The five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are common experiences people go through when dealing with loss. They surface in different ways for different people as grieving is such a unique and personal thing to have to go through. Not everyone will go through them in the same order. Not everyone will stay in the same stage for the same length of time. And once you have experienced each stage, that does not mean that you won't go back through it again. (Much to my disappointment. Being very aware of my emotions from the standpoint of "outside looking in" kind of way, I would mentally "check-off" the stages I felt myself go through happy that I was one step closer to Acceptance.... Not so much the case, my friends. Not the case at all...)
I hope you can use this article as an awareness tool. To help your body, mind and heart heal when it feels like you never want to see the sunshine again. I am hoping to help you understand the process and stand beside you saying, "You WILL get through this," as I tell myself every ten minutes or so. Because this IS a process and we WILL get through it...
Denial. This is where you've just gotten slapped in the face with news. Bad news. This stage is your defense mechanism to allow your body to deal with the shock. Your brain deflects your immediate emotions to allow you to attempt to process this new information. You're mind begins to swirl with questions and while you are trying to sort out the realities, the emotions will fight their way to the surface.
Anger. Reality of the situation, brings pain. And to protect ourselves from drowning in the pain and sadness, we express it as anger. We feel anger and resentment and hate to someone in particular or sometimes anyone who happens to cross our thought paths at the wrong moment. We use our anger to deflect the pain that if we give into it, it will surely kill us. David Kessler, a grief specialist explained it this way, "At first grief feel like being lost at sea; no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone.. suddenly you have structure- your anger towards them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection between you and them. It is something to hold on to; a connection made from strength of anger is better than nothing."
Better than nothing. That's for sure. Anger gave me direction, and it DID feel better than feeling numb. Numbness and hopelessness are the worst feelings to have in my humble, heart-broken opinion. I'm really good at the anger stage and frequent it often...
Bargaining (Or depending on the cause of grief) Begging. This is another defense mechanism to protect us from the harsh reality we unwillingly find ourselves in. This is the land of "if only's". Most of the time, this stage happens in our mind. We fantasize different endings and outcomes to the situation at hand. Sometimes, we see a revenge, or a reconciliation, or a miracle cure. If we do happen to find the words or have the chance to "make things right", we bargain, threaten, cajole, negotiate, promise and throw guilt around like candy, anything to un-do the pain. But nothing works. You wake up the next morning and the pain is still there. It really happened and there is nothing you can do to change it.
Depression. This is where you really feel that the loss has moved in and is making itself at home. That feeling of emptiness returns and you know it's there but you just don't feel like doing anything about it. You even entertain the idea that it will be there forever. You tell yourself that this too, is part of the process and it will pass, but while you're in it... you feel... sadness, regret, worry, loss... emptiness.
This is your body trying to work through the grief. Trying to prepare you for what's on the other side. It's a time of reflection and also a time to allow you to accept a new... different future.
Acceptance. This stage does not mean that what has happened has been given our "approval"- for lack of a better word- but it means that we can acknowledge that the event really did happen and we can't un-do it. So we must learn to deal with it, make peace with it, and move on with our lives. Some people never reach this stage. I do not anticipate that being me. I know God has other things planned for me other than standing under the darkness of this raincloud. He knows that eventually I will accept my new reality and keep moving forward. But not today, Lord. Not today.
Grief has its own rhythm and you have to allow yourself to go through it from beginning to end. If you try and push it down or ignore that it is happening, it will only take longer to get to the Acceptance part. Linger in one stage or another if you must, but get to the Acceptance part. In some cases, the pain will never be gone and we have to learn to live with it buried in some compartment of our heart; in some cases, when you look back you'll wonder why you behaved so; and still in others, things happen that are out of your control and our only option is to deal with it the best we know how at this particular moment. One thing I do know, is that life is not meant to stop. Don't get trapped in the pain.
We grieve because we love. And because we cannot NOT love, there will always be pain in our lives. But our hearts are made resilient so they can love again. Our memories are created to hold on to the times that made us smile. Hope is forever bubbling down deep inside waiting to renew your spirit. Strength keeps us moving forward. And faith... faith is the promise that we will love again and continue to give love a chance no matter what.