One day we may wake up feeling relieved, confident that we have completed the “anger stage” of our grief journey. A day later, however, we may feel enraged. Or the numbness seems to have worn off, until we find ourselves again denying that this tragedy could have happened. We are confused, thinking we’d passed through one stage of grief, never to return.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross ushered in a greater awareness of grief and loss through her writings on stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and acceptance. Many have assumed that all who grieve will complete one stage and then move to the next. Rather than graduating from one stage to another, however, we typically cycle through various reactions again and again. These responses may include, but are not limited to, shock or denial, anger, confusion, guilt, sadness, apathy, and fear.
Imagine holding a Slinky toy in your hand. As you pull it upward, the rings at the bottom stay closer together, while those toward the top are spaced apart. Similarly, early in our grief, our reactions to loss seem to be in a constant whirlwind. One moment we may experience disbelief that our loved one has died; later that day we may feel angry, as the reality of their death again sinks in. We might awaken feeling vulnerable, fearing our own or another’s death, then spend much of the day confused, and return to denial by nightfall.
As time passes, the cycles spread out, like the top of the extended Slinky. Our grief reactions diminish in frequency and intensity. We certainly have not forgotten our loss, but the pain and its symptoms have lessened. Also, on our journey, we have learned coping skills for our various responses, which we can apply each time our grief resurfaces. Thus, through each cycle, we grow and heal.
Today’s Dose of Comfort
Identify the ways you’ve reacted to your loss. What are you experiencing right now on your journey? Which coping strategies have been most effective when you’ve experienced responses such as disbelief, anger, confusion, guilt, or extreme sadness? Consider writing down your manifestations of grief and the healthy coping skills you’ve learned. Then, when those reactions cycle around again, you’ll be prepared and better equipped to work through them.
(Adapted from Doses of Comfort; Daily Insights Into Grief and Suggestions for Healing)