By Tom Gonzalez, PhD, LPC, LCPC
What is grief? Definitions of the term vary but grief is generally understood as a feeling that arises from bereavement. Grief is also defined as distress arising from affliction or loss. We have learned a lot about the nature of grief through the efforts of researchers, scholars and mental health practitioners.
Loss can range from the loss of a person, a pet, a way of life, or even a sense of community with others. With grief comes sorrow or numbness, a sense of a loss of direction in one’s life, even if only temporarily, and a need to regain balance in our daily lives.
Many of us have heard about the stages of grief or mourning. These are rooted in the research and writings of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote Grief and Grieving and also Death and Dying. Dr. Ross identified and described five stages of grieving:
- Shock/ Denial -- A time when the news is received. You may find yourself in a period of shock and disbelief.
- Anger -- This occurs after the reality of the loss begins to sink in. Beneath the denial is the deep pain you may feel about the loved one’s death.
- Bargaining -- A time when you mentally revisit the circumstances or the interactions you had (or didn’t have) with the deceased person prior to the loss. You may ask “what if…?” or think “if only I had…” Here, you are attempting to come to grips with the loss in your life.
- Depression -- When you feel a deep sense of emptiness, when profound sadness and loneliness sets in. In this stage, the reality of the loss sinks in.
- Acceptance -- Here, you begin to readjust to the new reality in your life, when the loss is accepted and readjustment begins.
While the five stages identified by Kubler-Ross are helpful, it should be mentioned that not every individual passes through the stages in any particular order. Sometimes a stage is skipped and sometimes we move back and forth between the stages. Sometimes we feel stuck in a stage of grieving and can’t seem to move on in life.
When a person doesn’t seem to improve, even with the passage of time, the response to the loss in their life is then identified as complicated bereavement. At this point it is important to reach out to others or seek professional help.
If you find yourself stuck somewhere in the process of grieving, focus on setting some personal goals:
- Accept the reality of the loss
- Allow yourself to experience the pain of the loss
- Accept and adjust to the reality that the deceased person or situation is no longer present
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one and feeling unable to adjust to the loss, contact BJC EAP to set up a meeting with a consultant who can help guide you through this difficult period in your life.