Grief may be one of the most universal emotions, yet it’s one of the most personal experiences. For almost as long as humans have had meaningful connections, they’ve risked the possibility of devastating losses. Despite such an extensive history with loss, though, we still haven’t really figured out an easy way to get from one side of sorrow to the other. We hope these suggestions will help you find a more peaceful path if you’re navigating the grieving process.
While grief may be in response to a number of traumatic events, such as the loss of a relationship, our focus will be on the type of pain attached to losing a loved one.
The 5 Stages
While it might be true that everyone processes heartbreak differently, there are five widely recognized stages of grief. Not everyone will experience these stages in the order listed below, and not everyone will experience all five of them, but this framework at least gives us a place to begin understanding the impact of coping with loss.
1. Denial - A common first response to loss, or to a terminal diagnosis that will almost certainly result in loss, is to simply deny the facts. Sometimes we create an alternate (easier to handle) reality, and sometimes we simply isolate ourselves to avoid having to acknowledge the tragic truth.
2. Anger - Denial isn’t a sustainable coping mechanism, and when it stops working, we often turn to anger. Even though we know that loss is part of life, it feels unfair, and we want someone or something to blame.
3. Bargaining - This is the “if only” stage, during which we may drive ourselves crazy praying for miracles, negotiating with the universe, wishing we could turn back time…anything to find a way out of an inevitably awful situation. While it’s third on the list, bargaining may begin earlier for an anticipated loss.
4. Depression - While the severity and timing of this stage may vary greatly from person to person, many of us will experience at least some level of depression following a significant loss. While the symptoms may be similar, this isn’t quite the same as clinical depression. It’s just a natural—even healthy—part of the bereavement process.
5. Acceptance - Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that this stage of grief will manifest quickly…or at all. It’s important to approach the idea of acceptance with realistic expectations. It’s not about “getting over” the loss or returning to “normal.” You’ll never stop feeling the absence of someone you love after they’re gone. But ideally, at some point, you’ll find peace and the ability to focus on the good parts of your life that are still present.
5 Ways to Grieve with Grace
In answer to those five stages of grief, we’d like to offer these five tips that may help soften the blow of loss and guide you gently toward a place of healing.
1. Let someone listen. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little time to confront a painful truth, and being alone certainly isn’t always unhealthy. But if you find yourself using denial and/or isolation as anything more than a short-term coping mechanism, we encourage you to reach out for support. Whether it’s with a licensed counselor or a trusted friend, sharing the story of your loss is the first step to writing the next chapter of your life.
2. Practice mindful anger. When we hear the term “anger management,” we may think it essentially means “anger elimination.” But being angry at a situation is absolutely reasonable...it usually only becomes problematic when you direct that outrage at other people...or when you bottle it up and direct it at yourself. Productive applications for anger could be painting a picture, writing a song, keeping a journal, exercising vigorously (or as vigorously as your doctor recommends, anyway), or talking to a therapist who can objectively hear what you have to say without being hurt by it. So label your anger, harness your anger, and let its heat help burn through the fog of grief.
3. Instead of asking, “What if?” ask, “What now?” One of the dangers of the “bargaining” stage of grief is clinging too tightly to the hypothetical. Instead of burdening yourself with the guilt that often comes with wondering what might have been, or trying to negotiate your way to an impossible outcome, try to focus on the things you actually have some control over. Make a deal with yourself to heal a little bit every day…and make another deal to not rush that healing.
4. Don’t run away from your difficult feelings. It may seem like sadness is an obstacle on your journey to peace, but sometimes it’s the only path that can take you there. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, co-author of On Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss suggests the following approach to bereavement-related depression: “Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety.”
5. Remember that acceptance doesn’t equal closure. Accepting loss doesn’t mean that one day, you wake up and find that your heart doesn’t hurt anymore. It just means getting to the point where most days, you wake up feeling prepared to breathe through the twinges of pain that will always be there. You can’t rush grief, and in many cases, you’ll never fully eliminate grief. But you can learn to live with it, and to live well.
One way that you can help soften and simplify the grieving process for the loved ones you’ll someday leave behind is to have a plan in place to help cover your funeral costs and other end-of-life expenses. Final Wishes Covered℠ offers final expense life insurance products designed to fit your needs and priorities. To get started with a personalized, no-obligation quote, visit us today!