Many researchers, professors and psychologists have spent enormous time and resources in the evaluation and study of the aspects of grieving that seem to be concurrent across most, if not all, individuals who experience the grieving process. One of the prominent studies in this effort was published by Kubler & Ross in 1969, where the authors posited that although grieving is of course a unique experience for each individual who encounters death and/or loss in their life, an underlying pattern of phenomena consistently occur. Those patterns have been characterized into five steps or stages, through which people move forward, and at times backwards, in the overall endgame of truly grieving with a serious loss.
For those who have experienced this, they will know that it is difficult to describe. When the realization of a significant death of a loved one hits, it feels surreal, dreamlike, or simply incomprehensible. Neurologically speaking, when the human mind experiences something perceived to be too painful to deal with through normal functioning, it will often try to blunt or nullify the pain by altering its normal functioning. This translates into a stage of denial, even shock or numbness.
When the reality of a situation is finally allowed in, the resulting experience typically revolves around unfairness, and eventually blame. In the effort to establish or rationalize for a feeling of justice, anger quickly rises to the surface in the form of frustration, irritability, and even rage. However, these expressions are usually tied to deeper phenomena of fear and shame. Individuals become scared (consciously or unconsciously) of not feeling happy again, or worse, feeling that somehow they were to blame for the incident.
Bargaining & Dialogue
At this point, the original control believed to be had over our lives is attempted to be reclaimed. Grievers find themselves trying to become authors of the past, and re-write what happened. This is particularly evident in “if, then” statements, where individuals often tell themselves “If only I had been paying more attention, then this never would have happened…” or something of the like. This often results in internal promises or declarations, where one promises to never do something (or always do something), with the real or imagined outcome of preventing extreme pain at another time. This is often an attempt to delay the inevitable.
If this process were displayed visually, this would be at the bottom. Those who have truly experienced grief report feeling helpless and lifeless. Regardless of whether they received answers or solace to their previous anger, it eventually subsides, leaving the individual in a slothful, sluggish, or seemingly dead state. Life as it is seen loses its color, and they feel…”blah”. Because life still is moving on around them, it is very common to feel tremendously overwhelmed and inadequate, which plays back into feelings of shame and blame from prior stages. Both logical and emotional remedies are hard to come by during this stage.
Finally, the long-awaited return to life as it once was, or with even more meaning that before. For the most difficult of losses, typically of spouses, children, or parents, some kind of tangible or intangible memorial has been made to remember them, but internal permission is given to live life again. New exploration occurs, people “become themselves” again, and typically individuals put a plan in place to move forward. Rarely are people the same as they were before the loss of a loved one. Often, they have become stronger people, and proceed into their next stage of life with more love and perspective than before.
Written by Clif, a freelance writer for SereniCare Funeral Home Arizona