Throughout our lives we are taught about the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This model, pioneered by researcher Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, was developed in her study of dying patients. However, popular culture and researchers have started to apply this model to the bereaved.
You’re not following that model though, are you?
Health teachers and some doctors have tried to explain that grief goes through distinct stages, but you might not be one of the fortunate ones to go through such a clear and definable set of stages. Humans are not machines, grief is not a loading bar on your computer progressing to 100% when everything will be how you want it to be. It is this revelation, this lack of empirical data, that leads many researchers to challenge this model. While it is worth reading the research, the point of this post is to remind you that you’re are not alone.
The death of a loved one can be shocking and is often unexpected. The emotions that flow from that are complicated and tend to vary from person to person. Perhaps you are enraged and need to lash out at something – the system that wouldn’t let you try that experimental treatment, the doctor who didn’t seem to care enough, that cell phone for causing the cancer – no matter how irrational the target. Maybe the world has lost all color and meaning, and you have no idea how you wake up in the morning. Maybe you are simply numb to the world. Perhaps you feel nothing and wonder if you’re just broken in some way.
These are all normal responses to death and are all part of the grieving process. These are also not all inclusive so, if what you are feeling isn’t listed here, don’t worry too much and remember that you’re not alone. Remind yourself that people are unique and deal with grief in their own way, science is not magic, and there are resources available. Doctors are still discovering new ways in which people cope after a death, and the debate over how to best handle grief remains vigorous and lively.
While your emotions are unique and probably appropriate, how you deal with them is another matter entirely. There are healthy ways to deal with emotions and unhealthy ways. Shutting yourself off from the world, destroying things, quitting your job, and entertaining suicidal thoughts are all unhealthy and may require professional intervention (especially that last one).
As hard as it might be, some of the best ways to handle grief include seeking out others who understand or at least are willing to lend an ear. They don’t have to have all of the answers, and you might not follow all of their advice, but having someone willing to hear you out is important. Furthermore, don’t neglect your health even if it’s difficult. Keep on top of all of your usual hygiene habits, eat healthy foods, and find ways to get light exercise even if it’s just a walk around the block.
Finally – take this time to slow down where possible. You still have to go back to work eventually, you still have to tend to your obligations, but otherwise take things easy. Put off buying that new house, reconsider that backpacking tour, or whatever major, lifechanging plans you might have. Save these things for a time when you’re feeling more like yourself. You’ll know when you’re ready to get back out into the world.
Just remember – you are not alone.