be stuck in the past and unable to accept our loss as a reality.
- Depression and other feelings of sadness, suffering and pain emerge as we turn our attention to the present. All of these feelings are natural responses to loss and it is crucial that we let ourselves experience our depression in order to move on.
- Acceptance involves accepting the reality of our loss and adjusting our lives so that we can go on after a loss. Here we acknowledge that our lives have been changed forever and we find ways to make sense of the loss.
“We gain strength, and courage and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face. ” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion” – Buddha
Grief is a journey without a definite end point. Although society may create a timeline for grief or put pressure on us to return to a higher level of functioning, there is no rush to move on from a loss. The ability to sit with our pain and fully experience it while mourning our loss and creating rituals for remembrance (if appropriate for the loss) gives us strength, compassion and hope for the present and future. The goal is to find meaningful ways to integrate our past losses into our current reality and approach the world with acceptance and personal wellness that comes from deep, reflective healing.