The stages of grief and healing
It’s a sad fact but grief is largely inevitable. At some stage in our lives, we will all experience a kind of loss, whether that’s mourning the death of a loved one, feeling sad over the end of a deep and meaningful friendship or struggling to get over the loss of a job, house or other important life element.
Needless to say, everybody’s grief journey will be different but if you’re looking for how to deal with grief, a great place to start is by understanding what grief actually is and how it can manifest in many different ways. Below, we dive into the five stages of grief and outline how the grief counselling support here at New Life Portugal is able to guide the process.
What is grief?
“The word grief describes the psychological, social, and emotional impact of a life event, most often loss,” explains Daral Boles, counsellor here at New Life Portugal wellness retreat. “In theory at least, grief is a natural process and part of life, but for much of the Western world it is unwelcome and even feared. Grief is the natural response.”
There are many potential causes of grief, from the death of a parent, child, sibling or partner to more interpersonal losses, like the end of a friendship or relationship. Fundamentally, “grief is a natural response to ruptures in the very fabric of life, so could include things like separation from a homeland or the loss of employment and professional identity.”
“There is also what grief counsellor Francis Weller calls a ‘still deeper grief…a sadness at the very heart of things’. This may take the form of mourning for the state of the world, for mistreated and marginalised peoples, for the abuse of the planet. The question isn’t whether or not we as human beings will experience grief but what we will do when it comes,” Daral adds.
Add to that the contemporary phenomenon of complicated grief triggered by what Dr. Pauline Boss calls ‘ambiguous loss’. That could cover things like an adult child of a parent with dementia who is still physically here but mentally and spiritually absent. “The term encompasses the opposite as well—physical absence but psychological presence, as suffered by the families and friends of passengers on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that disappeared without a trace in 2014,” Daral explains.
Types of grief
Grief can manifest in different ways. Understanding the different types of grief can help us better understand and cope with our emotions:
Regardless of which type of grief you are experiencing, it is important to remember that the experience of it is always unique to every individual and how we heal from a loss is deeply personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. A good place to begin, though, is by allowing yourself to feel your emotions and to give yourself time to grieve and accept as well as process the loss.
The five stages of grief
First set out by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, ‘the five stages of grief’ has become a universally-recognised blueprint for the psychological and emotional experience of grief. Those stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“The list sounds linear and sequential but the actual experience of grief is not,” Daral notes. “Instead, we may cycle through the stages in an essentially patternless pattern. Emotions may show up in pairs or all at once.” As with all emotions, grief is innately personal and your journey through it might look totally different to someone else’s, even if the cause of the grief is the same.
To add to the five stages, death and grieving expert David Kessler, who has co-authored many books on grief with Kubler-Ross, now suggests that there is also a final stage – meaning making – making up the 6 stages of grief. Furthermore, other experts disseminate the grief process even further, into the 7 stages of grief or the 12 stages of grief.
How long does grief last?
As unhelpful as it may be, there’s no real timeline for the process of grief. You might have an expectation around when you should feel better, grounded in social norms, experiences you’ve had before or from what you’ve seen of other people around you.
However, each experience of grief (and each person experiencing it) is completely unique. Rather than asking yourself when things will be back to normal, allow yourself time to work through the motions and invest in practices and experiences that can benefit your journey in a healthy way, like seeking professional support.
Symptoms of Grief
Depending on the severity of the loss, grief may feel like one of the most difficult and overwhelming experiences of your life. It tends to come over us in waves and can manifest in various ways.
If you are experiencing some or most of the following symptoms of grief, please be reassured that there’s nothing wrong with you. These are all natural responses to losing someone or something very dear to us. Learning about the different symptoms of grief can help us to better cope with our emotions:
Take care of yourself as best as you can during these difficult times. And if the above mentioned symptoms start interfering with your daily life or if they persist for an extended period of time, please ask for or seek (professional) help. There is no shame in struggling with grief as there is nothing that can prepare us for the impact of a major loss in our life.
How to deal with grief
The treatment for grief is likely to be different not only depending on the individual but also on the stage of grief they are currently experiencing and how long the grief has continued.
“For those working with the grieving, the question is not what is being experienced in any given moment, but whether a person becomes stuck in any one state, their grief distorted into a single, perhaps dysfunctional expression of anger or denial or depression,” Daral explains. “This kind of stuck grief is often evident in behavior such as the abuse of alcohol, ongoing commitment problems, or chronic anger. Stuck grief also shows up physically and mentally, in symptoms as diverse as inflammation and difficulty concentrating.”
While seeking specialist and tailored help and advice is key, “suggested treatment may start with these outward signs of inner dysregulation and work its way in, or down, to underlying grief.”
As for the sixth stage of meaning making? “This is essential for anyone who chooses not just to survive but to thrive following loss. Like all forms of posttraumatic growth, meaning making can be transformative, integrating the memory of what has been lost into the fabric of a future life,” Daral advises.
How to talk about grief
You are not alone if grief is a difficult and uncomfortable topic for you – may it be your own or someone else’s.
If you have recently experienced a significant loss in your life you may not feel ready to talk about it. That’s okay. It can be scary because it may feel as if the loss would become more real if you acknowledge it in a conversation with someone. Speaking about it may also bring up painful memories or difficult emotions that you are not ready to deal with yet.
Some people also worry that talking about their grief might burden others. Or they feel ashamed or guilty that they haven’t gotten over the loss and moved on yet. Regardless where you are at in regards to talking about grief, please be patient with yourself but also know that opening up to someone you trust is part of the healing process and can help you cope better.
Here are some tips on how to talk about grief and find the words to express your feelings:
Grief counselling at New Life Portugal
Here at New Life Portugal wellness retreat, our counsellors are experienced and well-equipped to guide anyone wondering how to deal with grief.
One of the most key factors in our offering is our community-based approach. “Grief work, while deeply personal, is often best done in community.
Not just any community, however, will serve but one that allows the grieving individual to show up without expectations, to be as they are without the need to care for others, to be sad or not as the journey suggests,” Daral explains.
“There are many tools available at New Life Portugal that can help with the grieving process, tools such as grief counselling, journaling, groups and solitude.
Most of all, NLP offers undistracted time set apart from the exigencies of everyday life as the central element in healing,” she adds.